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Wednesday, October 31, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Election 2007

Outside donations fueling big Renton campaign fund

Times South King County Reporter

Candidates

Renton City Council, Position No. 5

Cheryl Haskins, 46

Residence: Renton

Occupation: Full-time candidate.

Background: In order to run for office, Haskins took a leave, and later resigned as part-time executive director for Allies for Marriage and Children. A former teacher, bank executive and business owner, Haskins most recently served as director of operations at The Coalition for Community Development & Renewal, a non-profit group that brings church, business and community leaders to help depressed neighborhoods in the Greater Seattle area.

Top three endorsements: Renton Firefighters Local 864, Citizens Alliance for Property Rights, King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert

Campaign Web site: www.voteforcherylhaskins.com

King Parker, 68

Residence: Renton

Occupation: Owner, King and Bunnys Appliances.

Background:A local business owner for the past 25 years, Parker served two terms on the City Council. He is the current president of the Renton Community Foundation and a board member of the Renton Chamber of Commerce.

Top three endorsements: Renton Police Officers Guild, King County Councilmember Reagan Dunn, City of Renton Employees Union -- AFSCME Local 2170

Campaign Web site: www.kingparkerforcouncil.com

A Renton City Council candidate with little name recognition around town has raised significantly more money than any local candidate in recent history.

Cheryl Haskins, a former teacher and small-business owner, has raised about $45,000 in her run against popular former City Councilmember King Parker. That's the second-highest tally in any City Council race this year in King County, outside Seattle.

Most of Haskins' donors live outside Renton, from Clyde Hill to Lynnwood.

Some of her top donors are affiliated with Allies for Marriage and Children, a nonprofit group that fought in Olympia against gay marriage and benefits for domestic partners. Haskins was the executive director of the group until recently.

Other donors to Haskins' campaign are leaders at The City Church in Kirkland, an evangelical church where her husband is an associate pastor.

Haskins said she is running for only one reason: She wants to bring a young, fresh perspective to Renton, a fast-growing city of 56,000. She insisted her views on gay marriage have no bearing on local politics.

But when Renton resident Kevin Poole found out about those views, he launched two Web sites to counter her candidacy. Since then, letters to the editor have gone back and forth in the media, and the discussion has spread online.

"I think it's pretty clear that she's been hand-picked to not only address the issue of gay rights, but also that she's being groomed essentially for future offices," said Poole, 35, an information-technology manager who is gay.

In a statement released on her Web site Friday, Haskins called the speculation about her campaign contributions "personal attacks on my faith." She described her donors as longtime friends and associates who had no agenda other than to help a community leader make a difference in her city.

"If we are a society that has moved towards one-issue voting, then there will be people who will be concerned about my potential," said Haskins, a Renton resident for the past 10 years. "I really believe most people ... are more independent than that."

Haskins, 46, ticked off what she sees as her strengths, from her experience as a businesswoman to her ability to work with people from all walks of life. If elected, she said, she would focus on public safety, city growth and securing more funding for local schools.

Politics has always been her passion, Haskins said, dating back to her high-school days. But life took her in a different direction: She married and started a family while attending Washington State University. Later she became a business owner, then a bank executive, and a teacher at Rainier Beach High School.

Most recently, she was director of operations at The Coalition for Community Development & Renewal, a nonprofit group that brings church, business and community leaders to help depressed neighborhoods in the Greater Seattle area.

With her children grown, Haskins said it was a good time to dive into politics.

She faces a formidable opponent. In a city known for its tight-knit circle of community leaders, Parker is a favorite, a longtime local businessman and a two-term council member who narrowly lost the race for mayor in 2003.

Haskins, who has a master's degree in marketing, said she approached the campaign as she would any business challenge, determining it would take significant funds to get past the name-recognition barrier. The money has bought her everything from advertising in local media to space on a local billboard.

"I'm somewhat honored that there's a candidate who feels I'm important enough to spend that kind of money," said Parker, 68.

Parker, who has raised about $10,000, said his track record as a 40-year resident of Renton should speak for itself. The president of the Renton Community Foundation, he's focused his campaign on issues such as fiscal accountability and public safety. The entire City Council and several local unions have endorsed him.

A newcomer to city politics, Haskins said she relied for support on the people who have known her for years.

Julaine Smith, treasurer of Allies, gave $1,000 to the campaign. She did it, she said, to support a smart, practical woman with a heart for helping other people. The gay-marriage issue didn't cross her mind.

"She really does have a heart to want to lead people, and to make lives and circumstances better," Smith said.

Haskins said that even if she wanted to affect policy on domestic-partnership benefits, she couldn't do it as a council member.

In Renton, a board of city employees and union leaders determines who gets which benefits. Recently that board decided to extend benefits to domestic partners, beginning in January.

Still, Poole has concerns. He started out as a Haskins supporter, impressed by her résumé, and her campaign slogan, "A New Face for Renton." He liked the idea of an accomplished, African-American woman on the council.

Then a few weeks ago, he did an Internet search, and discovered what he calls her "polarizing, ultraconservative activism."

Councilmember Randy Corman said he doesn't believe there is a conspiracylike effort afoot. Haskins could just be a woman with a certain view, he said, who happens to be running for City Council.

But he did find it strange that she would run with no track record of community service in Renton.

"It's very unusual," he said. "I've never seen a candidate where we've had such little interaction with them, as a city, before the race."

Haskins said her community work has taken a more regional focus in the past, but she is ready now to turn her attention to Renton.

Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or csolomon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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