Election 2021: Closer look at King County races | Roegner

The race for Mayor of Seattle will dominate the regional media, but for most of the suburbs, it is the King County Executive and the King County Council races that have the biggest impact other than their own local races.

There was a full slate of candidates for the mayor’s position as incumbent Jenny Durkan declined to run for a second term. The primary turnout was low and included many familiar names. The two finalists are former Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell and current council President M. Lorena Gonzalez. In the primary, Harrell supported “Compassion Seattle,” while Gonzalez didn’t. The next mayor faces significant challenges, including recovering from the coronavirus, what to do about the homeless population (which affects the entire region), and rebuilding the economy of downtown and the neighborhoods — along with improving relations between police and their residents.

Also in need of repair is relations with the business community after attempts by progressives to tax the largest employers including Amazon. However, new Chamber of Commerce Executive Rachel Smith has already signaled her willingness to work with City Hall, and that is big start. So far, Harrell has emerged as the front-runner, having raised $914,902 as of Oct. 1, with the endorsement of the Seattle Times and many neighborhood leaders. Gonzalez has raised $662,801 by comparison.

The Seattle mayor becomes the major regional voice, but with a strong city council, the mayor frequently must rely on the combination of the bully pulpit and behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Watch to see who gets elected to the city council and who they had endorsed for mayor. It may be crucial to the next mayor’s success. My Seattle contacts say despite the financial lead for Harrell, the race will be close.

The Seattle city attorney job is elected and incumbent Pete Holmes was caught between a conservative and a liberal and lost, even though all three finalists were above 30% of the vote. The battle is now between Ann Davison, who has run as a Republican before, and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. Is the new quest for law and order enough to elect Davison? Too soon to tell, but Seattle usually votes Democratic.

The next biggest voice is the King County Executive. The two finalists are incumbent Dow Constantine and state Sen. Joe Nguyen. Constantine has not had a difficult race in several years and ran off with 52% in the primary against a small field that simply expected a Constantine-Nguyen matchup from the beginning. With only 33% of the vote, Nguyen needed to keep Constantine under 50% in the primary to keep the race close. That didn’t happen.

Constantine continues his front-runner status and has raised $1.7 million as of Oct. 1. Nguyen has only raised $202,561 in the same time frame and it may be too late for Nguyen to run to Constantine’s left. Nguyen has pointed out in mailings that all has not gone as smoothly as Constantine would have hoped. Some of the shelter issues, like buying hotels for the county’s Health Through Housing program and the struggles to get the new homeless agency up and running may help Nguyen in conservative areas outside Seattle. Constantine received the endorsement of the Seattle Times, as did most county council members. My guess is that Constantine will continue as Executive.

Some of the King County Council races will be close and others should be big wins for the incumbents, who have a big advantage with being able to help their districts with county allocations to nonprofits. County positions are non-partisan in name only as each councilmember has a base of support in one political party or the other. Right now it is six Democrats and three Republicans. The days of a Republican King County Executive are a distant memory.

Two big wins should be in District 1 where incumbent Rod Dembowski is a heavy favorite over Sally Caverzan, who is a case manager for Seattle Aging and Disability Services and doesn’t have much money to spend on a campaign.

Another one is in South King County’s District 7, where Pete von Reichbauer is the incumbent. Dominique Torgerson, who defeated two more well known candidates, will face von Reichbauer in the general election. Pete von Reichbauer has raised over $220,000 while Torgerson is a “mini filer” with very little money. Torgerson will run to the right of the moderate councilmember and has had some battles with permit issues with King County. But her answer on how to handle homelessness showed little understanding of the county’s efforts to curb drug use or provide shelters. She advocated for forced rehabilitation for drug users, or the ability to put them in jail.

A possible upset could be brewing in District 3, where 20-year incumbent Kathy Lambert, who has carried over and raised $249,813 to help her reelection, is facing a stiff challenge from Sarah Perry, who has raised $233,236 as of Oct. 1. There are three reasons why this race could result in Lambert’s defeat. First, the district has changed significantly and is more urban and less rural. Second, the combined primary totals for the two Democrats were close to 59%.

The third reason shows why Lambert is right to be worried. Lambert just sent out a mailing to thousands in her district trying to cast Perry as a socialist, “backed by socialist leader Girmay Zahilay who wants to defund police.” The problem, as Zahilay stated about the hit piece, is “given that every police-related policy I’ve supported has had majority council approval, I wonder why she singled out and used her only Black colleague’s face for fear mongering on the Eastside.” Zahilay is one of six councilmembers who support Perry, yet “it’s only my face in a big red bow tie and my name in red boogie man letters that she chose to distribute to thousands of voters,” he stated.

In politics, this is called a “dog whistle” with an intent to draw attention to the picture. To political watchers, this mailer shows desperation in Lambert’s camp and will likely backfire and result in more donations for Perry. A majority of councilmembers passed a joint statement calling on Lambert to apologize and denouncing the mailer as racist. Councilmember Lambert did apologize, but it was after some of her endorsers said they would pull their endorsement — which the Seattle Times did. Perry, who is a former executive at Seattle University and other nonprofits, is likely to be the new councilmember from District 3.

Another race to watch is in District 5, where two Democrats may be facing off. Dave Upthegrove is the incumbent and has raised $211,307 . Upthegrove supports climate change policies and other Democratic policies and is endorsed by Congressman Adam Smith and lands Commissioner Hilary Franz. His opponent, Dr. Shukri Olow, has raised $210,018, supports housing needs and police accountability, and is endorsed by Democratic State Rep. Jamila Taylor of the 30th District and Rep. Debra Entenman of the 47th District. Advantage goes to the incumbent, but this could be another upset, so watch closely.

Although it isn’t likely to be an upset, another race to watch is District 9. Reagan Dunn has been the councilmember from this district for 15 years and has raised $311,949. He is being challenged by Renton City Councilmember Kim-Khanh Van. Why is this race worth watching? There is speculation that in 2022, Dunn may run for Congress if the Redistricting Commission moves incumbent Kim Schrier’s congressional district a little farther east and adds Republican territory. That may be why Kim-Khanh Van is running now — to set up herself as the logical candidate for King County Council should Dunn leave next year. Several things have to happen, but keep your eye on the Redistricting Commission.

All three of the Port of Seattle Commissioners — Ryan Calkins, Stephanie Bowman and Peter Steinbrueck — have opposition, but they know the port’s mission is to be an economic engine for the region and will be reelected. They are not likely to lose. They were all endorsed by the Seattle Times, so move them to the win column. The other race that many Seattleites have been interested in was the recall of Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Under recall procedures, an election must be held 45-90 days after the petition is certified. Since the certification has not been completed, it will be too late for the November election and will have to be held in the winter. It will be a yes or no vote on whether Sawant stays in office.

Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact bjroegner@comcast.net.