Mercer Island 2022: A year in review

Reporter covered Juneteenth, aid for Ukraine, a parks levy renewal, antisemitism and more.


• Stemming from an executive session earlier in the evening of Dec. 6, the Mercer Island City Council unanimously approved a new agreement between the city and Sound Transit to cease current litigation connected with the Mercer Island Transit Integration project.

City Manager Jessi Bon co-signed the agreement with Sound Transit’s Jon Lebo, executive project director of the East Link Extension Project, which will begin featuring light rail and King County Metro station use on the Island in 2024, according to Sound Transit’s plan.

Three council members joined city staff and legal team representatives during the settlement negotiations to help halt the dispute, thus focusing the entities’ resources on transportation and infrastructure projects and striving for improved collaboration as regional partners, the city said.

• It’s another biennial budget adoption in the books, said Mercer Island Mayor Salim Nice. City councilmembers voted unanimously at their Dec. 6 meeting to approve the Island’s 2023-24 balanced financial plan for all city services after they participated in loads of fine tuning over the last four months with the city’s staff and utility board. Residents also provided input throughout the robust process.

A host of the estimated monetary figures released in city documents for the combined two years are: Total revenues of $211.8 million and expenditures of $201.5 million; general fund revenues and expenditures both sitting at $71 million each; water fund revenues of $51 million and expenditures of $42.8 million; capital improvement fund revenues and expenditures both at $21.8 million apiece; and sewer fund revenues and expenditures even at $27.8 million each.


• Mercer Island High School (MIHS) athletes registered first place in nine of 12 events to blast their team to the 3A girls state swim and dive title on Nov. 12 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

The Islanders accumulated a colossal 385 points to lead the way and were followed by Bellevue with 242 and Bainbridge Island with 218 to complete the top three.

• The Nov. 8 general election is officially in the books as King County Elections certified the final results on Nov. 29.

In the election, Mercer Island’s Proposition 1 parks levy renewal passed with 64.27% of the votes. A simple majority was required for passage, and the 16-year levy will take effect on Jan. 1, 2023. There were 8,133 yes votes and 4,521 no votes, which gave the latter group 35.73%.

• Mercer Island’s Jordan Morris finally headed to the World Cup as a member of the United States roster in Qatar.

The U.S. squad battled Wales to a 1-1 draw in the teams’ opener on Nov. 21, nearly one week following the announcement that Seattle Sounders FC player Morris, 28, would be included on the 26-man roster.

Morris entered the Group B game in the 88th minute and registered three touches in his Cup debut and 50th appearance for the U.S. He was on the pitch for about 13 minutes since the match featured a plethora of stoppage time.


• Obtaining a toolkit for empowerment. That’s what Danielle Damasius of ONE MI, a local group focused on equity and inclusion, hoped that teens and adults would possess in their beings after attending a pair of recent webinars about becoming strong allies. Standing up for themselves and others in tough situations is one of the crucial goals wedged into the kit.

A cornerstone of the events was the five-pronged strategical intervention method for bystander intervention: distract, delegate, document, delay and direct.

• Mercer Island School District Superintendent Fred Rundle notified the school community about antisemitic terms recently made by students at Islander Middle School.

Rundle addressed the situation at the Oct. 27 school board meeting and followed up with a lengthy online letter posted on the school district website on Oct. 28. He noted in the letter that antisemitic comments were directed from one student to another on one day, and then a similar situation occurred later in the week.


• Nataliya Bobrovnyk sincerely believes that good will prevail over evil. The native Ukrainian, who has lived with her family on Mercer Island for the last eight years or so, stressed that if this is to occur, communities need to band together and help those residing in the country ravaged by war since the Russian invasion in February.

Sporting a bracelet on her right wrist with blue and gold ribbons intertwined that signify the national colors of her home country, she said on a recent afternoon that peace for Ukraine lies in people’s hearts, actions and donations.

Three days earlier, Bobrovnyk shared a similar message while addressing a crowd of about 300 people at the Rotary Club of Mercer Island’s International Dance for Peace at the Mercer Island Community and Event Center to raise funds for worldwide international grants and humanitarian aid, including assistance for Ukraine through its “1,000 Hearts for Peace in Ukraine” fundraiser.

