Voters should elect Larry Gossett to another term on the Metropolitan King County Council.
A civil-rights leader since the late 1960s, Gossett continues to be a strong advocate for communities of color and working people. Since 1993, he has represented District 2, which straddles Seattle’s richest and poorest neighborhoods, from Laurelhurst to Renton between Interstate 5 and Lake Washington.
Gossett is challenged by Girmay Zahilay, an attorney now leading a youth mentoring organization.
Zahilay is a sharp political newcomer with a tremendous personal story. He’s the son of Ethiopian refugees with an Ivy League law degree who worked at top firms and nonprofits.
But Zahilay’s Seattle City Hall-style ideology — extreme policy proposals, paired with aggressive pursuit of new taxes and spending — is the last thing King County needs as it struggles to fund basic services without further burdening renters and property owners with additional taxes and fees.
This puts Gossett, an activist and founding member of Seattle’s Black Panther chapter, in the odd position of being the more pragmatic choice. Yet he’s been endorsed by the entire council, including Republicans, as well as Democratic Party figures like U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal and Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Zahilay refused, when asked directly by this board, to specify decisions by Gossett with which he disagreed.
Both candidates are deeply concerned about juvenile incarceration. But Zahilay’s signature position — advocating that the county divest the new, voter-approved $232 million Children and Family Justice Center opening in November — is unrealistic and absurd.
During Gossett’s tenure, King County became a national leader in reducing juvenile incarceration through diversion and other progressive reforms. The new center will provide extraordinary support for youth and their families, including co-located courts and social services. Gossett also would like to see zero youth detained but has a realistic viewpoint, informed by progress made and the reality that the new facility is necessary to better serve the very few who pose a danger to themselves or others and must be detained.
Zahilay wants to build multiple juvenile program centers to reduce travel times for families, which sounds good on the surface. But that’s a recipe for bloat, redundant spending and a worse experience for those in the system. The county cannot operate numerous smaller juvenile centers around the clock, with services comparable to the new center, especially to serve a few offenders apiece. So instead of high quality, one-stop service, families would be shuttling around for different services, as the county flushes $232 million.
Both candidates want more progressive taxation, with some differences. Zahilay has a list of tax changes he’d like to see, including a state income tax. He wants cities and counties to have more ability to impose job-killing head taxes, like the one Seattle sought and then rejected in June, after widespread community opposition.
Gossett isn’t known for fiscal restraint and sidestepped a question about how to lower county expenses. But he’s realistic about the challenges, having been involved with a tax force seeking tax reform at the state level and with numerous county budgets. He doesn’t favor another try for the head tax.
On the pending regionalization of homeless services, Zahilay likes the proposal by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and County Executive Dow Constantine to create a public-development authority. Gossett favors consolidating homeless programs but after experiences with other regional authorities, he doesn’t like the model of a new entity, without the accountability of leadership by directly elected officials.
District 2 voters must look closely to see where these two Franklin High graduates differ, as they have similar values and skills at carefully wording policy positions.
Voters should appreciate both Zahilay’s inspiring story and Gossett’s proud legacy. Then elect Gossett, who offers experience, wisdom and workable solutions to the big challenges facing King County.