Incumbent Sally Ranzau will be the only name on the ballot for this year’s general election for Winthrop’s mayor, but that doesn’t mean she won’t have a challenger.
Winthrop business owner Seth Miles recently announced that he would run as a declared write-in candidate for the position — voters will have to fill in Miles’ name to cast a vote for him.
Ranzau has been mayor since 2018, and if elected, Miles would be new to local politics.
Ranzau took office in 2018 after what she described as a tumultuous time at Winthrop Town Hall — when a mayor resigned after firing the town marshal, who later sued the town.
Along with Ranzau, most of the council members were newly elected four years ago. Ranzau said she’s proud of how smoothly town government is running four years later.
“It was basically like starting over and starting fresh,” she said. “I really just wanted to come in and calm things down and see if we can get things done.”
Ranzau and her husband, Wayne, moved to the Methow Valley in 1996 from Estes Park, Colorado.
“I love the community. This is my forever home,” she said.
Among successes during her tenure, Ranzau listed the hiring of Marshal Doug Johnson and restructuring of the town Marshal’s Office, professional infrastructure surveys of water and sewer systems and the purchase by the town of Winthrop a plot of land for the new Winthrop Library, which is currently under construction and funded by the Friends of the Winthrop Library.
“I think it’s a huge win for the community,” she said.
Challenges during Ranzau’s tenure included COVID-19 and wildfires. She said some people haven’t appreciated Winthrop’s adherence to COVID-19 regulations set by Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I felt it was necessary for the safety of the community,” she said.
This summer, just as the town was beginning to feel the easing of COVID-19 restrictions, the dual threats of the Cedar Creek and Cub Creek 2 fires shut down travel over Highway 20 from Western Washington and meant many canceled reservations at area resorts.
“The odd part about both COVID and the fires is the town has ended up having record retail sales,” Ranzau said. Visitors, new residents and second homeowners spending more time in the valley did a good job shopping locally and supporting the community, she said. “We were shocked when we started seeing the numbers coming in.”
In the future, Ranzau said she’d like to work to finish ongoing projects, including work to rebuild Horizon Flats Road, which is pending funding; paving trailhead parking areas; adding electric vehicle charging stations and implementing the Winthrop in Motion plan, which outlines changes to vehicle and pedestrian traffic, parking areas and trails.
“I think we have a really good thing going with the town,” Ranzau said. “I’m ready to commit another four years to keep us moving forward rather than going backwards.”
Miles moved to the Methow Valley about 14 years ago with his family from the Seattle area, and about two and a half years ago purchased Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon in Winthrop. He said owning a restaurant and bar was always something he wanted to do.
“It’s kind of one of those places you fall in love with and it’s the community that really drew us here, and the outdoors, the recreation, everything,” he said.
Miles said he was thinking about running for mayor earlier this year, but hadn’t made a firm decision before the county’s filing deadline in May. He said Ranzau’s response to the wildfires this summer, particularly statements she made in July that the town’s summer tourist season was effectively over, spurred his decision to launch a write-in campaign.
“[I was] just really disappointed in that, mostly because I don’t believe she had the authority to say that or the knowledge to say that, because we had a really good late August and September,” he said.
Miles said he doesn’t believe the council is moving quickly enough on a number of projects, including paving Horizon Flats Road and finishing trail projects, and was not as supportive as it could have been in permitting the new Okanogan County Fire District 6 station. He’d also like the town to focus on finishing up ongoing trail projects and the Winthrop in Motion plan — particularly downtown pedestrian issues like sidewalks.
“The cost of living has gone way up, the price of housing and rentals have gone way up and I don’t see the town making big enough strides to help in these areas,” he said.
Miles is working on getting his name out as a candidate through advertising and word of mouth, and said he feels he has a good base of support in the community. Winthrop town elections generally involve a few hundred votes in total, which he said could also work to his advantage. Both candidates are also effectively starting their campaigns at the same time.
“It’s a level playing field in that sense,” he said.
Miles doesn’t have previous experience in town government, but said that won’t hold him back.
“I’ve lived in small towns for most of my life and I understand the politics of emotion and of heritage and people who feel a sense of ownership of a place and they don’t want to lose that,” he said. “We need to involve everyone who lives here in the decisions we make and the vision we have for our town.”