King County Executive Dow Constantine was in position to win a fourth term Tuesday night, a feat that would make him the county’s longest-serving executive in more than half a century.
Constantine led first-term state Sen. Joe Nguyen 57% to 42% in Tuesday-night tallies.
As the county’s largest city has pinballed between mayors in recent years — no one has served a second term as Seattle mayor since 2006 — Constantine has been a consistent presence running the state’s largest county.
“People want things fixed,” Constantine said at his election night party at a South Seattle wine bar, after results were posted. “I am glad to have the campaign behind me and to be ready to move on to the real work. Think of all the things we can do now.”
A victory would set him up to lead King County for a tenure of 16 years, the longest since the county adopted its current system of governance. It would also provide him a platform to potentially run for governor in 2024, something he looked at doing in 2020 and has declined to rule out for the future.
Nguyen, a Democrat, based his campaign on the charge that Constantine, also a Democrat, hasn’t acted with the urgency that the times demand.
He faulted Constantine for declaring homelessness an emergency six years ago, only to see the problem worsen. A Constantine plan to end youth homelessness foundered, the county was slow in distributing rent relief, and the county is moving too slowly to shutter the jail portion of a new youth justice center that never should have been built, Nguyen argued.
But Constantine, 59, pointed toward an array of progressive achievements, including a just-expanded light-rail system that will soon expand again, a new program to transform old hotels into shelters with wraparound services, and a multibillion-dollar COVID-19 response he called the best of “any major jurisdiction in the country.”
Nguyen did not concede Tuesday, saying he felt “really good” and that the spread would tighten as more votes are counted.
“This is about folks who felt as if they were not part of the political process,” he said. “They have a voice and they deserve to be in this process as well, and the same people who’ve been in office for decades should not feel entitled to the position they’re in.”
The King County executive oversees a $6 billion-plus annual budget (larger than Seattle’s) and governs the nation’s 12th-largest county.
Should he secure a fourth term, Constantine said, his top priorities would include sheltering every person in King County, climate initiatives, and protecting and restoring Puget Sound. He said he sensed people are ready for big changes.
“Things have been unmoored; people have been shaken awake,” Constantine said. “They are ready to take big steps.” The executive oversees transit, parks, environmental protection and economic recovery from Shoreline south to Federal Way, and east to Snoqualmie Pass and Skykomish.
But in recent years, the position has drawn little interest from serious challengers. Constantine, a lawyer, was first elected in 2009, after a dozen years in the state Legislature and on the County Council.
Nguyen, 38, is the first significant competitor Constantine has faced since winning office. Born to Vietnamese refugee parents, he stressed the importance of electing officials with “lived experience” and talks about how his life — growing up in an immigrant family, caring for his father who was paralyzed in a car crash — has influenced his policymaking.
A program manager at Microsoft, Nguyen won his state Senate seat in 2018, beating a better-known, better-funded candidate.
But he faced an almost overwhelming financial gap against Constantine, who raised more than eight times more money than him.
Nguyen will remain in the Senate if results hold and he loses the county executive race.
Staff reporter Lynda V. Mapes contributed to this report.