The race for Astoria mayor pits the incumbent Willis Van Dusen against the challenger Bonnie Wingard, who has no prior experience in local government.
Van Dusen's long public career, starting with service on the City Council spans the Edith Henningsgaard era and his own. Thus he has been part of a 22-year period of enormous progress and some transformation. There is a government or political side to Van Dusen's story, and there is also a human story. Both are compelling and intertwined. The challenge for a mayor who has served this long is to remain fresh and relevant. This demand faces all of us in an era of swift cultural and economic change.
It is impossible to separate the public Van Dusen from the private man. He has turned his life around in the last four years since returning from the Betty Ford Clinic. While he does not seek to be a public example, Van Dusen presents a transformed public persona in four years of sobriety. It takes daily courage to do that. He appears to be much more engaged and articulate, capturing the nuances of what faces the city. He is an excellent presiding officer at council meetings that include disparate voices and viewpoints.
When asked about his agenda for a sixth term during an interview Sept. 22, Van Dusen said the next few years contain more challenge and opportunity for Astoria than what's come before. The main opportunities to which Van Dusen referred were the Astoria Public Library and the Safeway block. The library is a prospective renewal project. The Safeway block needs to be rescued from structural calamity, and its development presents enormous promise for redefining a large component of downtown.
There are aspects of the public agenda that are puzzling. The bequest for a library has been the subject of legal investigation for years, with no conclusion. Commendably, Van Dusen takes responsibility for not forcing that matter. It is surprising that the city did not identify the Safeway block's potential for physical disaster sooner and act. The Astoria Municipal Court's adjudication of drunken driving cases will reliably be a subject of controversy as long as the City Council hangs on to them.
The city's consummation of the overflow sewage facility was a huge undertaking. None of us likes its expense, but the city is getting a very necessary job done. Similarly, extension of the Astoria Riverwalk continues a heartening aspect of living in this town.
The next four years will be a test for all of us. Willis Van Dusen appears to be very much up for the challenge. We wish him well and urge his re-election.