LYNNWOOD — Four years ago, Democratic County Councilwoman Stephanie Wright won re-election easily as she had no opponent.
It’s a little different this time.
She has a challenger, Willie Russell, a Democratic precinct committee officer who chose not to appear on the ballot with a party preference.
He’s got a populist message, a volcanic personality and a criminal record. Some days he expends as much energy decrying the tactics of critics and cops as he does working to unseat the incumbent in the Nov. 5 election.
Russell is campaigning as an agent of change. He contends Wright has lost touch with the citizenry of District 3 she’s represented the past nine years. He vows to be a better listener to their needs and a louder voice for getting them fulfilled.
Wright is a heavy favorite after receiving 79.1 percent in the primary to Russell’s 10.4 percent. Yet in this volatile period of politics, she insisted she’s not taking the challenge lightly and is focused on getting her record in front of voters.
“If you’re doing your job and you’re doing it well, I don’t think you should make change just for change,” she said. “I think there is a lot to be said about historical knowledge.”
Wright, 47, of Lynnwood, a former high school teacher, was appointed to the County Council in 2010, won a full term in 2011 and another in 2015. If she wins this time, it would be her last due to term limits. She served on the Lynnwood City Council prior to joining the County Council.
Her goals for a third term include expanding affordable housing opportunities and making it easier for residents to reach and obtain information from county agencies.
She wants to help craft the county’s policies surrounding climate change and ensure the arrival of Sound Transit light rail to Lynnwood isn’t delayed. She opposes Initiative 976 which aims to eliminate the motor vehicle excise tax collected by Sound Transit which is a critical source of funds for the regional authority.
“I understand people’s frustration with the vehicle valuation method. I understand what 976 would do. I don’t think it’s the right vehicle for making a correction,” she said. However, she said, she would support directly electing Sound Transit directors — they’re appointed elected officials now — to improve accountability.
Russell, 63, who lives in the unincorporated area near Everett, was elected as a Democratic Party precinct officer in November 2018. He said he leads a group that helps ex-felons find stable housing.
He was sharply critical of county leaders for spending too much time worrying about the future and not enough time dealing with present day challenges.
“Let’s plan short-term solutions now to stop the problems. Let’s just start acting,” he said.
He supports Initiative 976 and opposes any effort to increase or create a new tax without a vote.
Russell is a felon. He was convicted in 1977 of robbery and forgery. He was convicted in 1989 of one count of second-degree rape, one count of attempted third-degree statutory rape and one count of attempted second-degree rape, according to court records. He was required to register as a sex offender.
Since entering partisan politics, he’s had repeated run-ins with fellow Democrats in the party’s 21st Legislative District organization. Several individuals have obtained temporary restraining orders against him. As a result, he said he’s unable to campaign door-to-door in some vote-rich neighborhoods due to the potential threat of violating an order and getting arrested.
“This is voter suppression,” he said.
Though this is his first bid for a county council seat, he vowed it won’t be his last.
“I am not leaving,” he said. “I’m staying. I’m fighting.”
No postage is required to mail ballots. Ballots also can be deposited in any of 22 drop boxes throughout the county that are open around the clock until 8 p.m. on Election Day.
What’s at stake?
The candidates are competing for a four-year term representing Snohomish County Council District 3. The district, one of five, covers Edmonds, Lynnwood, Woodway plus nearby unincorporated areas.
County Councilmembers are set to earn nearly $127,000 in 2020.
Meet the candidates
Experience: Snohomish County Council, 2010 to present; Lynnwood City Council, high school teacher, librarian.
Party: No party preference
Hometown: Unincorporated area near Everett
Experience: Democratic Party precinct officer, guides organization helping ex-felons find stable housing
This story has been modified to correct the criminal conviction history of Willie Russell.