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Appelman to challenge Grausz for Council seat

Ira Appelman is no stranger to Mercer Island politics. Tape recorder in hand, he has attended nearly every City Council meeting for the past 10 years. He sits in the front row, scrutinizing every word and action. He reads every page of the agenda packet. He reviews each meeting’s minutes. But at some point, Appelman grew tired of his front-row citizen seat. Last week, the Island resident decided to get involved himself.

Appelman is running for Position 2 on the City Council, competing against incumbent Dan Grausz. An Island resident since 1963, this will be Appelman’s first candidacy for a municipal position. He chose to run against Grausz, who has served three terms on the Council, because the incumbent “is on the other side of all my big issues,” which he said are: protecting the Island’s single-family neighborhoods; putting the public in charge of government; and ensuring open and honest government.

At the outset, Appelman’s ambition is to change the way that the City Council is run. He said he wants to create a window through which the public can both examine and influence city politics. This includes introducing advisory votes to the ballot, which would give Islanders an opportunity to register their views on a particular issue.

“We haven’t had an advisory vote since the ’80s. If I was on the Council, I’d add at least some advisory votes. Maybe one a year or one every two years. This allows the public to make a decision on a controversial issue,” Appelman said.

Indeed, public involvement is the Island resident’s championed goal. And along with this comes governmental transparency. Island citizens, Appelman believes, are not currently being given the full story on City Council business and community issues.

If elected to the City Council, Appelman said he hopes to prevent Councilmembers from conducting what he terms is “secretive” business and open all issues up to Island view.

“I want to engage Islanders in the issues. I do my homework. I’m a scholar in the neighborhood, and I’m going to raise the level of debate. Anything that the Council says, they must support with actual evidence,” he said.

One example that Appelman has repeatedly cited is the current lawsuit between former Assistant City Manager Londi Lindell and the city. Lindell is suing City Manager Rich Conrad and three other city employees for “conspiring” against Lindell to have her fired. The lawsuit states that Lindell was subject to adverse employment actions, that the defendants named in the suit discriminated against her because of her gender and that her termination lacked due process. The city denies these accusations.

Appelman, who said he has researched the case extensively, believes that the issue goes much deeper than Lindell’s accusations. The root of the problem, he has publicly touted, is that the city and Council attempt to veil their actions — and missteps — from the public.

Appelman requested hundreds of pages of city e-mails, legal documents and meeting minutes in order to fully understand the history and subtext of Lindell’s lawsuit. Much of this information was made public when Appelman distributed letters summarizing his research and conclusions, accompanied by photocopied “evidence,” to Mercer Island households earlier this year.

“As far as open and honest government, how could this sexual harassment deal be covered up for five years if we had had an open government? The reason is that we don’t have open and honest government. They’re trying to keep things from the public and that’s the basis of their power,” the candidate said.

Those sitting on the Council today dismiss Appelman’s allegations. Yet they welcome his decision to run for government.

“The big issue is going to be what kind of campaign Ira [Appelman] chooses to run,” said Grausz. “He has a history of attacking and dividing. I don’t go there. I’ll stand by my record that I’ve had for 10 years, which, by the way, I’m very proud of.”

Both candidates have already begun raising money for their campaigns. Appelman, who is founder of the Mercer Island Community Council, which involves himself and a handful of other Island residents, has already raised funds through the organization. A number of Island residents, many of whom read his widely distributed letters, have voiced support for Appelman. Others have already pledged to his campaign, the candidate said.

“I’ve been involved for 12 years now, so I know a lot of people,” Appelman pointed out.

Other issues that the Islander hopes to pursue if elected to the Council are ensuring that Tent City 4, a roving homeless camp that was hosted by the United Methodist Church for three months last year, does not return to the Island; preventing single-family neighborhoods from low-density housing development; and replacing the city’s current plan for a “road diet” at the intersection of Island Crest Way and Merrimount with a four-way traffic light.

An Island resident since 1963, Appelman graduated from Mercer Island High School in 1969. He went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington, Phi Beta Kappa. In 1978, Appelman received a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from Stanford University. He is also a Stanford National Science Foundation fellow. He currently lives on the South-end of Mercer Island, working for his own company, Appelman Research.

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