Pete von Reichbauer has been in public office, without interruption, for nearly half a century. He has faced an opponent only once in the last 20 years.
Von Reichbauer, running for an eighth term on the Metropolitan King County Council, faces three opponents this year, including two running funded campaigns with experience in county government.
Von Reichbauer is among the three members of the County Council’s conservative bloc facing a bevy of challengers, mostly from the left, as King County continues to shift Democratic. The Council’s three conservative members — von Reichbauer, Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert — have been on the Council a combined 62 years, but all face challengers this year.
Von Reichbauer faces Saudia J. Abdullah, King County’s Community Corrections director; Lydia Assefa-Dawson, a two-term Federal Way City Council member, and Dominique Torgerson, a small-business owner who is not raising any money for her campaign.
Ballots must be returned or postmarked by the Aug. 3 primary and the top two candidates will move on to the November general election.
Von Reichbauer, 76, was first elected to the County Council in 1993. Prior to that, he served 20 years in the state Senate. In decades past, he was no stranger to political controversy. First elected as a Democrat, he switched parties in 1981, handing control of a narrowly divided state Senate to Republicans.
Sixteen years later, von Reichbauer was a Republican on the County Council but joined with Democrats to adopt new rules weakening the Republican majority. The local Republican chairman said he served “nothing and no one but your own well-being.”
But von Reichbauer, in 2007, pushed for the initiative that made the County Council technically nonpartisan, as it is today.
“I’ve never met a Democratic or Republican pothole, I’ve met potholes that need to be fixed,” von Reichbauer said. “Local government is best served if it’s nonpartisan.”
Von Reichbauer says he wants to see through two Sound Transit projects, completing light rail to Federal Way and building a parking garage at the Auburn Sounder station by 2024. He also wants to increase apprenticeship opportunities in the district, touting $250,000 that he got included in last year’s budget for an apprenticeship program within Federal Way Public Schools.
Abdullah, 45, was born in Chicago and moved to Washington in 2013 to work for Pioneer Human Services, a nonprofit that helps the formerly incarcerated re-enter society. Since 2015, she has run the county’s Community Corrections program, which oversees alternatives to jail, including home-confinement and day-reporting programs.
Abdullah said she sees a divide between the County Council and people like herself, who run actual programs and departments.
“There’s a disconnect between the decisions that they’re making and how it’s impacting communities,” she said. “We create a program and say we need X amount of dollars and it’s not that amount.”
She criticized von Reichbauer for his recent vote against a suite of tenant protections, including limiting fees on renters and mandating that landlords give more notice for major rent increases.
“We have to address those people in our community who can’t, within 30 days, find a new place to live because their landlord decided the rent should go from $2,000 to $3,000,” Abdullah said. “Having someone who’s directly connected to the community on a day-to-day basis is going to be critical.”
Assefa-Dawson, 60, emigrated from Ethiopia more than 40 years ago, coming to the U.S. for medical care after she lost both legs in a fire. She works as a family self-sufficiency coordinator with the King County Housing Authority, helping families in public housing access education, training and jobs. She was appointed to the Federal Way City Council in 2014 and has since been elected and reelected.
Assefa-Dawson said she was motivated to run because the issues she’s worked on in Federal Way — homelessness, affordable housing, jobs — are “vast and complex” and can be better addressed from a regional level.
She finds little fault with von Reichbauer, who she says has done a “great job.” But she says the district needs a change in leadership to better represent its constituents.
“I am an immigrant, I am a person of color, I am a woman, I am disabled,” Assefa-Dawson said. “It’s time we do make that shift, we do acknowledge the need for change, the need for diversity and the need for people who are marginalized.”
Torgerson, 36, co-owns Four Horsemen Brewery in Kent. She said she was motivated to run by a yearslong zoning dispute involving her brewery and the county permitting department.
“They don’t know what it takes to run a business, of the ones that we’ve dealt with, most have no idea what it takes to run a business,” Torgerson said.
She said she wants to make changes to give more support to unincorporated and rural areas of the county. She is not doing any fundraising for her campaign.
Von Reichbauer has lapped the field in fundraising, bringing in more than $184,000. Abdullah has brought in about $30,000 and Assefa-Dawson has raised about $13,000.
Von Reichbauer claims the endorsement of the mayors of every city in the district, as well as former King County Executive Ron Sims. He also has been endorsed by The Seattle Times editorial board (the news operation at The Times is independent from the editorial board). Abdullah is endorsed by state Sens. Mona Das and Claire Wilson, and several King County Democratic Party organizations. Abdullah also has been endorsed by The Stranger.