Homelessness and fairness are issues voters should address in King County Council District 9 race, candidates say

A trio of liberal and progressive challengers, focusing on issues of equity, race, housing and homelessness, attempt to topple incumbent Reagan Dunn of the King’s Metropolitan County Council.

Dunn, who has made the fight against rising crime rates the centerpiece of his campaign, has occupied the seat of County Council District 9 – which stretches from south Bellevue and Newcastle to Maple Valley and Enumclaw to at the foothills of Mount Rainier – since its inception in 2005.

But he is one of three members of the conservative nine-person County Council bloc facing a bevy of challengers from the left, as King County, at least in national and state elections, continues to grow more democratic. The three Conservative Council members – Dunn, Kathy Lambert and Pete von Reichbauer – have served for 62 years combined, but all face serious challengers this year.

County council seats are non-partisan, but Dunn has run for office as a Republican in the past and his three challengers consider themselves Democrats. Ballots must be returned or stamped by the August 3 primary. The first two will face each other in the general elections in November.

Dunn faces off against Chris Franco, a former army captain and Afghanistan veteran who now works for the county office for equity and social justice; Ubax Gardheere, a former refugee and organizer who works for the Office of Planning and Economic Development in Seattle; and Kim-Khanh Van, a former refugee who is now a lawyer and member of Renton City Council.

Dunn, 50, was nominated to fill the vacant Council seat in 2005, and was then elected and re-elected four times, never winning less than 57% of the vote. A former federal prosecutor and assistant to the Justice Department to George W. Bush, he ran for state attorney general in 2012, bowing to Bob Ferguson.

Dunn said he was “deeply concerned about the escalating crime problem in King County”.

Washington saw more homicides in 2020 than any previous year, Seattle saw the most in 26 years, and King County also saw dramatic spikes in gunshot wounds and deaths.

Dunn says he brings a “diversity of views” to county council and will advocate for police funding. He says that in responding to homelessness the county is too focused on building housing at the expense of spending money on mental health and addiction treatment.

“These house building policies, the decriminalization of almost all crime, the funding of the police, combine to make drug use and homelessness much more prevalent,” Dunn said.

Van, 36, emigrated from Vietnam at the age of 6, first to refugee camps in the Philippines and then to the United States. She operates a solo law firm, focusing on immigration law, among other areas, and was elected to Renton City Council in 2019, winning 65% of the vote.

When Renton City Council passed an ordinance in December setting a time limit on how long a local hotel could be used to house the homeless, Van was one of two council members to vote no against the closure of the refuge.

She criticized Dunn for dropping out of the board of directors of the county’s new regional homelessness authority, although Dunn, who criticized the regional body, said he was only due to sit on the board for a year .

She also criticized Dunn’s proposal to hire new sheriff’s deputies to create a dedicated hate crimes unit, saying not all communities affected by hate crimes want an increased police presence.

“Our District 9 needs new, experienced leadership and leadership connected to our growing diverse community,” said Van. “Diversity, equity and inclusion are not buzzwords, they are lived experiences for me. “

Franco, 35, joined the military as a commissioned officer after college, spending eight years in service and reaching the rank of captain. For the past six years, he has worked for the county, most recently as the logistics manager for the county’s COVID-19 response and for its office of equity and social justice.

Franco said his first priority would be working with small businesses, among others, to ensure the county recovers fairly from the pandemic and that funds go to those who need it most.

He criticized Dunn for several issues in particular: his vote last summer against declaring racism a public health crisis, his pressure to buy bus tickets to send homeless people to family or friends outside the region, and its recent vote against a series of tenant protections. .

“I am frustrated with the lack of action, the lack of empathy, the lack of inclusion of our community in solving these issues that we all face,” Franco said.

Gardheere, 40, emigrated from Somalia at age 15. She was a program director for East African Community Services, which offers education and mentoring programs, and for Puget Sound Sage, a progressive non-profit organization. Since 2016, she has been Director of Equitable Development for the City of Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development.

Earlier this year, she briefly took time off from work in the city, writing an open letter saying she had “finished working for a dictator running for mayor.”

Gardheere said his top priority, in the short term, was to ensure tenants can stay in their homes and potentially extend the moratoriums on evictions that have been put in place.

She wants a Green New Deal in King County and is reportedly considering implementing a county-wide tax on large businesses, similar to Seattle’s JumpStart tax, so that companies don’t “pit the cities against each other.” to each other ”.

Ten years ago, Gardheere pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment, after boarding a school bus and making threatening statements about potentially having a bomb or a gun (she didn’t ‘had neither). She was given a suspended sentence, community service, and had to undergo mental health treatment.

Gardheere said she was in the middle of a mental health crisis, suffered from insomnia and PTSD and believed that getting arrested “was the safest place for me.”

“Honestly, I don’t know how to understand why I wanted to be arrested,” she said. “I have paid my fines, I have asked for advice, I have recognized the harm I have caused and that is why the platform I am running on is about healing and restorative justice.”

Dunn, who pleaded guilty in 2014 to drunk driving and battled alcoholism, recently expressed empathy for Gardheere, after conservative media shed light on his arrest.

The incumbent is leading the fundraiser, having raised over $ 265,000. Van raised over $ 121,000, Franco over $ 99,000 and Gardheere over $ 78,000.

Dunn has the endorsement of the mayors of most towns in the district, including the mayors of Renton, Bellevue, Kent and Newcastle. It was also supported by the editorial board of the Seattle Times (the Times news service is independent of the editorial board).

Van is supported by the MLK Labor Council, Dow Constantine County Executive and State Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti. Franco is supported by state representatives David Hackney and Steve Bergquist and the Seattle building unions. Franco was also endorsed by The Stranger.

Gardheere is supported by State Senator Rebecca Saldaña, Tammy Morales, Seattle City Council member, and Varisha Khan, Redmond City Council member.

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About Robert Valdivia

Robert Valdivia

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