"Small-town feel" or "historic charm" are just a couple of answers you might get when asking longtime residents what makes Issaquah, Issaquah...

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“Small-town feel” or “historic charm” are just a couple of answers you might get when asking longtime residents what makes Issaquah, Issaquah.

While those elements remain part of the city, a booming growth spurt is chiseling a new image: high-profile residential and commercial area.

Issaquah was ranked this year as the second fastest-growing city in King County, according to the state Office of Financial Management. And if the City Council approves an annexation of two neighborhoods this year, Issaquah is poised to nearly double in size from 17,000 to about 32,000.

This summer, the City Council boosted the profile of this onetime coal-mining town even further when it passed a measure barring sex offenders from certain neighborhoods — the first city in the state to do so.

In another surprising move, the council came close to killing the beleaguered Southeast Bypass project in July, but a swing vote by Councilman Joe Forkner brought the project back to life and authorized the completion of a final environmental-impact report due this spring. The $40 million project has been studied for 10 years as a way to divert traffic away from downtown.

With traffic headaches reaching an all-time high, and questions swirling about how to bring more people downtown, this year’s City Council candidates are focusing on transportation, economic vitality and maintaining Issaquah’s quality of life.

Position 1

Oscar Kelley, 56

Occupation: Data administrator for the Highlands Fiber Network

Personal: Married; two sons

Background: Worked as a Refuse Ranger since 1991 collecting trash at Issaquah’s Salmon Days Festival; elementary-school basketball coach through the Parks and Recreation Department for 30 years

Top three endorsements: Fred Nystrom, local writer; Donna Shirey, businesswoman; Master Builders Association

Campaign Web site: None given

John Rittenhouse, 47

Occupation: program manager at Microsoft

Personal: Married; no children

Background: Member of the planning policy commission since last year; advisory-board member for Faith in Action, a national volunteer-caregiver organization

Top three endorsements: Cascade Bicycle Club; King County Women’s Political Caucus; Sierra Club

Campaign Web site: www.jr-issaquah.net

Position 3

Eileen Barber, 54

Occupation: Retired; former owner of the Ben Franklin store for 25 years

Personal: Single; two children

Background: Planning policy commissioner; parks board commissioner; board member, Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery; president of the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, 2003

Top three endorsements: Seattle-King County Association of Realtors; David Irons, Metropolitan King County councilman; Larry Ishmael, president of the Issaquah School Board

Campaign Web site: www.eileenbarber.com

Connie Marsh, 44

Occupation: Owner and manager of the Doubletake Vintage and Consignment Shop on Gilman Boulevard

Personal: Significant other

Background: Citizen activist; member of the Issaquah Basin Action Team

Top three endorsements: Sierra Club; 5th District Democrats; Stacy Goodman, former editor of the Issaquah Press

Campaign Web site: www.connie4council.com

Position 5

Bill Conley, 52

Occupation: Former owner of Buffalo Bill’s sporting-goods store in Issaquah; now owns commercial property here and in Spokane

Personal: Divorced; five children

Background: Two terms on the City Council; founding board member of Eastside Fire and Rescue

Top three endorsements: Dino Rossi, former state senator; Larry Ishmael, president of the Issaquah School Board; Jay Rodne, state representative

Campaign Web site: www.billconley.org

Maureen McCarry, 55

Occupation: Retired; served for 15 years as the assistant director of planning and regulatory affairs at Harborview Medical Center

Personal: Married; one daughter

Background: City councilwoman 1998-2000; served on the planning policy commission from Nov. 1994 through March 1996; national chairwoman for the Association of American Medical Colleges Group on Institutional Planning 2003-04

Top three endorsements: Sierra Club; King County Labor Council, AFL-CIO; City Councilman David Kappler

Campaign Web site: www.maureenmccary.com; not yet active as of yesterday

Position 7

Gail Brothers, 58

Occupation: Account manager and sales representative for Plantsmart in Redmond

Personal: Two children

Background: Served on board of directors for the Sammamish Symphony from 1995-99; member of Issaquah’s Art Commission for the past seven years

Top three endorsements: David Irons, Metropolitan King County councilman; Barbara deMichele, former Issaquah School Board member; Seattle-King County Association of Realtors

Campaign Web site: www.gailbrothers.org

Nancy Davidson, 48

Occupation: Civil and environmental engineer for the Alderwood Water District

Personal: Married; three sons

Background: Served on the City Council for one term; worked for King County on water and natural-resource issues; worked for city of Seattle managing the water supply

Top three endorsements: 5th District Democrats; Women’s Political Caucus; Sierra Club

Campaign Web site: www.nancy-davidson.com

Of the four contested spots, Positions 1 and 3 are being vacated by Forkner, who decided not to run for another term, and Hank Thomas, who is running for mayor. Two incumbents are running to keep their seats.

Here’s a look at the races for each council position that voters will decide Nov. 8.

Position 1

Oscar Kelley, 56, is a data administrator for Highlands Fiber Network and moved to Issaquah in 1975. Kelley, who has seen the city’s rapid development, said he has never held office but felt compelled to run “because I wanted to put some of my passion for the city to help make some decisions on its future growth.”

