By Scott Schaefer

Ballots have been mailed, forums have been held, campaign signs are out and voters are deciding on seven local candidates on the ballot for four positions on the Des Moines City Council for the Nov. 2, 2021 General Election.

The Waterland Blog sent out seven questions to the seven candidates, and today we’re presenting their answers to the first one, in order of position numbers and names (and photos) as listed on the King County Elections website. Each candidate’s name also links to their statements on the Elections website.

Here’s question #1:

What is your biggest strength/weakness, and
why do you want to be on the Des Moines City Council?

Positon No. 1

Harry Steinmetz

My biggest strength is my experience in government. I have worked as a county and municipal prosecutor. I was a staff attorney for the Washington State Senate, Judiciary Committee for two legislative sessions. I have represented not for profit senior care providers in the State Legislature and DSHS. I have served on the Pierce County Criminal Justice Taskforce. I have also been a member of the Joint Legislative Taskforce on Domestic Violence. I understand how government works, how to build a consensus, and get stuff done.

My biggest weakness is time. I work full time and have a family and wonder if I will have enough time to do everything that I want to do on the Council.

The reason I want to be on the Des Moines City Council is because I really love this city and want to see it reach its potential. We are nowhere near the city we could be. I want to change that.

Position No. 3

Gene Achziger

Probably the most significant responsibility of the Council is oversight, and you can only provide oversight when you can get answers to your questions. As a journalist for more than 45 years, I know how to ask questions and use this essential tool to ferret out the truth. Sometimes, it’s not just about asking a question. Sometimes you really need to keep rephrasing the question until you can get an answer. So, I consider that a significant strength. Weaknesswise, I may be too compassionate. There is a difference between empathy and compassion. Empathy is awareness and an attempt to understand other peoples’ situations. Compassion is similar, except you feel compelled to do something about it. It’s a passive vs. active thing.

I saw a need for Redondo/Woodmont to join a city, and I pushed to annex to Des Moines. I saw a need to save the Mount Rainier Pool so our kids would have a place to learn to swim, and I led that campaign… and the one to save the Tukwila Pool. I became involved with the Des Moines Legacy Foundation to help disadvantaged kids and seniors. Taking all that on can stretch you a little thin. But now I have time, and I see a need to rescue our parks and recreation program. I’m compelled to do something about it. I see too many people being shut out of the governing process, and I want to do something about it. I see us increasingly shifting our focus away from kids, so I’m trying to do something about it. I’m running for Des Moines City Council.

Priscilla Vargas

Strength – I am empathetic and compassionate and always strive to give a voice to the underrepresented. I have been in public service my entire career. It is not just about giving back to the community; it is also about paying it forward today and to future generations of Des Moines residents.

Weakness – My greatest weakness is that I want to be responsible for every aspect of my job. However, it is better to concentrate more on my highest priority issues and be well versed than trying to be proficient at everything.

Why do I want to be on the Des Moines city council – I have devoted most of my career to public service. Specifically, I have spent over 31 years in both the public and private transportation sectors in providing transportation access for seniors and persons with disabilities. Moreover, I’m entering my third year as a member of the Des Moines Senior Services Advisory Committee which encourages senior citizen independence through a variety of recreational and educational activities. Therefore, serving on the city council would be a continuation of my passion for public service to the residents of Des Moines.

Position No. 5

Traci Buxton

My greatest strength – as a partner, parent, or businessperson – is the ability to connect with people, listen, and brainstorm solutions calmly. I am a collaborator and a peacemaker.

My greatest weakness is similar, in that I have difficulty when solutions must involve adversarial conflict; especially if livelihoods or reputations are at stake.

I would like to retain my seat on City Council because I appreciate the ability to participate in creating and preserving our quality of life in this amazing community,

Tad Doviak

My biggest strength is my willingness and ability to listen to all sides of an issue and find common ground.

My biggest weakness is that I have a hard time saying no. I like to help and sometimes overcommit.

I want to be on the City Council because it is a great way to help a lot of people in my community.

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Position No. 7

Matt Mahoney

Strengths: Connecting the community by:

    • Staying in touch and being accessible to residents and businesses, with complete willingness to listen to their concerns/needs.
    • Staying in touch through involvement in a variety of city entities like our Waterland Parade, Farmers Market, and more.
    • Using my life experience to walk the balance of understanding the things that need to be done to move our city forward, as well as maintaining the things we love about our city.
    • Working with residents and businesses to get us all looking in the same direction and moving forward thoughtfully.


    • I feel so strongly about the Des Moines community, I give it my all, sometimes sacrificing my own time. But I don’t regret it.

Soleil Lewis

My biggest strengths are:

    • My decision-making and conversations are policy-driven. I now work for the Seattle King County NAACP as a policy liaison tracking legislation that comes from the Washington State Legislature and Congress. I create community summaries to make it digestible for underserved communities across King County to understand legislation passed in Olympia and Congress.
    • I am a workaholic.
    • I am aware of and can relate to the personal struggles that occur in our minority and immigrant
      communities. We have 48% of people of color who live in the highest density areas of Des Moines. The areas such as: Woodmont, North Hill, Zenith, and Redondo communities make up the 32,348 people living here. Of those 48% persons of color residing in Des Moines, only 21% are persons who speak English as a Second Language.
    • I bring a fresh perspective to Des Moines City Council, a perspective reflective of the concerns of 62% of people aged 18 to 64. The people returning from college unsure of job security during the pandemic. The individuals that just got approved for their first mortgage, and couldn’t afford Seattle. Thus they are first-time homebuyers in Des Moines. These individuals represent the younger generations moving into their grandparent’s homes in Des Moines. They want to see a Des Moines that is thriving and vibrant, a place where they can raise their young children. They believe that the city should provide services to support them as parents. Creating programs for children, free childcare resources, after-school support tutoring in partnership with local school districts, acquiring funding to build new parks, skate parks, and business integration for generating park revenue.
    • I believe that our infrastructure funding could be equally allocated to areas located near Kent Des Moines Rd, Mount Rainier High School, Zenith, Woodmont, and Redondo.
  • My weaknesses are:
    • I am an advocate. I’m passionate about change so I passionately will champion causes I believe in.
    • I’m constantly striving to be perfect. I am a perfectionist. I don’t like things thrown together or not done in excellence. Specifically pertaining to projects that impact kids, families, and seniors.
    • I have a low tolerance for people who omit truths or who put people in danger with their words or actions.

Why Soleil for City of Des Moines City Council PO#7?

As someone who has lived and reinvested her life into South King County. It is time for a change in Des Moines. A change that is inspirational and inclusive of all parts of Des Moines.

I believe being a woman of color living in Des Moines allows me provisions for policy insights affecting the 48% of people of color in Des Moines. The fact policies have been implemented that are not reflecting equity of funding for infrastructure projects relating to sidewalk pavements, fixing potholes and cracks in our higher population density areas.

My experience as an educator on the frontline teaching students in-person since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic is relevant to this moment.

Teaching…while my students and co-workers had not enough PPE equipment to sustain themselves for the full year

Imagine a teacher taking her last paycheck to buy face masks for students.

That teacher was me……

I know what it is like to work as a Teamster III classified office manager making only $2,400 a month. There were times that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay my rent and to keep the light on.
I can relate and empathize, not sympathize with people, who know what it is like to struggle.

I understand the strain of being a working-class person working in person during a pandemic. The trait of relateability is a rare trait to find in a politician. Thus, the people of Des Moines deserve a council member that can advocate for their current realities.

I also believe that my experience managing budgets is important to be an effective city council member. We need someone elected to position 7, who can hold accountable decisions being made with taxpayers dollars. Moreover, give the 32,348 people living in Des Moines a right to vote on any tax proposition that the city would propose in our community. I believe my desire is to end the lack of inconsistency and transparency in the distribution of revenue from our tax dollars.

We need a council member, once elected to position #7, who is willing to ask those hard questions of accountability and transparency on our tax dollar expenditures.

Also, the endorsements from our local and national elected officials and unions, represent trust and belief that I will be a great policymaker for this city. I strongly believe that my experiences qualify me as the right person to serve on this council.

It is clear with the endorsements I’ve received from: Congressman Adam Smith, 33rd Representative Tina Orwall, 30th LD Senator Claire Wilson, 47th LD Senator Mona Das, Des Moines City Council Member Anthony Martinelli, MLK Labor Council, Teamsters Joint Council 28, Teamsters 763, Washington State Educators Association, and Highline Educators Association.

TOMORROW: We’ll get answers from candidates on whether they think our main street/downtown is healthy and successful, and if/how they would change things.