Al Hassell is the antithesis of a politician.
He is soft-spoken, laid back and doesn’t spend a lot of time advertising his accomplishments. You might not pick him out of a crowd as the man running for a second term as mayor of Coeur d’Alene because he’s likely smiling and deferring to someone else.
“He is a very, very quiet, very genuine, honest, caring Christian man,” said Judy D. Anderson, his partner in Anderson and Hassell Insurance and Financial Services.
“He will never put anyone else down to bring himself up,” Anderson said. “He doesn’t try to gain credit by boasting and he doesn’t seek the limelight.”
Anderson first got to know Hassell when both worked for Blue Cross in the 1970s. She has come to admire his family devotion, his commitment to community, his faithful work at Coeur d’Alene Bible Church.
Hassell and his wife, Judy, have raised four children, and dedicated a lot of time to their seven grandchildren. The Hassells often take one grandchild at a time and spend a day only with that child.
It has taught Hassell to listen and be patient, he said.
That dedication goes many directions. When Judy Hassell’s mother suffered a serious stroke last summer, they moved her into their home so they could care for her.
Between that, work and city commitments, “he has no time for himself,” Anderson said.
Hassell, 53, graduated from North Central High School in Spokane. Within four months of arriving in Coeur d’Alene in 1970, he was a member of the Jaycees and has been involved ever since.
Hassell has served on the Coeur d’Alene Parks and Recreation Commission, Lake City Senior Center Board, the Jobs Plus Board and the City Council for eight years. Gov. Phil Batt appointed him to the Magistrate’s Commission.
In 1993 he beat Coeur d’Alene’s only two-term mayor, Ray Stone.
“Four years ago I said we would get back to the basics,” Hassell said in a recent interview. “Government should only do things for people that they can’t do themselves.
And Hassell says he’s delivered.
There’s $25 million worth of street projects to East Sherman Avenue that have been completed, and several more are under way.
The city has a fund dedicated to repaving streets where the overlay fund once was a joke.
Hassell and the council have realigned city departments and computerized City Hall. Homeowners don’t pay any more in property taxes than they did four years ago.
Coeur d’Alene now uses impact fees to help pay for growth. Parks have grown. The city has a new water well.
City government has been opened to all, Hassell said.
“People will tell you I’m fair and open to everybody,” Hassell said. “I’ve been able to weigh both sides of the issue.”
That means taking as many as 50 telephone calls a day - and often into the night at home.
The issues this election include McEuen Field and Memorial Field. Critics of a plan to revitalize downtown fear it will open the door to selling off those properties or converting them to some other use.
Hassell maintains the property should remain in public hands. The city had a community-wide meeting on the future of the fields last year.
The council was told, “You haven’t come up with a vision we like,” Hassell said. “Leave it as it is.”
Hassell said he agrees with his opponent, Steve Judy, that it’s time to resolve the issue of public access to Sanders Beach.
Although the debate has festered for decades, Hassell and the current City Council often are blamed for the issue finally landing in court. That happened after the city issued a building permit to Joe Chapman for a home on the beach this fall.
Construction started and the Sanders Beach Preservation Association successfully sued to stop the work.
Hassell said people misunderstand the complexity of resolving the issue.
The problem is taking a course that the property owners will agree to - such as purchasing the land - not to mention something that the taxpayers and other city leaders will swallow, he said.
“You have to have the willingness of the council to get into the situation of purchasing the property,” Hassell said. “And if the owners are not willing to sell, you are probably tied up in court for 10 years.”
Judy has accused Hassell of being out of touch with city employees and of unrest in the ranks. Hassell pointed to his recent endorsement by the Lake City Employees Association to rebut that.
“He is committed to a workplace where individuals are valued, and where mutual respect and concern, self-worth, participation, financial and emotional rewards and courtesy and sensitivity are acknowledged, encouraged and supported,” said Paula Payne, president of the organization. “I think he is a good leader, whose integrity and dedication to the community should not go unnoticed.”
Hassell and Judy support the city hiring a consultant to develop a plan to revive the retail district.
Overall, few issues separate these two candidates. Their most significant differences are style.
Judy has raised more than $6,000. Hassell has barely $500. That’s Hassell’s style - he wants his track record to speak.
From there, “It is up to the voters to decide.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: See related story under the headline: Civility marks mayor’s race/ Widely involved Judy resists label as business candidate