Kelley, who is “more a listener than a speaker,” said his key issues include easing traffic congestion and increasing retail businesses on Front Street. As for the contentious Southeast Bypass project, he said he wants to study the final environmental-impact report before making a decision.

Traffic needs to be mitigated somehow, he said. “I hear horror stories of people cutting corners. … We need to think of some alternative to get traffic through town.”

John Rittenhouse, 47, is a program manager at Microsoft who has lived in the city since 1992. This is also his first bid for a council seat.

Rittenhouse said the Southeast Bypass wouldn’t help traffic woes and that the money could be better spent improving existing facilities. He supports more mass transit and wants to develop a pedestrian culture downtown. He’d like to see “safe passages” across downtown streets that would connect one shopping center to another, he said.

“Issaquah is in a pretty unique position because the downtown core is relatively small,” he said.

An inexpensive way to do this is to paint pedestrian walkways on the pavement, he said. “If you had that in a parking lot, then you’d have a safe place for people to walk.”

Rittenhouse also said that as Issaquah grows, it will need more social services, and he’d like to earmark a portion of the city’s budget for that.

Position 3

Eileen Barber, 54, has lived in Issaquah for 29 years and owned and managed the Ben Franklin store downtown for 25 years.

Barber wants to bring more economic vitality to the city by marketing Issaquah’s unique features — such as its salmon hatchery — and improving the historic area. She also wants to attract more corporate employers to the city.

“This is a very growing area with good schools and good neighborhoods. Getting [a big employer] would be a huge piece,” she said.

Barber wants to relieve traffic on Gilman Boulevard by completing the Interstate 90 under-crossing and improving shuttle service throughout the city. She says she’ll be better prepared to decide on the Southeast Bypass after seeing the final environmental report.

She also supported the Transfer of Development Rights Program, which the City Council adopted last month, in which landowners receive financial compensation without developing or selling their land and the public receives permanent preservation of the land.

Connie Marsh, 44, is a businesswoman and community activist who has owned and managed the Doubletake Vintage and Consignment Shop on Gilman Boulevard the past 15 years.

Marsh spends 25 to 30 hours a week attending city meetings as a self-proclaimed “watchdog.”

She wanted to run, she said, because “after six years of attending every city meeting known to man, I stood up one day and realized they couldn’t hear me.”

She said one of her top concerns is the potential annexation of the Klahanie and Greenwood Point/South Cove neighborhoods, which would nearly double the city’s population and affect the level of services.

“I have questions that need to be answered,” she said. She said she would support the annexation “if I can be sure that the citizens aren’t losing money or services long-term.” She wants to re-examine the cost reports, she said. “We need to ask what exactly is the reality of doubling in size.”

Marsh said she’s not interested in building a bypass to relieve traffic problems. Instead, she’d like to use lanes the city already has; for example, putting in a center turn-lane on Newport Way. She also supports going forward with the I-90 crossing project.

Position 5

Maureen McCarry, 55, is a former city councilwoman who served from 1998 to 2000 but left to start a family. She is retired now after serving for 15 years as the assistant director of planning and regulatory affairs at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

McCarry said she wants a vibrant downtown economy that caters to a pedestrian-friendly environment with more sidewalks.

“We have some of the best hiking and bike routes, and those people drive in, hike and leave,” she said.

She said she’s concerned about the Southeast Bypass because it would funnel business away from downtown. “It’s supposed to solve the problems of Front Street,” she said. “But I have not seen the rationale for building it.”

Incumbent Bill Conley, 52, is running for a third term “because we’re growing at a rapid rate, and we want to make sure we’re staying consistent with holding on to what’s important.”

One of his main priorities, he said, is to keep the channels of communication open to the public. “We have an environment where we listen to the citizens, and we have a lot of meetings to get public input. It can be cumbersome at times, but it’s worth it.”

He also wants to keep up with his “environmental stewardship” by protecting Issaquah’s streams and working with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

Conley has been a proponent of the Southeast Bypass as a way to alleviate traffic from the city’s congested streets.

Position 7

Incumbent Nancy Davidson, 48, said she’s running for a second term because there are some projects she wants to see through to completion.

One, she said, is the Interstate 90 crossing project that would connect north and south portions of the city and reduce traffic congestion at Highway 900 and Front Street and on the I-90 offramps.

Davidson also wants to develop a parks plan. Part of her vision is to purchase land along Issaquah Creek and construct a trail from Lake Sammamish to the Issaquah Fish Hatchery.

“Clearly, there’s a strong interest for more parks,” she said. Davidson has opposed the completion of the Southeast Bypass.

Her opponent, Gail Brothers, 58, sells nursery products in Redmond and is a political newcomer who would like to bring more vibrancy to the downtown. “I want to see a lot of pleasant areas for people to gather and spend time,” she said.

She would like to bring more restaurants, galleries and museums to the city, including another performance venue. She also wants to see more bike trails and walking areas away from busy streets. While she pointed to a vital need to ease traffic congestion, Brothers said she’d be against the Southeast Bypass if the final report determines the project would significantly impact the environment.

Brothers said she’s running because she wants to help plan for Issaquah’s rapid growth.

“We’ve got a lot coming at us,” she said.

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com