Girmay Zahilay plans to run for the seat long held by Larry Gossett, who has not announced whether he will seek re-election.
For the first time in 14 years, someone plans to challenge Larry Gossett for his seat on the Metropolitan King County Council.
Seattle-based lawyer and education advocate Girmay Zahilay says he plans to announce his candidacy for Gossett’s District 2 council seat Wednesday morning. An admirer of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s economic policies, Zahilay said he identifies somewhat with Democratic Socialists in favoring progressive taxation and strong social safety nets.
He said that he’ll make equity in education, transportation, affordable housing and homelessness his focal points in a district with the highest concentration of communities of color and a county beset by one of the worst homeless crises in the country.
It will mark the first time since 2005 that a name other than Gossett’s will appear on the ballots of voters in the Metropolitan King County Council’s District 2. First elected in 1993, the six-term council member has represented the Seattle neighborhoods of Capitol Hill, Central District, Rainier Valley as well as Skyway for more than half of the existence of the council, which was founded in 1969.
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Gossett won his last election in 2015 with 98 percent of the vote.
Gossett, who recently turned 74, has not declared whether he will seek re-election. He told The Seattle Times he would announce his decision at a March 23 community gathering at the Northwest African American Museum.
Gossett has suffered health scares in recent years. In 2013, he suffered a stroke, and detailed its impact on his memory and attention span in an essay for Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action. It stirred rumblings that a pillar of Seattle’s civil-rights movement for more than 50 years — the man who led the county to adopt the image of Martin Luther King as its official logo in 1999 — was considering retirement.
“I kept hearing rumors that he was going to step down around his birthday. I met with Larry and have a really good relationship with him,” says Zahilay, who says he wanted to get ahead of any would-be successors, pending Gossett’s decision to seek a seventh term.
Zahilay, a 31-year-old Ethiopian immigrant, moved with his parents from Sudan to South Seattle at the age of 4. A product of Holly Park and Rainier Vista public housing and Franklin High School, Zahilay graduated from Stanford and University of Pennsylvania Law School, before working as an attorney at Perkins Coie.
Zahilay left that position two months ago to focus on Rising Leaders, a nonprofit mentoring program with chapters in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Aki Kurose Middle School. He credits strong teachers with propelling him academically, as neither of his parents graduated from high school.
When asked if his candidacy could appear opportunistic with Gossett’s recent health issues, Zahilay acknowledges he’s being “opportunistic in the sense” that he wants to create change for his community, including young people, the working class and immigrants.
Gossett says he would have preferred that Zahilay waited to announce his intentions until after he announced his intentions next month, but he doesn’t begrudge another candidate of color with political ambitions.
Zahilay, who has never held elected office, says that he is the best candidate regardless of whether Gossett seeks re-election.
A campaign filing with the Public Disclosure Commission shows that Zahilay has raised more than $20,000. He said his strategy is to increase voter participation among the district’s large immigrant community and his fellow millennials. It’s believed that he would be the first foreign-born council member in King County history, should he be elected.
“The people I grew up around are products of immigrants and hard work. People are looking to get involved and make a county for us. We need to continue this drive for a King County for us. My tagline is King County for us,” Zahilay said.