Girmay Zahilay was sworn in as the newest and youngest member of the Metropolitan King County Council on Wednesday, marking the first time in more than a quarter-century that residents of the Central District, University District, Capitol Hill and Southeast Seattle will have new representation on the council.
Zahilay handily defeated longtime County Councilmember Larry Gossett, who’d served since 1993, in the November election. Zahilay will chair the council’s Law and Justice Committee.
At 32, 16 years younger than the next youngest of his colleagues, Zahilay’s election signals something of a generational change on the County Council.
“I’m hanging in there, first day up there,” Zahilay said to friends, gesturing at the council dais, before being sworn in by King County Superior Court Judge Regina Cahan. “It’s different.”
He was elected after a campaign in which he emphasized housing affordability, gentrification, criminal-justice reform and rejection of “the status quo.” He declined to criticize Gossett in his campaign and even, in his kickoff announcement, listed the local civil-rights icon as an inspiration saying, “We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
He echoed that theme in brief remarks Wednesday.
“I have very big shoes to fill on this council,” Zahilay said. “Councilmember Gossett is somebody who demanded and earned every single person’s respect through decades of service to King County District 2. He is somebody who I look up to and I have a lot to learn from and his work is not done.”
Council members also voted unanimously Wednesday to approve a reorganization plan making Councilmember Claudia Balducci the new chair of the County Council. She will succeed Councilmember Rod Dembowski, who has served as chair for the last year. Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Reagan Dunn will serve as vice chairs.
Balducci is the first woman to serve as council chair since 2008.