• The youngster has earned his place in Mercer Island history. And he said there’s more to come.

Nineteen-year-old Avi Schiffmann thought it was cool to witness his portrait in Mercer Island City Hall alongside the myriad winners of the city’s prestigious Community Member of the Year award.

At the Sept. 6 city council meeting, Schiffmann received his award about two-and-a-half years after building the website, which became one of the most popular information hubs tracking COVID-19 cases around the world. Last March, he collaborated with Harvard classmate Marco Burstein to launch the Ukraine Take Shelter website, which connects Ukrainian refugees with potential hosts in neighboring countries.


• Longtime Mercer Island resident and NBA great Bill Russell passed away at his home on July 31, according to a message on his Twitter feed.

“It is with a very heavy heart we would like to pass along to all of Bill’s friends, fans, & followers: Bill Russell, the most prolific winner in American sports history, passed away peacefully today at age 88, with his wife, Jeannine, by his side.”

• At 7 a.m. on the first day of school, employees of the Homegrown Mercer Island location — many of whom are high school students — took to the streets with coffee in hand to strike over growing concerns relating to work conditions.

Russel Concha works as a driver for the Mercer Island location’s catering department. While he was striking alongside his colleagues over the lack of air conditioning, Concha was also striking over unfair pay.

• Liz Patterson said her son was a smart, kind person with a gentle soul. William — also known affectionately as Billy amongst friends and family — thrived in his life by solving problems and helping people and was a rising star with the Hoffman Construction Company, his mom added.

On July 22, the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) alumnus died from an accidental drug overdose after recreationally taking a counterfeit “M-30” oxycodone pill laced with fentanyl. He was 26 years old.

“It’s just really sad that this happened,” said Liz, adding that the family wants to alert others about the deadly fentanyl-laced drugs. “We wanted something to come out of his death that maybe we could help warn others and we may save a life.”


• Eric Thuau, head of school at the French American School of Puget Sound (FASPS), said that staff and students have had a positive experience on Mercer Island for the past 23 years, but it’s time for the school to relocate and secure a permanent residence with increased capacity for future growth.

FASPS currently leases the land where the school stands from property owner Stroum Jewish Community Center (JCC) at 3795 E. Mercer Way and its lease will expire in 2029. The school owns nearby land that it hoped to build on, but has faced zoning issues. FASPS’ current leased acreage is 2.844 and the land it owns on the Island stands at 2.5 acres. No immediate plans are on the school’s docket to sell the property.

Thuau said the school needed to start controlling its own destiny now and has purchased a 51,016-square-foot property in Seattle, located at 2203 23rd Ave. S. The North Beacon Hill location is convenient for students and staff since it’s just six miles east of its “nest” on Mercer Island, where they couldn’t find suitable land to purchase for their school placement, he added.


• Pride flags of all sizes were in abundance on a Sunday June afternoon at Mercerdale Park.

There was also plenty of music, hugs and smiles to go around at the city and ONE MI’s two-hour Mercer Island Pride Celebration, which attracted a wealth of residents of all ages supporting the LGBTQ+ community.

Madison Liu, an incoming junior at Mercer Island High School (MIHS), hung out with her friends at the event and noted: “Most of the people here are queer, and we’re here because we just wanted to celebrate our identity and it’s important to be here to recognize the queer populous on Mercer Island. Also, it’s just fun.”

• With the sounds of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” flowing from the speakers, the Black culture fair celebrating Juneteenth — which commemorates the abolition of slavery in the United States in 1865 — was underway at Mercerdale Park on June 19.

Organized by the Mercer Island High School (MIHS) Black Student Union and sponsored by the city of Mercer Island, the four-hour Juneteenth Festival featured a host of participants setting up tables to “showcase the critical impact Black people have had on art, dance, music and history in the United States,” according to the city’s event page.

