By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — Stephanie Wright survived late-game mudslinging to become the newest member of the Snohomish County Council, beating two other Democratic Party nominees Tuesday afternoon.
County councilmen chose Wright in a 4-0 vote after public interviews with candidates for the open seat. She was immediately sworn into office.
“It’s going to be such an honor serving Snohomish County,” Wright said afterward, as she rode an elevator down from council chambers to get a key card for the building.
Wright had been a Lynnwood City Councilwoman. She now occupies the County Council District 3 position formerly held by Mike Cooper. He left the job July 23 to become Edmonds’ mayor.
Wright’s appointment runs until November 2011, when Cooper would have been up for re-election.
The district includes Lynnwood, Edmonds, Woodway and surrounding areas. The job pays $102,779 per year.
The last woman to serve on the County Council was Barbara Cothern Hawksford, who left office at the end of 2001. Wright, 38, has worked as a teacher and librarian at Northshore School District. She said she plans to resign from that job to take on her new full-time duties. Immediately before being sworn in for the council job she handed over a manila envelope containing her letter of resignation from the Lynnwood City Council.
Wright grew up in the Priest Point area of Tulalip. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington State University, a master’s degree in teaching from Seattle Pacific University and a library media specialist certificate from the University of Washington.
Because Cooper is a Democrat, the Snohomish County Democratic Party nominated three people to fill his council job. Also contending were Edmonds City Councilman D.J. Wilson, 35, and Lynnwood Planning Commission member Maria Ambalada, 74.
Ambalada has lived in Snohomish County for 50 years. She has been an active advocate for senior citizens and minority communities.
During a July 31 vote, the party’s precinct committee officers voted to recommend Wright over Wilson, 33-11. Ambalada received one vote.
All current members of the County Council are Democrats except for Republican John Koster. The council wasn’t obligated to go with the party’s preference but had to pick one of the three nominees.
Wright appeared to be the clear front-runner, but was the subject late last week of an apparent attempt to undermine her bid. An Edmonds attorney sent out public records about her personal finances and her husband’s past problems with the law.
The attorney, Michael Brannan, said he was hired by a client who insisted on anonymity.
The information in that packet factored little into Tuesday’s interviews, expect for Councilman Dave Somers’ question about a lawsuit against Wright and her husband over nearly $27,000 in credit card debt.
Wright responded that like many governments, businesses and other people, “my life has seen some changes over the past couple of years” including financial reversals.
Her family hasn’t ignored its debts, she said. “We own it,” she said. “It’s ours.”
Her answer impressed Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson, the former mayor of Edmonds whose hiring by County Executive Aaron Reardon made Cooper’s, then Wright’s, appointments necessary.
“I think she handled that with class and with dignity,” Haakenson said. “I think she’ll be very collaborative. I think she’ll work with the other (elected officials) to move the county forward.”
Wilson and Wright pointed to budget crises in their respective cities to demonstrate why they would be prepared to handle a looming multimillion-dollar budget shortfall in the county. Reardon is expected to release his preliminary budget in September.
“My name is Stephanie Wright. I’m from Lynnwood, and we’ve had budget problems,” she replied, to laughs.
Ambalada also amused the audience when she admitted, “I’ve never dealt with a multimillion-dollar budget; I’m waiting to win the lottery.”
Other interview questions, which were mostly identical for each candidate, asked about legislative experience and working well with other county leaders.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; email@example.com.