Snohomish County Executive John Lovick faces a tough re-election fight against the chairman of the County Council, Dave Somers. Somers edged Lovick in the primary and has received double the amount of campaign donations.
Snohomish County Executive John Lovick arrived about halfway through a recent candidates luncheon, delayed by a commitment at a domestic-violence prevention event in Everett.
In his absence, a host of candidates for Arlington mayor and City Council told a Chamber of Commerce audience how they would address some of their most pressing problems, including drug addiction, homelessness and empty storefronts downtown.
When Lovick, a popular former sheriff and state legislator from Mill Creek, took his place on the dais, he seemed to speak of a different reality.
“The county is doing great. We need to keep the great things happening,” said the upbeat, 64-year-old Lovick. He cited a county jobless rate of under 4 percent, the state’s leading manufacturing economy and his administration’s efforts to improve transportation and bring light rail to Everett.
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“In me, you’re getting a responsible person, someone who is doing the job now,” Lovick said.
His challenger in the November election, fellow Democrat and County Council Chairman Dave Somers, 62, of Monroe, doesn’t project the same optimism. He promised a regional approach to issues of affordable housing and treatment for addiction, pledged to work closely with cities, and to help Arlington establish a manufacturing center near its airport to boost employment.
As Lovick seeks his first full term as executive, he must convince voters he is a capable manager and not disconnected from the county’s challenges or the missteps of his own administration. He is in the toughest political fight of a lengthy career in public service.
Somers edged Lovick in the August primary by about 1,200 votes against two inexperienced Republicans and an unfunded independent candidate.
Somers leads in fundraising by more than 2 to 1 in the general election, $177,000 to Lovick’s roughly $80,000.
Lovick has clashed openly with Somers over finances and management of the county’s 2,800 employees and $226 million annual budget. And Lovick stood behind his friend and former deputy executive, Mark Ericks, who, according to a council-ordered investigation, used obscenities to describe council members and threatened to shoot one “if it weren’t for the threat of jail time.”
Lovick insists there is no disconnect. He defended his remarks in Arlington, saying he had recently traveled to Chicago, where about 250 people are shot each month.
“Let’s keep things in perspective,” said Lovick, who spent 31 years in the Washington State Patrol. He cited two planned initiatives to help address the growing number of transients — a new facility to get immediate treatment for released criminal offenders to try to keep them from reoffending, and a county summit on homelessness planned for November.
“Are we going to have problems? Yes. Are we going to address them? Yes. Is the sky falling? No.”
Ballots in the all-mail election must be postmarked by Nov. 3.
Somers, a former fisheries biologist in his fourth council term, promises more fiscal responsibility and a more detailed grasp of the county’s day-to-day operations. As council chairman, he has helped write budgets and warns of revenue shortfalls that could lead to layoffs and a falling budget reserve, if the county doesn’t trim spending.
“John’s an optimist, a really good cheerleader. But you can’t solve a problem if you don’t acknowledge there is a problem,” Somers said.
But after 14 years on the council, Somers is implicated in some of those problems, including voting with the majority to build a new courthouse across the street from its current location. The plan led to a higher cost estimate, rising from $75 million to $162 million.
Somers has repeatedly said county reserves are at an all-time low, but county finance numbers show they were about 4 percent in 2009, the depths of the recession, and are now almost 6 percent, though still well below the council target of 11 percent.
Lovick points out that the council approved the budget and the amount of the reserve, not the executive.
Since the primary, Lovick has sought to put some of the controversies behind him.
In September, he accepted the resignation of Ericks, the administration’s lead on the courthouse project.
He said the county will trim $33 million from the $75 million in bonds raised for the project and use it for emergency fixes for the existing courthouse.
He also promised to stop collecting a $4 million annual property-tax hike to help fund the new courthouse, a break of about $13 a year for the average homeowner.
Somers calls those moves irresponsible. He argues the county has already spent millions on planning and design, and the shortcomings of the existing 1967 building haven’t gone away. He now favors a new wing, more like the original plans.
“Usually when you have a problem, you pause, look at the options and then act,” Somers said. “The executive has chosen a way that would kill the project.”
Somers has picked up endorsements and contributions from developers and builders, as well as environmental groups. He’s also gotten contributions from a Boeing PAC and the Aerospace Futures Alliance.
Somers has gotten more than $45,000 in political-action-committee support from the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties and another, affiliated PAC.
Somers has chaired the council’s Land Use and Planning Committee throughout his tenure. He lost his first re-election bid in 2001, in part because of opposition from builders over his strong environmental advocacy.
Lovick draws his support from labor unions, Democratic Party officials and some Indian tribes. The union representing about 1,500 county employees spent $19,000 in independent expenditures on Lovick’s behalf for the primary.
Chris Dugovich, president of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees, AFSCME, Council 2, said it expects to buy another mailing in support of Lovick before the Nov. 3 general election.
Dugovich said Somers, who will term-limit out of council office in two more years, exaggerates the county’s financial straits to advance his candidacy. He criticized Somers for holding a public hearing in August to protest Lovick’s tentative agreement with the union on a new three-year contract.
Somers said the county couldn’t afford the pay raise the executive had negotiated, but he chose a public forum, rather than seek a solution in executive session, Dugovich charged.
Lovick also enjoys the support of many of the county’s elected officials. Mayor Nicola Smith of Lynnwood says he follows through with commitments, including helping her launch city diversity efforts and programs to support veterans.
“What continues to impress me is, he shows up. He’s engaged. He’s open. He’s an active listener,” Smith said. “We both believe in partnerships. We both believe in regionalism.”
Lovick has been hurt by the defection of some of the officials who rallied to support him for county executive when he was the council’s unanimous choice two years ago, and when he won the election to complete the unexpired term of former Executive Aaron Reardon, who resigned.
Former council members Dave Gossett, a Democrat, and John Koster, a Republican, have both now thrown their support to Somers, who they say has more depth of knowledge of county issues.
Lovick said his leadership has been tested and proved in the county’s responses to the double tragedies in 2014, the March Oso landslide and the October shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School that left five students dead. And he thinks the citizens will respond to his message of optimism and resiliency.