Denis Law firmly established himself as a law-and-order candidate when he ran for mayor in 2007.
But when he took office three years ago this month, the nation’s worst economic downturn in decades began a relentless challenge to his abilities as Renton’s chief executive officer to pay the city’s bills with declining revenues.
He’s cut the city’s budget substantially and with regret laid off city workers in those three years. In doing so, he has tried to protect the city’s basic services, such as police and fire protection.
While he sees a brighter future, Law argues the recession has forced a fundamental change in government, which will have to do more with less. Law wants another four years in office to fine-tune his efforts to make Renton government more efficient.
“That will continue to be a priority for me in the next four years, to fine tune our service levels so residents can see we are a well-greased machine,” he said in a wide-ranging interview this week.
Law announced his intention to run for re-election last week. He had been routinely asked for weeks whether he would run again. Financial supporters were ready to line up behind him.
And prospective mayoral candidates were weighing their options. It’s likely that Law’s announcement will mean any City Council member contemplating a run for mayor will sit out the race this year.
Downtown businesswoman Cheryl Danza announced in September she intended to run for mayor. However, Danza lives in Fairwood, so her candidacy was dependent on whether Fairwood annexed to Renton. Annexation was rejected in November’s general election.
Danza said this week she loves living in Fairwood and will not move to Renton in order to run for mayor.
“I can still be a voice of the people,” she said. “I am not going to lose my passion for downtown and for Renton.”
Law said he “has no clue” who will run against him. Still, he said in the interview he would be shocked if someone didn’t oppose him in this year’s mayoral campaign. He’s already clear about what the key issue is in the race: How to provide quality city services in the future at a time when revenues have been severely affected by the recession.
“There is nothing on the horizon that indicates that is going to change,” he said.
In 2007 Law raised about $135,000 in his bid to unseat incumbent Mayor Kathy Keolker, who had served five terms on the City Council. He needed the money to get out his message, mostly by expensive direct mail, to challenge an incumbent.
It’s unlikely he’ll need that kind of money this time around, he said. He was in his first term on the City Council when he ran for mayor.
The political tenor in City Hall and on the City Council was much different in 2007 than it is today.
“We were in a very contentious time at City Hall,” said Law, with a rift separating the council and Keolker. The dysfunction in city government is part of the reason he ran for mayor, he said.
Within months of his election, the tensions had eased. Law said he respects the role of the council as policy maker. In turn council members respect his role as overseer of daily operations and as a CEO who makes recommendations to them, he said.
Council member Terri Briere supported Keolker in the 2007 campaign. Briere and Law don’t agree on everything, especially on whether to annex West Hill.
Law has made it clear he won’t support annexing West Hill if it means an erosion of services to current Renton residents. Briere says she’s a little more “open-minded” on the matter, although she agrees West Hill annexation needs to pencil out.
Still, she said, Law “has done a fine job, to be honest.” He has a good relationship with the council, she said.
Briere was thinking of running for mayor if Law had decided not to run. She said that was the case for others on the City Council, too, because no one wanted to run against an incumbent.
Regionally, Law has made Renton’s presence felt, especially on the issue of flood protection in the Green River Valley. He meets regularly with other South County mayors to discuss regional issues and concerns, including the Howard Hanson Dam.
Law joined the lobbying effort that successfully resulted in millions of dollars in federal aid for dam and levee improvements. Renton doesn’t have levees, but weakened ones could still cause flooding in south Renton.
“We are all speaking off the same page,” Law said of bringing a unified front to Washington, D.C. “We don’t have separate agendas.”
Municipal races are non-partisan, meaning there are no political labels – Democrat or Republican – attached to a candidate. Law labels himself an Independent. He points out that leading endorsements in 2007 included Mike Lowry, a Renton democrat and former governor, and Rob McKenna, a Republican and the state’s attorney general. He’ll begin soon to approach key players and organizations in Renton about their endorsements.
He’s conservative in his personal and business life, looking for ways to get “the best bang for our buck,” he said. A strong business community is necessary “to have a quality city” and to pay for a “big chunk” of the city’s expenses, he said.
Law said it’s an honor and a privilege to serve as Renton’s mayor.
“It’s something that will be one of the highlights of my life, whether it’s four years or eight years,” he said.