“The most important message to me is even though we’ve made a lot of progress, there’s still more progress that we need to make,” said Lea’Asia Lane, a Black Student Union member. “That’s why we’re having this event so people can learn about it, be educated about it and not just be like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s important,’ so they can know why it’s important.”

• Islanders Ben Murawski and his mom Judith Anderson joined Issaquah resident Caroline Haessly in standing strong with their homemade signs during a National Gun Violence Awareness Day gathering on June 3 at Mercerdale Park.

The critical messages “Ban Assault Weapons” and “Who Will Die Next?” were emblazoned in thick black marker on a pair of orange signs during the afternoon event, which featured a host of attendees engaged in discussions and a group of Mercer Island Police Department members standing nearby.


• Mercer Island High School’s boys golf team notched the 3A state title following the two-day competition on May 24-25 at Liberty Lake Golf Course.

Over two 18-hole rounds, the Islanders finished with 569 points and Mead took second with 585.

• Call it a terrific trio of state titles. The Mercer Island High School boys soccer and baseball teams and a girls tennis duo won 3A state championships on May 28.

The Islander booters defeated Lakeside, 3-1, to win the program’s first title at Sparks Stadium in Puyallup.

Over at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, the Islander baseballers beat Kennewick, 8-4.

In Richland, tennis doubles partners Rachel Garton and Ava Chatalas won the 3A championship. The team finished second overall as Chloe DeGracia placed fourth in singles and Ella Simpson and Jaya Manhas took fifth in doubles.

• Tons of hard work turned into the sweet taste of success with a state title.

Head coach Lyndsey Gillis felt her Mercer Island High School girls lacrosse team played a near-perfect game in defeating Issaquah High School, 15-3, to win the state championship on May 20 at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

• A group of 13 volunteers from the Northwest Yeshiva High School (NYHS) community heeded the call to lend a hand in Romania during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Mercer Island group — which featured 11 seniors, their Head of School Jason Feld and operations manager Hadas Rosenberg — were part of an emergency NCSY Relief volunteer mission to help 300 Ukrainian children adjust while their entire orphanage in Odessa was evacuated and relocated to Neptun, Romania, due to the war.


• Mercer Island High School (MIHS) graduates Matt Galvin and Kirk Robinson have been named the Mercer Island School District 2022 Pathfinder Awards recipients for making an immense impact on the Island and beyond.

Their achievements, strength of character, and citizenship inspire and challenge today’s youth to make significant contributions to humankind, according to a school district press release.

• Mercer Island High School juniors Simona Yaroslavsky and Matthew Smith volunteered by helping Ukrainian refugees at the Mexico-United States border near San Diego on April 8-11.

“The volunteers down there right now are really overworked and understaffed. The border agents can only process 300 per day and there are upwards of 2,000 who often wait for days and days on end,” said Simona, 16, who speaks some Ukrainian and Russian and will help with translation along with distributing food, water, diapers, hygiene items, board games, money to use the bathrooms in Tijuana and more.

“Anything that we can really just do to help make the lives of these people easier as they’re waiting to enter the country,” said Smith, 17.

• Mercer Island police are investigating what struck two St. Monica Catholic School elementary students while they played outside during school hours on the afternoon of April 6.

The students felt a slight sting to their legs by what was potentially pellets from an air soft gun or an air rifle discharged by an occupant of a black Jeep, according to police commander Jeff Magnan.

After the Jeep sped away, the students reported the incident to their teachers and noted that they hadn’t sustained any injuries or marks on their legs. An officer who was flagged down in the area at 1 p.m. couldn’t locate the Jeep after searching the vicinity. The students were playing on the school’s field near the fence that borders a slope alongside Southeast 42nd Street.


• When the Florida House and Senate recently passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — a group of Mercer Island High School students held a peaceful organized walkout on March 11.

The members of the school’s Queer Straight Alliance protested against the bill, which restricts educators from how they’re able to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

On March 31, Islander Middle School (IMS) sixth-grader Tristan Schwiethale, 12, and a few classmates led a planned walkout to protest the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and anti-transgender legislation being proposed and passed in some states. The event was 300 to 400 people strong and many of the students were clutching pride signs and flags.

