Three candidates have already announced their intention to run for the Metropolitan King County Council District 3 position, representing much of the rural Eastside and several cities. Incumbent Kathy Lambert has held the position since she was elected in 2001. This year’s election is the most competitive in the last two decades, as challengers Sarah Perry and Joe Cohen hope to upend Lambert.
After serving in the Washington State House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001, Lambert won a seat on the King County Council, a position she’s held since then.
Lambert pointed to several pieces of recent policy that she’s proud of pushing, including a parental representation program. The program provides legal representation for indigent parents, custodians and legal guardians involved in child dependency and termination proceedings. It’s a policy that Lambert said she worked on during her tenure in the Legislature. It’s since gone statewide.
“We’ve been able to restore families, and that was exciting news to see some of the exciting work left over from my legislative days continue to do good work,” Lambert said.
In the county, she pointed to the creation of the Department of Local Services as a major achievement she helped push for. The department was established to function as a local government for unincorporated parts of the county. Along with this office, a budget specific to unincorporated parts of the county was instituted. The new department is also run through the executive’s office, meaning resources are easier to access.
On homelessness, Lambert pointed to her work on using a portion of the King County Jail in downtown Seattle to house people experiencing homelessness. There were some 150 unused beds in the jail, and the county partnered with Harborview Medical Center to utilize 40 of them as shelter beds. When the coronavirus pandemic began last year, the remaining space was used to house inmates in an attempt to socially distance.
Lambert also touted that she secured funding to a program known as RADAR, which supplies a counselor to ride along with a King County Sheriff’s Office deputy to visit shelters. The program has been piloted in cities like Lake Forest Park and Kenmore, and could be expanded to unincorporated parts of the county, and to cities that contract with the Sheriff’s Office for police services.
“That will be something I look forward to as we go forward,” Lambert said.
If elected, Lambert said she plans to focus on three broad topics: handling the transition from an elected to an appointed sheriff, improving infrastructure and pushing for a waste-to-energy plant to replace the county’s landfill.
Last November, voters approved a measure that changed the position of county sheriff from an elected one to an appointed one. The county council will need to lay out the duties of the new sheriff’s position. Lambert said her tenure on the county’s law and justice committee qualifies her to continue this work.
“I think knowing how complicated this is,” she said. “This is not the time for a new person to come on board because there’s just too many complications.”
On infrastructure, Lambert is hoping to focus on sewer upgrades. The Washington State Department of Ecology notified the county that its rate of sewer overflows was unacceptable, and must be addressed if it is to allow more growth.
Finally, on a waste-to-energy plant, Lambert prefers the council look at building such a plant that would burn garbage and convert it to electricity.
Lambert’s campaign had raised $2,177 as of March 29, along with a campaign starting balance of $139,917, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.
Sarah Perry has spent 30 years working in nonprofit and government positions, including as a senior fundraiser executive and an executive director. Her segue into politics came after working in the 5th Legislative District over the last four years. She worked to recruit a group of 150 volunteers to help flip the district’s state House of Representative seats from Republican to Democrat, ushering in Lisa Callan and her husband Bill Ramos.
“I got a fire in my belly for civic engagement,” Perry said. “I’m electric in the idea of bringing this to the 3rd District.”
Perry has garnered a long list of endorsements from state and local elected officials, as well as community representatives. The district has changed in recent years, she said, moving from red to blue.
“It’s just changing, and it’s time and we really need a collective, comprehensive conversation for our district about who we are together,” Perry said.
Perry has worked as the chief development officer for Social Venture Partners International, senior director of university initiatives at Seattle University, and executive director of Eastside Housing, now known as Springboard Alliance.
If elected, Perry said she will work to ensure that growth management act regulations are adhered to. Growth should happen within urban boundaries to protect rural spaces, she said.
“Our farmland is precious, and we need to protect against greenhouse gasses and climate change,” Perry said.
She’s also hoping to be an advocate for transit. While light rail is coming to Redmond, she wants to see more ways for people to connect to the service elsewhere on the Eastside. On transportation in unincorporated King County, Perry wants to find ways to fund road and bridge maintenance and repair. The county’s roads budget is underfunded by millions each year. Perry said she can build a coalition of five votes on the council to push through fixes.
A focus on bringing together communities in the district is also top-of-mind for her. She envisions creating a district community council to bring together representatives of different groups from varying backgrounds. Fostering diversity and inclusion is important to Perry. This includes social and economic inclusion.
“This is what I’m going to do to help bring it together, so that we can develop who we are as a district,” Perry said.
As the COVID-19 pandemic drags on, she’s also focusing on small businesses and what could help them recover. Perry’s campaign is running a “small business Saturday” campaign, where they highlight one business each week in a video and post it to social media. She hopes to address some barriers that small businesses face, like variation in permitting between the cities and the county.
“I’m all about coalition, all about that collective voice,” Perry said.
Perry is leading the other candidates in contributions. According to the Public Disclosure Commission website, she had already raised $57,879 as of March 29.
Joe Cohen brings experience working in Washington, D.C., to his bid for the District 3 county council position. After graduating college, he worked for Sen. Maria Cantwell before joining the Office of the Inspector General in 2009, where he led investigations into federal law enforcement agencies. He later worked in the Obama White House on drug policy while pursuing a law degree from George Washington University. Since then he’s worked for private law firms helping technology companies comply with regulatory law.
Cohen said he’s running for the office to give back to the Eastside.
“I want to essentially serve the community that raised me when it’s facing unprecedented challenges from COVID economic recovery, to the homelessness crisis, to calls for criminal justice reform,” he said.
Cohen pointed to his experience as an attorney and decade of criminal justice policy experience, including law enforcement oversight. Cohen said the county is at the beginning of a new era of law enforcement, and he wants to represent the district during the transition.
“I intend to use my experience in criminal justice policy and law enforcement oversight to help make the Sheriff’s Office a model for policing across the country,” he said.
Part of that includes changing the culture of the department, requiring more accountability and transparency. Policies could include implementing more focus on de-escalation training, using non-uniform personnel to augment 911 responses, eliminating the use of overly-aggressive tactics and rolling out body cameras. But with those policies needs to come a culture change, which will take time, he said.
If elected, he’s also hoping to help oversee the county’s approach to homelessness. The number of people experiencing homelessness is growing, despite increased county spending to address it, Cohen said.
“Something is very wrong, and it starts with the lack of accountability,” he said. “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on efforts to reduce homelessness, but then have little to no oversight on how that money is spent.”
Infrastructure is another area he plans to focus on. That includes finding ways to increase broadband internet access to rural areas of the county, either through fiber-optic cable or satellite-based services. Maintaining roads and bridges will also be a priority. Finding ways to get the entire county, including cities, to fund transportation infrastructure in unincorporated parts of the county is important, Cohen said. The state should also allow more flexibility for the county to raise revenue for transportation projects.
On transit, he’s glad light rail is coming late than never. He wants to prioritize potential federal dollars from a transportation and infrastructure package to go toward Sound Transit’s expansion to ensure the line to Issaquah is completed.
On business, Cohen said he would like to create and retain entrepreneurship programs to help people start small businesses and navigate regulatory and language barriers.
As of March 29, Cohen had raised $10,439 for his campaign, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.