The leading candidates for King County Executive both have strong policy chops, but clearly, three-term incumbent Dow Constantine is the best positioned to serve the county’s 2.3 million residents. He deserves reelection yet again.
Constantine has served the county well through prosperous times and hard ones. His continued stewardship is necessary as the county emerges from the pandemic, resolves chronic homelessness and meets the demand for policing reform.
Constantine and state Sen. Joe Nguyen deservedly advanced to the general election as the only two credible candidates who qualified for the position.
Repeatedly during his tenure, Constantine has helped King County tackle challenges with both decisive actions and long-range strategy. This has often meant making difficult choices. His decision mid-pandemic to buy Renton’s Red Lion Hotel to get homeless people out of a congregate shelter drew a rebuke from the Renton City Council and a lawsuit. But a year later, the county has expanded purchases of underused hotels to shelter homeless people, a strategy emulated in Seattle and elsewhere.
Under Constantine’s leadership, King County went from having the nation’s first known COVID-19 outbreak to being a national leader of disease suppression and vaccination success, particularly in communities of color. The pandemic tested leaders at every level of government. Constantine showed he can be nimble, overseeing sudden policy pivots for county transportation, jail, parks, homeless shelters and numerous other areas.
With that ordeal now fading, the county needs visionary work to address other crises. Constantine helped shape the new Regional Homelessness Authority and is deeply versed on the need to rally communities across the county to help the agency develop. He understands this mission on multiple levels, transitioning easily in an interview from the prospects for buying more hotels to the urgency of sensitively clearing an often-dangerous tent encampment in City Hall Park outside the King County Courthouse. He promised campers would be moved off the grounds beginning early this month via the multiagency JustCARE intervention team.
“We’re now going to be providing JustCARE with the funding they need to get every single person out of that park and into the supportive services they need to be able to be successful,” he said. “And I have asked the (Seattle) mayor to then make sure not one more person comes back and plunks down their tent there, that they restore the park.”
Constantine led the charge to persuade voters to bring the King County Sheriff’s Office under the oversight of the civilian Metropolitan King County Council. He can be trusted to finish that task by naming a reform-minded sheriff and require stronger oversight in the deputies’ union contract, after the current pact ends this year.
Constantine also has proven his responsiveness to shifting public sentiment. After years of working to build the voter-approved Judge Patricia H. Clark Children and Family Justice Center, he is now leading the county through a policy shift away from incarcerating less-serious youth offenders, even though it requires repurposing much of the new facility.
He still has areas to improve. During Constantine’s previous term in office, a catastrophic 2017 spill of 30 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into Puget Sound from the county’s West Point wastewater plant. He has had four years to address this facility, but the spills have persisted. After a hard January rain led to an 11 million gallon spill, Constantine had to ask the Metropolitan King County Council for $65 million in emergency funding, and the list of planned projects to shore up the plant remains long. Constantine owes the public an explanation why these fixes have dragged on so long.
Nguyen is a highly capable legislator, but he seeks to leave that job when he is barely halfway through his first four-year term. While he campaigns as a deeply liberal reformer, he has earned considerable respect in the Legislature as a thoughtful alliance-builder.
Constantine has shown he has been the right leader for the moment in King County and for the next four years as well. The state’s last three governors have joined the long list of high-caliber endorsements for Constantine’s reelection with good reason. Voters should approve his fourth term.