• Chase Schubert couldn’t believe what he read about the Parental Rights in Education Bill passing in the Florida House and Senate on Feb. 24 and March 8, respectively.

The Mercer Island High School (MIHS) senior knew it was crucial to take a stand against what he referred to as the “overtly discriminatory” legislation, which is dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill restricts educators from how they’re able to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on March 11, Schubert — president of the MIHS Queer Straight Alliance — led a peaceful organized walkout on the school campus. At the tail end of third period, a plethora of students rose from their desks and headed to the amphitheater to listen to five speakers discuss the bill and share personal stories about the challenges that LGBTQIA+ people face and ask for their fellow students’ support, MIHS Principal Walter Kelly said.


• United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Wildlife Services Division experts located and removed two coyotes from Mercer Island on Feb. 17 that they spotted “displaying increased comfortability around humans and homes,” according to the city.

“The USDA experts determined that removal of these animals was needed under current guidelines, and the two coyotes were euthanized following USDA protocol,” reads a city update posted on its website.

Mike Linnell, state director of Washington/Alaska Wildlife Services and a certified wildlife biologist, said that USDA coyote expert Matt Stevens and a fellow wildlife specialist shot and killed the two coyotes at close range at about 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. on Feb. 17.

• Gordon Gibson felt as if he was dreaming. As the Mercer Island High School freshman wrestler lifted his arms above his head while glancing at the crowd and then his coaches, the 113-pounder couldn’t believe he had just won a 3A state championship.

Battling out from the bottom position, the Islander grappler wound up pinning Mead freshman James Mason at the 4:48 mark of the match in the third and final period on Feb. 19 at the Mat Classic XXXIII tournament at the Tacoma Dome. Gibson, who led 4-0 before notching the fall, completed a 35-3 season atop the victory podium.

• Mercer Island High School’s boys swim and dive squad emerged from the pool victorious at the 3A state meet on Feb. 19 at the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.

The locals took first in the team standings with 367.5 points, with Lakeside School way back with 258 points in second.


• Times during the COVID-19 pandemic have been stressful, chaotic and fearful, according to some Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students. However, they say they’ve also mentally grown while learning to face challenges and trying to overcome them over the past two years.

The Reporter reached out to MIHS seniors to share their thoughts about these still uncertain times and how they’ve been handling their school experience.

One of them was Julia Brondello: “It’s been extremely difficult since everyone has such a wide range of opinions on how the pandemic should be handled. This variety in opinions has caused some people to be very happy attending school in the different forms while others have been very upset. Despite health concerns, changing learning platforms has been very challenging and has added greater stress into an already stressful environment.”

• There’s a new mayor in town: Salim Nice. At the start of the Jan. 4 virtual Mercer Island City Council meeting, the seven-member council voted amongst themselves to fill the mayoral spot that Benson Wong occupied for the last two years.

David Rosenbaum was also selected as deputy mayor by his fellow councilmembers at the meeting. Nice and Rosenbaum will both serve two-year terms for 2022-23.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo
Mercer Island High School Black Student Union members Brooks Kahsai and Lea’Asia Lane at the Juneteenth Festival Black culture fair on June 19 at Mercerdale Park.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo Mercer Island High School Black Student Union members Brooks Kahsai and Lea’Asia Lane at the Juneteenth Festival Black culture fair on June 19 at Mercerdale Park.

Photo courtesy of Erin Battersby
Mercer Island High School’s girls lacrosse team defeated Issaquah High School, 15-3, to win the state championship on May 20 at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

Photo courtesy of Erin Battersby Mercer Island High School’s girls lacrosse team defeated Issaquah High School, 15-3, to win the state championship on May 20 at the Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo
From left to right, Ben Murawski, Judith Anderson and Caroline Haessly brought end gun violence signs to the Mercer Island PTA Committee on Gun Violence Prevention gathering on June 3 at Mercerdale Park.

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo From left to right, Ben Murawski, Judith Anderson and Caroline Haessly brought end gun violence signs to the Mercer Island PTA Committee on Gun Violence Prevention gathering on June 3 at Mercerdale Park.