Larry Gossett might be in trouble.
Gossett, a King County Council member for a quarter-century and a Seattle civil rights icon for twice that long, trailed District 2 challenger Girmay Zahilay 52% to 39% in Tuesday night’s vote count. While both Zahilay and Gossett appear certain to move on to November’s general election, Gossett is looking at the most challenging campaign of his long career.
Gossett, a longtime civil rights activist and Central District community leader, was first elected to the County Council in 1993. Since then, he’s been re-elected seven times, representing a district that includes the University District, Capitol Hill, Central District and Southeast Seattle.
His vote margins over the years — 84%, 100%, 100%, 100%, 80%, 98%, 98%, 98% — look more like the grades of an excellent student than what they actually are — Gossett’s overwhelming victories in each of his general elections.
Zahilay, 32, is less than half Gossett’s age. An Ivy League-educated lawyer and education advocate who immigrated to South Seattle from Sudan at age 4, Zahilay raised about $40,000 more than Gossett in the campaign, and outspent Gossett by about $30,000.
“Voters want change, that’s what our results are showing us,” Zahilay said from his election-night party at Rumba Notes Lounge in Columbia City. Zahilay said he was “overwhelmed with gratitude and joy,” but he’s taking nothing for granted ahead of the fall campaign.
“This just validated the sentiment we all felt, which is it’s time for change,” he said. “It’s time to address all the major challenges that have been rocking our region.”
Gossett, at his primary night party at Raconteur in Seward Park called the results “kind of surprising, but not totally.”
He attributed his disappointing showing to Zahilay’s youth and his fundraising.
“Those things are a little bit more difficult to deal with: ageism,” said Gossett, 74. “It means a very difficult time mobilizing people to turn out for the finals, but I’m a fighter so that is what I will work hard on doing.”
Both candidates say they would focus on increasing affordable housing and access to public transit. They agree on most issues, but Zahilay stresses the importance of new ideas and energy, while Gossett points to his experience and legislative track record.
Zahilay says he would have opposed the new, nearly completed youth jail and services center, which Gossett supported, arguing the current, aging facility is rundown and inadequate.
Stan Lippman, a perennial candidate and disbarred attorney, placed a distant third on election night, with 8% of the vote.
In council District 8, which includes West Seattle, Burien and Tukwila, Councilmember Joe McDermott was the overwhelming favorite of voters with 82% of the vote counted Tuesday, ahead of Michael Robert Neher, with 12%, and Goodspaceguy, with 5%, both of whom reported raising no money for their campaigns.
Staff reporter Sydney Brownstone contributed to this report.