Incumbent southeast King County Council Member Reagan Dunn will face three challengers this year.
Their approaches differ, but each candidate agrees on a few priorities: Assuaging the region’s housing woes, improving transportation infrastructure, and managing the homelessness crisis.
Dunn is one of the nine members of the King County Metropolitan Council. Council seats are divided up geographically. He has held the District 9 seat since 2005.
Dunn’s seat covers parts of Bellevue, Kent, Renton, and all of Newcastle, Maple Valley, Covington, Black Diamond and Enumclaw, as well as a large amount of unincorporated southeast King County. It is by far one of the two largest districts in the county geographically.
It’s looking to be a big election season county-wide. 646 candidates filed with King County to run for local office during filing week, the most of any election on record, according to the elections office.
Chris Franco pitches himself as an action focused and open-minded candidate.
Now a program manager at the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice, Franco previously served in the U.S. Army for eight years and left with the rank of Captain.
“I’m not here to b******t people,” Franco said. “I’m not here to get caught up in the political war but to serve, like I have served before.”
A father of four, Franco said he’d prioritize action on housing, health and economic issues, as well as the county’s COVID-19 response. Franco said he’d push for building more affordable housing and fostering city-county relationships to aid the homeless.
“I appreciate Dunn’s 16 years of service, but to be frank, we’ve had the housing crisis go on for quite some time … (and) he’s been unresponsive to folks I’ve been talking to in our community,” Franco said.
The district’s biggest challenge, he said, comes down to the array of urban, suburban and rural communities that make up D9. The unincorporated parts “have just been left completely behind,” he said, whether it comes to infrastructure, transportation or housing affordability.
Renton city council member Kim-Khanh Van, elected in 2019, is a former refugee, a small business owner and an attorney who says she will focus on ensuring an “equitable recovery” from COVID-19, transportation, and ensuring support for emergency services and first responders.
From her perspective, Dunn has become disconnected from the diverse, growing population and needs of the District.
“The Van Plan” for recovering from COVID-19 starts with helping those who are the most hurt by the pandemic, such as working-class people, small businesses, and frontline workers and first responders. It calls for expanding access to healthcare, clean air and water as well. It also includes building more affordable housing and reducing homelessness.
“I believe through compassion, accountability and centering community, we can end homelessness,” Van said. “But it has to be a regional approach. And we have yet to have a leader in this position that has really built that regional bridge and mindset to resolving homelessness.”
That means being a leader who can build bridges, she said, and she wants to work with police and sheriff’s departments. Some areas need more policing and other areas instead need more access to city services and mental healthcare, she said.
“What we need is someone who is a consensus builder,” Van said.
16-year incumbent Reagan Dunn aims to reduce crime and homelessness and maintain his role on the council as a counterbalance against urban Seattle policymakers.
Dunn is a former federal prosecutor and co-author of former President George W. Bush’s Project Safe Neighborhoods.
“From a leadership perspective, the political leaders in downtown Seattle have grabbed the microphone and are forcing policies down the throats of the suburbs,” Dunn said.
Voters in the 2020 election made the sheriff, an elected position since 1996, instead one appointed by the county executive and approved by the council. Another voter-approved measure gave the council authority to set the sheriff’s office’s goals and duties.
So whoever wins the election will have a historically strong voice in the future of King County law enforcement.
“I’m the only member of the King County Council with real criminal justice experience, and now that voters have put oversight of the Sheriff’s Office in the hands of the council, we need to have at least one member of that council that is focused on public safety,” Dunn said.
Dunn’s focus in southeast King County, he said, would be recovering from COVID-19, developing transportation, ensuring police have adequate resources and maintaining low taxes.
Ubax Gardheere, the Equitable Development Division Director in the City of Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development, runs on an ambitious platform of economic, housing, climate, racial equity and policing reform.
She calls for policies encouraging co-op and employee-owned businesses, housing as a human right, a Green New Deal, and investment in alternatives to law enforcement and the penal system.
She also brings expertise in community and housing development, Gardheere said.
Dunn is “an amazing human being” who has served his constituents well over the last 16 years, but there’s room for improvement and new blood, Gardheere said. District 9 is changing demographically, and Gardheere said she’s the right person to tap into the urban, suburban and rural voices in the region.
A resident of unincorporated Fairwood east of Renton, Gardheere says she’s seen firsthand the ways in which some parts of King County get left behind in investment and infrastructure development.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Gardheere said, “especially in convincing my colleagues when I win, and making sure we are also investing in the rural areas.”