The Metropolitan King County Council voted on Tuesday to strip Councilmember Kathy Lambert of her committee chairmanships, as punishment for a mailer her campaign sent out that featured a colleague and was widely condemned as racist.
After initially defending the mailer, which portrayed Councilmember Girmay Zahilay as a socialist and puppet master holding a marionette of Lambert’s opponent, Lambert apologized last week, saying the message is “not what was intended.”
Lambert, before the vote was taken, asked to resign from all her committee leadership positions. She said the move to vote on removing her was “rushed in an unprecedented way” and was about damaging her reelection prospects. She faces a difficult race for reelection this year, having advanced through the primary with only about 40% of the vote.
“One lapse in judgment that was insensitive should not be allowed to overshadow 27 years of good service,” Lambert said. “For those of you who have never made an insensitive remark or act, congratulations.”
The Council, nonetheless, voted 9-0 to discipline Lambert on Tuesday, with Lambert voting to discipline herself as well.
The legislation removing Lambert from committee leadership roles says Lambert’s actions “have adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.”
It says her actions were contrary to the county’s equity and social justice policies and “impaired the ability of councilmembers and council staff to perform their duties.”
Council Chair Claudia Balducci was the only other member of the council to speak publicly about the legislation, which was added to Tuesday’s agenda after the council members met in a private executive session for about 50 minutes.
“The mailer and subsequent statements have undermined our ability to work with each other, our staff’s confidence in us as leaders, and our reputation and relationships with outside organizations and agencies. Based on those impacts, it was imperative that we take concrete action quickly,” Balducci said. “This reorganization was essential to protect the integrity of the Council.”
Lambert had been the chair of the Community, Health and Housing Services Committee and the Regional Water Quality Committee and the vice chair of the Law and Justice Committee and the Local Services Committee.
The mailer was initially condemned as racist by six of the nine members of the County Council. The County Council is technically nonpartisan but all six of those members are Democrats. Later, the two other Republicans on the County Council called the mailer offensive and asked Lambert to apologize.
The mailer showed Zahilay, the only Black member of the County Council, photoshopped into a pinstriped suit and red bow tie, holding the strings attached to a picture of Sarah Perry, Lambert’s opponent in the November general election.
It was a major breach of decorum on the normally staid County Council, where members rarely criticize each other.
Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, Councilmember Reagan Dunn predicted fireworks. “And I mean once-every-10-years kind of fireworks,” Dunn said.