And just about everyone seems to have good things to say about the rivals: Ken Klein, an Arlington city councilman, and Bill Blake, a city utilities supervisor.
That's one of many factors making the Nov. 5 election an excruciating choice for some. Former Arlington Mayor Margaret Larson, who used to be Blake's boss at the city and is friends with Klein's parents, called both candidates "marvelous people."
"It's really too bad they had to run against each other," Larson said. "I can't split my vote."
Blake and Klein are competing for the District 1 council seat. Republican John Koster of Arlington has held the job for three consecutive terms, and cannot run again this year. Three of the five county council seats are up for election this year, with incumbent Dave Gossett also term-limited in south county's District 4.
Ballots for the Nov. 5 general election are set to be mailed Thursday.
Blake and Klein may have conducted one of the most civil political races in recent memory, but make no mistake: They're different people with contrasting skill sets.
They emerged from a field of five candidates in the August primary.
Klein, 34, describes himself as a conservative Republican. Blake, 54, mostly kept away from partisan politics until entering the race, as a Democrat. Klein believes his private-sector background will help the county run more efficiently. Blake says his experience from within government gives him the edge as a legislative reformer.
For some, Blake's long track record earns their support.
For others, it's Klein's experience in publicly elected office -- which Blake lacks -- and his conservative outlook. District 1 in 2009 elected Koster over his Democratic opponent with more than 58 percent of the vote. Since then, the district map has been redrawn along more conservative lines, without Tulalip, which now resides in the same council district as Everett.
A contingent of Klein supporters points out that four of five current county council members are Democrats, and that without a Klein victory, Democrats could control all of the seats.
Larson, the former Arlington mayor, has a Bill Blake sign in her yard. She said she was swayed by Blake's experience, but believes, "Ken's gonna go a long way."
Koster, meanwhile, stands firmly behind Klein.
Others are undecided.
Arlington City Councilwoman Marilyn Oertle tends to favor conservative candidates, but in this case donated to both campaigns. She counts Blake as a personal friend, and has enjoyed working with both men.
"This is the toughest race I've come across to try to make a decision," Oertle said.
Klein won his Arlington City Council seat in 2011. He also serves as the appointed vice chairman on the Snohomish County Planning Commission.
His day job is managing operations for a food services company on Microsoft's Redmond campus. He has a business and finance degree from Western Washington University.
"Ken is all about the numbers," Oertle said. "That guy can figure it out in two seconds."
Blake has worked on land use and permitting at the city of Arlington for more than a dozen years. His current title is stormwater supervisor.
Before joining city government, Blake was a Weyerhaeuser mill worker and a bank employee. For 13 years he's been the co-chairman of the Stillaguamish Watershed Council, which consists of environmentalists, farmers and foresters as well as local government and tribal representatives.
"I was always impressed with Bill, (with him) being an environmentalist, seeing the business side of things," Oertle said.
If elected, Klein wants to apply his private-sector know-how to make county government more efficient. He's frustrated about the county considering another property-tax hike to help pay for a new courthouse with an estimated price tag of up to $130 million. He's against new taxes, but says the need for a new building is legitimate. He wants better replacement policy for the county's buildings and expensive equipment.
"We're supposed to have a long-term plan for everything," Klein said.
Blake said he needs to look further into the courthouse question.
"I haven't studied it enough or paid attention enough to that issue to really know," he said.
Blake said if he's elected, he would focus on planning how neighborhoods and business districts should grow in the coming decades. The county's population is expected to grow from an estimated 717,000 now, to about 909,000 in 2025. Blake wants to create the right conditions to support natural resource industries, such as farming and forestry, while establishing more training in north county for people interested in high-tech careers.
"We know we're going to have this big boom, so we do need to think about how we're going to do this," he said.
As of last week, Klein reported raising more than $43,000, almost three times Blake's nearly $16,000.
Whatever happens in the election, plan on seeing Blake and Klein in north Snohomish County for some time to come.
"I have gotten comments, and I assume Ken has, too, but people appreciate the fact that we've been positive," Blake said. "There have been no negative politics. It speaks to our character."
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meet the candidates
Snohomish County Council, District 1 covers most of north Snohomish County, minus Tulalip. It includes Marysville, Arlington, Granite Falls, Stanwood and Darrington.
At stake is a four-year term serving in the county's legislative body. The annual salary is about $106,000.
Residence: Northeast of Arlington
Experience: Stormwater supervisor with the city of Arlington; Stillaguamish Watershed Council, co-chairman for 13 years; Skagit Valley College, technical degree in natural resource management
Party affiliation: Democrat
Experience: Arlington City Council; Snohomish County Planning Commission, vice chairman; operations manager at Compass Group at Microsoft's Redmond campus; bachelor's degree in business administration and finance from Western Washington University
Party affiliation: Republican
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