Campaign signs dot yards and roads around this town of 6,600 — professional red ones urging residents to “save our city” and “recall Cy Sun” and homemade white ones screaming “RECALL NO!” a message as direct as the mayor hoping to preserve his unusual political career.
On Tuesday, voters in the King-Pierce County border town of Pacific will decide whether to retain Sun, an 83-year-old Korean War veteran who took office as a write-in candidate last year and immediately turned everything upside down.
Mayor Sun has forced out almost all of his department heads, including three police chiefs, was arrested while trying to enter the city’s clerk office and has triggered some $11 million in lawsuits against the town, which has a budget of $15 million.
To supporters, he is a war hero who won an insurgent election campaign and has since taken tough steps to clean up corruption. To opponents, he is a cantankerous old man who gained power on a fluke and has used it to bring the town to the brink of collapse.
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“He’s been destructive,” said Don Thomson, 67, a retired mechanic and 23-year resident who is organizing the recall effort. “He has nearly destroyed Pacific in just 18 months.”
Sun declined to comment.
The recall specifically asks residents to consider two allegations — that the mayor used police as a personal investigation squad and that he jeopardized the town’s insurance by not filling department-head vacancies.
Voters have until 8 p.m. Tuesday to either mail their ballots or put them in a ballot box. The election will be certified July 9; if a majority were to vote yes, Sun would leave office that day.
About 3,000 are eligible to vote. As of early last week, King County Elections had received nearly 1,000 ballots, according to spokeswoman Barbara Ramey.
The election is King County’s first recall since 2004, when voters ousted a suburban sewer-district commissioner, Ramey said.
Located south of Auburn, between Highway 167 and East Valley Highway, the 2.6-square-mile town is centered in King County but dips into Pierce.
It’s a diverse, young and working-class town, with a median age of about 33 and median household income of $52,500, according to the U.S. Census.
A California land developer founded it in 1909, choosing the name Pacific to reflect the area’s peaceful nature, according to a city website.
It’s been anything but peaceful since Cy Sun ran for mayor.
The Hawaii native, son of an American mother and Korean father, earned a Silver Star in the U.S. Army and worked an Oregon farm before coming north, according to fellow officials and news reports.
Sun ran in 2011 on an anti-corruption platform, pledging to address long-standing issues and forfeit the mayoral salary.
His 471 write-in votes topped the eight-year incumbent, Richard Hildreth, who got 401 votes, and city councilman John Jones, who got 306.
“He kind of swept in, and he had good ideas, but he did them in the wrong way,” said Bruce Butts, a 52-year-old janitorial supervisor, waiting for a bus outside City Hall. “He came in and bulldozed everything.”
Sun’s style led to the quick firings or departures of the city clerk, city engineer, finance director, public-works director and community-services director.
The mayor nominated replacements, but the council found some of them unqualified.
Sun’s style agitated many, who criticized and mocked him, including for leaving meetings because of hearing problems, and accused him of lying about his war record.
Last spring opponents distributed “Who is the Real Cy Sun?” a pamphlet of attacks that included photos of Sun’s Oregon farm.
It was in trying to investigate the pamphlet that Sun allegedly used his police as an investigation squad.
Sun contends that he was only asking the chief to investigate a Pacific officer who he believed had taken the photos in Oregon while on the clock.
Regardless, the chief refused to comply and was promptly fired.
That was far from the only fight between Sun and police.
In the most high-profile incident, local television cameras caught Sun being handcuffed last July, while trying to push past officers guarding the clerk’s office out of fear the mayor was going to destroy city records.
Soon after that spectacle, Thomson filed the recall.
Most recall efforts don’t make the ballot because judges rule there isn’t sufficient evidence for the claims, but last October, a King County judge allowed this one to proceed.
As Sun appealed that decision, the town faced a new crisis: its insurance provider, worried about all of the vacancies, decided to drop its coverage.
The council considered disincorporating but last December found a new insurance provider with higher deductibles and less coverage.
The mayor and council blamed each other for the crisis.
The state Supreme Court approved the recall in April. Supporters gathered the 415 required signatures within three days.
It’s hard to predict what will happen Tuesday.
Richard Kim, the clerk at Giu’s Market, across from City Hall, said his customers are evenly divided.
But of nearly two dozen residents interviewed for this story, none said they would vote to retain Sun.
Still, nobody expected him to win in 2011, and he did.
If Sun is recalled, the council will appoint a replacement for the remainder of his term, until 2015. Two are already vying for that job: Jones, who placed third in 2011, and City Council president Leanne Guier.
Regardless of what happens, Guier said she’s ready for Pacific’s days in the limelight to end.
“I’m just looking forward to the day when we become that little tiny black dot on the map again,” she said.
News researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report, which includes information from The Seattle Times archives.
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal