Dave Upthegrove wants a third term on the Metropolitan King County Council, where he hopes to use his nearly two decades of experience as a legislator to build affordable housing and address the backlog in the court system. Shukri Olow wants to replace Upthegrove on the council, planning to bring her lived experience as a refugee and a mother to build affordable housing and boost rental assistance.
Upthegrove and Olow, both progressives, are vying for the District 5 County Council seat representing SeaTac, Des Moines, Kent and south Renton.
Upthegrove has represented the district since 2014, after serving for 10 years in the state House of Representatives.
Olow, 34, of Kent, an organizer with a doctorate in education, works for the county, distributing funding from the Best Starts for Kids levy. She was born in Somalia but fled with her family to a Kenyan refugee camp, where she lived for six years until coming to the U.S. at age 10.
If elected, she would be the only Black woman elected to any County Council position anywhere in Washington.
“When I talked about the issues of housing, you know I was stateless for six years of my life. I grew up in a refugee camp. I benefited from a Section 8 (housing) voucher, which kept our family in place,” Olow said. “I offer a different perspective in how communities should be engaged, how we need to build trust, how we need to build relationships that are authentic and intentional.”
Upthegrove, 50, of Des Moines, chaired the state House’s environmental committee and on the County Council has worked to make it more difficult to build fossil fuel projects — pipelines and gas and oil storage facilities — in the county.
He cited his push to block new county funding for maintenance of T-Mobile Park as among his proudest legislative accomplishments. The Mariners stadium ultimately did get $135 million, down from the $180 million that had initially been proposed before Upthegrove objected, arguing the money would be better spent on housing.
“By having the courage to take a stand we were able to secure $50 million into housing that came right back into the community,” Upthegrove said.
Upthegrove says his top two priorities, should he win a third term, will be finding locations in the South King County district for more permanent supportive housing and increasing funding for the courts and prosecutor’s office.
The county, in the last two years, has purchased eight buildings, mostly former hotels, to convert to emergency shelters and supportive housing. One of those is in Upthegrove’s district and he says he’d like to bring more. By the end of next year, the county hopes to have 1,600 housing units with round-the-clock staffing for people in chronic homelessness.
“In my next term I will be using my experience and relationships to build support for these investments in South King County, in partnership with the cities,” Upthegrove said. “Making sure that we’re getting folks who are living on the streets and parks off the street, out of the parks and into housing with services and support.”
Olow said the four priorities of her campaign — building affordable housing, investing in public health, supporting small businesses and re-imagining public safety — were chosen after meetings with more than 700 residents over the last year.
She wants to extend the emergency COVID-19 rental assistance beyond the end of the pandemic and proposes building 37,000 units of affordable housing.
She does not have a proposed funding source for either proposal, but says she would talk to the state Legislature about finding more progressive funding sources.
“I think there’s also an opportunity to have a deeper look at our county’s budget and how we are currently allocating funding, and be able to see if it aligns with our values of racial justice,” Olow said.
Both candidates are unsure whether the current funding level for the Sheriff’s Office is correct, or whether it should be cut or increased. Upthegrove said they’d know more later this year after reviewing the work of the county’s new Public Safety Advisory Committee, which is advising the county on hiring a new sheriff and potential police reforms.
“Whether or not that will require more funding or less funding is yet to be seen,” Upthegrove said. “I know this: People in my district, don’t want to see reductions in their local police, that’s been clear to me.”
Olow said she has not had a chance to look at the Sheriff’s Office funding, but that much of the county’s budget goes to public safety and we need “a better balance.”
“We need to be able to support upstream services and investments, including funding community-based organizations that are helping to support young people and making sure that there’s a restorative justice lens to public safety,” she said.
Both candidates have raised a virtually identical amount, about $225,000 each. Olow is endorsed by state Sens. T’wina Nobles and Mona Das and state Rep. Jamila Taylor. Upthegrove is endorsed by U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and the MLK Labor Council.