A Pierce County Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that a Tacoma City Council candidate whose residency qualification has been challenged will appear on the November ballot.
The issue was raised by attorney Donald Powell, who placed third during the Primary Election this year, and has since challenged fellow candidate Ronnie Allen Warren, who defeated him, as to whether Warren lives in the district for which he is running. Powell has charged that Warren, a homeless boxer-turned-street-preacher, should be disqualified because Warren does not live in District 3.
City charter requires candidates running for City Council positions that represent specific districts must live in the district for one year before filing, and for the entire term of office.
During a hearing yesterday, Judge Lisa Worswick ruled that Powell’s challenge is too late, and should have been raised within three days of the primary election’s certification. “The train has left the station,” said Worswick, who commented that the ballot and the voter’s pamphlet have already been printed. She agreed with an attorney for Pierce County Auditor Pat McCarthy, who argued that Powell needed to follow a tight timeline between the Primary Election Aug. 21 and the General Election Nov. 6 in order to follow through with his challenge.
However, the judge did leave the case open should Warren go on to win the election against candidate Lauren Walker on Election Day.
During the Primary Election, front-runner Walker received 1,932 votes. The race between Warren and Powell was close. Warren received 429 votes; Powell received 404 votes. A fourth challenger, Jack Pleasant, received 375 votes.
“I continue to be disappointed by Mr. Warren’s inconsistency between the address on his voter registration, Post Office box, and the information provided by Ms. Bennett,” said Powell after the hearing.
Powell raised his concern in September, when he was contacted by Tacoma resident Rachel Bennett, who claimed she knew Warren and believed he did not live in District 3. Instead, she said Warren lived with Tommie Frazier, a deacon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
In an e-mail to Warren earlier this year, Bennett challenged Warren’s residency.
On Aug. 20, Warren responded, “My physical address is not the one listed in the voters pamphlet. I have been given a physical address that I couldn’t remember at the time of the application. My preference was my P.O. Box, but I forgot to request it. I have been homeless at times and occasionally I have stayed with Tommie, as you know, on a day to day basis. My brother, my sister both have physical property in Upper Tacoma. I hope that this personal information is what you were looking for.”
Bennett says it wasn’t, and has since contested the election.
In an e-mail response, she told Warren that whether his brother and sister owned property in District 3 was irrelevant to the issue of whether Warren lived in the district. “[It] does not address the questions of where you live now or on the date you filed your paperwork for Tacoma City Council,” she wrote. “Nor does it answer my question about you living on the 6300 block of Fawcett.”
According to Bennett, Warren has lived outside of the district since 2001, except for a period between August 2006 and March 2007. On the voter’s guide, Warren listed his residence as located in the 2300 block of South Ash St., which is located in the district.
“There were over 400 people in District 3 that utilized their power to vote,” Bennett told the Index, in an article published Sept. 11. “They voted for Ronnie, and he does not reside in District 3. To me, the people utilized their vote and put their faith in Ronnie to represent them on Tacoma City Council. I just don’t see how he can run.”
In a sworn declaration taken Sept. 12, and filed in Pierce County Superior Court, Bennett contested the election, claiming, “Mr. Warren is not qualified to run for the office due to his failure to meet residency requirements.”
The Pierce County Canvassing Board has scheduled a hearing this morning at 11:00 a.m. regarding Bennett’s challenge..
Powell had requested subpoenas for a variety of people to appear at yesterday’s hearing.
He hoped the Pierce County Auditors Office could provide information as to whether Warren’s voter registration listed an address outside the district. He also hoped a representative of the United State Post Office comment on whether Warren was living outside the district when he obtained the post office box listed on campaign materials.
And he requested subpoenas for Bennett and Frazier.
Warren appeared for the hearing 35 minutes late, claiming he had not been served a subpoena.
Warren has said he has been homeless over the years, but has remained in the district. He has denied Bennett’s claim that he has lived with Frazier for nearly six years. He said he now lives at a residence in the 800 block of South 13th Street.