The race for Metropolitan King County Council in South King County pits a longtime incumbent who relishes the least glamorous aspects of elected office against a first-time candidate who says the county government is oppressive.
Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer, who’s been on the council for 28 years and in elected office for more than half a century, is proudest not of any grand piece of legislation, nor any radical change in policy.
Rather, he’s proudest of his constituent services: of handling calls from residents complaining about potholes or overhanging trees or a school bus that’s not showing up or paperwork that seems to be lost in the bureaucracy. He’s quick to note that several of the cities in District 7 — Algona, Pacific, Federal Way, Auburn — have only part-time city councils. For residents there, and residents in unincorporated areas, he’s the closest full-time elected official.
“Sometimes it’s dealing with a relative who’s got a mental illness issue, who do we contact,” von Reichbauer said. “Our job, our first priority is to be there for the people who don’t have lawyers, they don’t have full time Seattle City Council members, they got me. My job is to be the bridge to services.”
Dominique Torgerson, 36, the co-owner of Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent, was motivated to run by a yearslong zoning dispute involving her business and the county’s permitting department. She says the department is “100% corrupt.” She doesn’t trust King County Elections either, alleging, without evidence, some sort of irregularities with the passage of ballot measures making the position of sheriff an appointed position.
“I don’t trust our government,” Torgerson said. “As a political representative, we’re supposed to be servants to the people and representing them, not just, you know, sitting in our high-horse chair thinking that we know everything and know better than everybody.”
Von Reichbauer, 76, was first elected to the state Senate in 1973. He served for 20 years until he was elected to the County Council in 1993. He has a street named after him in Federal Way.
He has previously been elected as both a Democrat and a Republican but led the push, in 2007, to make the County Council nonpartisan.
If he’s elected to an eighth term, von Reichbauer said his top priority is transportation, doing all he can to ensure that light rail gets extended to Federal Way, on schedule, in 2024, and, eventually to Tacoma in 2032.
“If you were to stand on the freeway overpass on 320th at 5 a.m., you would see a sea of lights coming from the south on I-5 going northbound because so many of my constituents cannot afford to live in Seattle, cannot afford to live in King County,” von Reichbauer said. “And they have moved in the last five years, a major shift into Pierce County.”
Torgerson wants to overhaul the county permitting department, which oversees building, land use and business permits in unincorporated areas of the county.
“We have had essentially every single barrier put up in front of us from the county,” Torgerson said of her business.
Her brewery has been at the center of a long-running debate over the burgeoning number of breweries and wineries in rural, unincorporated areas. She says the permitting department has a “complete incentive to charge people as much as possible, because that’s where they get their — we’ll say their revenue.”
She wants to shut down the county landfill and build a waste-to-energy plant, which burns trash in high-temperature incinerators. The county, led by current Councilmember Kathy Lambert, has explored such an option for years, but has never gotten close to doing it. Such a move would cost more than $1 billion, according to estimates. Torgerson said she does not have a specific funding source in mind.
The County Council, two years ago, voted to expand the landfill, extending its life to at least 2040.
Both candidates said they’d like the next sheriff, which the county executive will pick next year and the County Council will approve, to be someone with a law enforcement background.
Von Reichbauer wants someone with management skills who can unite the department, because right now “we have too many sub agents doing their own thing.”
King County residents voted last year to make the sheriff’s office appointed, rather than elected. Torgerson not only disagrees with that decision, she doesn’t believe the election was fair, although she has no proof.
“I do think there was an issue with the election result,” she said. “I really find it hard to believe that something like that would have otherwise actually passed.”
Von Reichbauer has raised more than $230,000 for his campaign and is endorsed by the mayors of nine cities in the district and former King County Executive Ron Sims. Torgerson is not raising any money for her campaign and cites no endorsements.