Incumbent King County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Claudia Balducci both face underfunded challengers in their races for reelection this fall. One challenger bases his campaign on public safety concerns and the other says he doesn’t want to win, but wants to attract readers to his anti-Sound Transit blog.
McDermott represents District 8, which covers West Seattle, Burien and Vashon Island. He is seeking a third full term on the Metropolitan King County Council, after serving 10 years in the state Legislature.
He faces Michael Robert Neher, a political newcomer who was motivated to run by his outrage over proposed safe injection sites, violent street crime and what he sees as local governments’ failure to adequately address homelessness.
Balducci, who represents District 6, covering Eastside cities including Bellevue, Kirkland and Mercer Island, is seeking a second term, after a dozen years on the Bellevue City Council and two as Bellevue mayor.
She faces Bill Hirt, a perennial candidate and longtime foe of Sound Transit who says he has “no desire to win” but wants to shine a light on the transit agency’s light-rail extension to the Eastside, which he says will be one of “the biggest transportation boondoggles in history.”
Neither Neher nor Hirt has reported raising any money for their campaigns. Both have registered with the state Public Disclosure Commission using the “mini reporting” option, which lets candidates forgo reporting so long as they don’t raise or spend more than $5,000.
McDermott and Balducci, in contrast, have each raised more than $125,000 in contributions. Balducci and Hirt, the only two candidates in the District 6 race, weren’t on the August primary election ballot. McDermott got 84% of the District 8 primary vote, while Neher got 11%, enough to beat a third candidate and advance to the general election.
County Council is a nonpartisan position, but both McDermott and Balducci are Democrats. Neher calls himself a “New Democrat” while Hirt has previously run for office as an independent and a Republican.
Neher, 31, an administrator at a Seattle engineering firm who lives in Tukwila, got into local politics a couple years ago, outraged because he thought the public was being ignored on issues like proposed safe consumption sites for drug users.
He started working with the activist group Speak Out Seattle, organizing and recruiting candidates, and when he found it tougher to find like-minded candidates for County Council than for City Council, decided to throw his own hat in the ring.
He talks of the “homeless industrial complex” and says local governments have wasted billions of dollars, while homelessness has only gotten worse. He accused the County Council of neglecting basic services and spending money on things like extracurricular programs in schools, that he said the county shouldn’t be involved in.
“We have new levies and taxes that go onto the ballot and they always want more money but none of that money ever finds its way into the Superior Court or prosecutor’s office,” Neher said.
He doesn’t trust the proposal to consolidate Seattle and King County’s homelessness programs into one regional authority, saying it’s not going to produce the hoped-for streamlining and efficiency.
McDermott, 52, lives in West Seattle and joined the County Council in 2010, finishing the term of Dow Constantine when Constantine was elected county executive. He said he’s most proud of his work increasing funding for affordable housing.
State law requires that at least 37.5% of the county’s hotel/motel tax be used for affordable housing. Last year, the county passed a controversial plan, backed by McDermott, in which half of that tax goes toward housing, an extra $160 million over 25 years.
The deal, much to the consternation of housing advocates, still gives $135 million in taxpayer money for repairs and upgrades to, T-Mobile Park, the Seattle Mariners’ stadium.
“We have a publicly owned facility that we have the responsibility to maintain,” McDermott said of the ballpark. “Being able to advance multiple priorities at once is an important part of legislative work.”
McDermott also touted his work on increasing Metro bus service to White Center and Burien (Route 120), bringing Sound Transit 3 to the ballot and passing legislation requiring gun-sellers and firing ranges to post warnings on the dangers of firearms.
He supports the regional homelessness services consolidation plan, saying it will lead to better coordination.
Hirt, 80, a Bellevue retiree, is a one-issue candidate. He’s previously run for office — county executive, state House, state Senate and governor — seven times, always unsuccessfully and always to bring attention to the “failed transportation policies” of Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation.
He has a blog devoted to what he calls Sound Transit’s “mendacity and incompetence” and says that light rail — projected to open to Bellevue in 2023 — will “be a disaster for the entire Eastside.”
He says the light-rail extension won’t have enough capacity to serve commuters and that increasing bus service on Interstate 90 could have served more people at a fraction of the cost.
“Sound Transit should have never been allowed to confiscate the I-90 bridge center roadway or to devastate the route into Bellevue,” Hirt wrote in an email.
Balducci, 52, a lawyer who lives in Bellevue, serves on the Sound Transit board and is a strong supporter of the agency, calling light rail “absolutely necessary” for the Eastside.
“Bellevue has got this intense downtown core full of businesses and limited space both on the freeways and on the surface streets,” she said. “Without real high-capacity transit it’s just going to gum up.”
She wants a second term to work on “bedrock quality of life issues,” primarily housing affordability and transportation. She touted her work on trying to build Bellevue’s first permanent homeless shelter for men. The county has entered into an agreement to sell a piece of surplus land to a nonprofit to build a new shelter.
And she touted her work as co-chair of the recently concluded Regional Affordable Housing Taskforce, which estimated that the county would need an additional 244,000 affordable homes by 2040 to ensure that no low-income households are “cost-burdened” by housing.
The task force recommended that the county build or preserve 44,000 affordable units by 2024, to prevent people from falling into homelessness.