The three incumbent members of the Metropolitan King County Council up for reelection on this year’s primary ballot have a combined 62 years of experience on the council.
The three longtime incumbents also represent the nine-member County Council’s conservative bloc. County Council seats are technically nonpartisan, but all three members on the primary ballot have previously run for office as Republicans, while the rest of the County Council is comprised of Democrats.
The spate of liberal and progressive challengers on the primary ballot are almost all challenging the incumbents by focusing on issues such as housing, transit and the environment.
In District 3, representing northeast King County, from Woodinville, Redmond and Sammamish, east through the Cascades, Councilmember Kathy Lambert is seeking her sixth term. Lambert has rarely drawn serious challengers in the past two decades. She was first elected in 2001 with 64% of the vote and then ran unopposed for the next three elections, before winning with 57% of the vote in 2017.
This year she faces Sarah Perry, a former executive at Seattle University and other local nonprofits, and Joe Cohen, a telecommunications lawyer who previously worked as an analyst in the U.S. Justice Department and as an aide for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Perry and Cohen are Democrats, while Lambert, before joining County Council, served as a Republican in the state House of Representatives.
Lambert, 68, stresses her experience and says she has a number of projects she wants to finish, including the county’s comprehensive Clean Water Plan, which she’s worked on as chair of Regional Water Committee, and her longtime push to replace the county’s landfill with a waste-to-energy plant.
Lambert has been pushing, unsuccessfully, to build such a plant (which would likely burn trash and use the heat to create energy) for more than a decade. She brags about having visited 14 such plants around the world (her favorite is in Hamburg, Germany), and cites it as an example of the experience she brings to esoteric issues after two decades in office
“Finding people in the world who are the experts in something, that takes time,” Lambert said. “And I’m the only council member that has been to 14 plants around the world.”
Just two years ago the County Council voted to expand the landfill, enabling it to keep operating until at least 2040.
Perry, 56, runs her own political consulting company, after having worked as an executive at Social Ventures Partners, a philanthropic group, and in development at Seattle University. She is focusing her campaign on transit and environmental issues and on serving a “changing district.”
She wants to make sure the district is ready when Sound Transit opens light rail to Redmond and Bellevue in the next few years and to Issaquah, a decade down the road. Farther out cities and towns — Carnation, Duvall and North Bend — need shuttles to get people to rail stations, park and rides, and bus routes on the I-90 corridor, she says.
“We need someone who is a transit champion and I will be that champion,” Perry said.
In a district that has often favored Republicans but gave Joe Biden about 70% of the vote last year, Perry says Lambert is not representing a changing district.
“Our Hindu and Muslim and Indian and African communities, our Latino and African American, Hmong farmers,” Perry said. “These folks have not seen the incumbent, they don’t know who she is.”
Lambert says that’s nonsense.
“I have a very busy schedule,” she said. “One of my opponents is saying I don’t meet with people. When I tell my staff that they just burst out laughing. They say, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
Cohen, 40, grew up on the Eastside and recently moved back after spending the last 15 years in Washington, D.C. He was an aide for Cantwell for three years, before working as an analyst in the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, and then for two corporate law firms.
He stressed his Justice Department work in saying he would bring oversight experience to the County Council. He wants to create a special team, of three to four people, within the county auditor’s office to focus specifically on oversight of homelessness spending.
Since homelessness was declared an emergency in 2015 by the county and Seattle, Cohen said, the auditor’s office, which falls under the County Council’s control, has only released one audit on homelessness, as opposed to 17 reports on the criminal legal system in that time.
“There is a problem with the oversight mechanisms at the county,” Cohen said. “It’s clear that we need to address accountability.”
Perry has raised the most money during this campaign cycle, a little more than $135,000, according to state Public Disclosure Commission filings. Lambert has raised about $70,000 but was able to carry over nearly $140,000 from prior campaigns. Cohen has raised just over $40,000.
Lambert is endorsed by former County Councilmember Larry Gossett and Sammamish Mayor Karen Moran. Perry is endorsed by Gov. Jay Inslee, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and U.S. Reps. Kim Schrier and Suzan DelBene. Cohen is endorsed by state Rep. Amy Walen and Redmond City Councilmembers Jessica Forsythe and Steve Fields.
Ballots must be returned or postmarked by the Aug. 3 primary and the top two candidates move on to the November general election.