The Metropolitan King County Council is officially nonpartisan, but it often splits along party lines: four Republicans and five Democrats.
That helps explain the big money pouring into the campaign of Democrat Shari Song, who is challenging two-term County Council incumbent Reagan Dunn, a Republican.
If Song wins, it would shift the dynamic of county government by giving the Democrats a veto-proof majority.
Song has a chance. She is a first-time candidate, a Realtor who moved to Bellevue from Mercer Island about 18 months ago. She has raised almost $250,000 in her energetic challenge to Dunn, and took 35 percent of the primary vote.
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Dunn, the son of the late U.S. Rep. Jennifer Dunn, has a political legacy and deep roots in District 9, but he lost a bruising race for state attorney general last year, leaving him marred by ads attacking his character and work ethic.
He got 55 percent of the primary vote and has raised more than $350,000, including campaign funds he had left from past campaigns.
The District 9 race is the most competitive for County Council among five on the ballot. Two incumbents — Republicans Kathy Lambert and Pete von Reichbauer — are unopposed.
Those elected will help guide King County as it walks the line between being a regional government and a service provider for the remaining, rural, unincorporated pockets of the county.
County Council members are elected to four-year terms, and are paid $140,000 a year and given a $465,000 annual budget to hire staff members.
King County is a general-purpose government with a shrinking revenue stream. Growth management — the state’s process of concentrating urban areas to preserve open space — has been so successful that the county’s taxes are not keeping up with its needs.
As a result, King County relies more and more on levies passed by voters for specific tasks.
Dunn, a moderate, has voted to ask voters for five of the 10 tax increases proposed while he has been in office. The county has to decide what is most important, he says, because rural residents are getting squeezed by new taxes.
District 9 includes parts of Bellevue, Renton and Kent, plus Maple Valley, Newcastle, Enumclaw, Black Diamond and Covington, as well as 70,000 residents who don’t live in cities.
Dunn opposed a parks levy on the August ballot that passed easily, a sign, Song says, that he is out of touch with what voters want.
Song is running on her work ethic and more liberal values. She would like to see the county do more to prevent homelessness and offer services to people with mental-health issues and drug addiction.
She also would like to work more closely with city governments in the district, helping them attract business to cut down on commuters on county roads, which are expensive to keep up.
But Song is light on specifics. On her website, she indicates support for required paid sick leave countywide but said in an interview that while she supports the concept, she would like to study that proposal.
And asked whether she would support specific tax levies, she said only that she thinks “everything should be on the table” in terms of funding transportation, human services and other needs.
Dunn has prioritized public safety, working with County Executive Dow Constantine to reopen the sheriff’s Southeast Precinct in next year’s budget.
He voted against the parks levy because he said the county has other, more important needs. Improving bus service, for example, he said.
“I’m not anti-tax,” he said. “I just think we need to be very cautious.”
Appointed Councilmember Rod Dembowski, an attorney, took 71 percent of the primary vote in his race to represent northern King County, including Northeast Seattle, Bothell, Kenmore, northwest Kirkland, Woodinville and Shoreline. He is popular and earnest, and jumped in to push a broad variety of issues.
He says he now regrets a vote to establish office funds for County Council members without restricting who can donate to them. He is working on an amendment, he said, after hearing criticism from constituents.
He considers himself a fiscal conservative and said he joined Dunn and von Reichbauer in stopping a proposed 15 percent pay raise for managers at the county.
His opponent, public-health researcher Naomi Wilson, got almost 23 percent of the primary vote. Wilson, a Korean American, says she would make the council more diverse and be a true advocate for public health and immigration reform.
Dembowski is pushing for a new tax measure to pay for human services, in particular for kids. Seattle is considering offering preschool for all children, and he would like to see that countywide.
Wilson said she supports a human-services levy, too. People outside the city often don’t have access to the same human services, and the county should provide those, she said.
In the race to replace retiring Councilmember Julia Patterson in southwestern King County, Democratic state Rep. Dave Upthegrove and Republican Andy Massagli are competing.
Patterson endorsed Upthegrove — her former legislative aide — as she was stepping down. Upthegrove is known for his work on environmental issues in the Legislature and used to work on the County Council’s central staff.
Massagli, who lost a race for state representative last year, is a former airline pilot who now works in advertising. He describes himself as a neighborhood activist and family man who would seek ways for the county to fund its own programs instead of raising taxes. For example, he wonders if the county can charge more for bus ads.
He thinks the county should work more with local nonprofits to provide human services.
He has raised about $8,500 for his campaign, while Upthegrove has amassed $90,000.
Upthegrove put out a campaign commercial that tells the story of a triathlon he did with his father, who is blind. The ad addressed virtually no county issues.
As for his first priorities, Upthegrove said he would work on upgrading levies to protect the Green River Valley from flooding. He also would like to take the lead on the council’s work to make government more efficient, in partnership with County Executive Dow Constantine.
District 5, which includes parts of Burien and Tukwila; most of Kent; as well as Des Moines, Normandy Park, Renton and SeaTac, is a high-need, diverse district, so Upthegrove said his first priority would be “being a strong voice for the district.”
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter