EVERETT — Snohomish County’s top elected officials have traded accusations of poor leadership for much of the past year.
Now they’re competing to lead the county.
County Executive John Lovick hopes to win his first full term, four more years in office. He’s upbeat about his accomplishments since being appointed to the job nearly two years ago. He says he’s honored to serve.
Dave Somers confesses to being a reluctant candidate. The County Council chairman said he agonized over the decision to challenge another Democrat, but came to the conclusion that Lovick was leading the county toward financial ruin. He believes Lovick fails to understand crucial policy issues and relies on bad advice from a small circle of confidants.
“It’s difficult. I know John’s popular,” Somers said. “I respect what he’s done in the past, but I think he’s in the wrong spot.”
Lovick stands by his record.
“I always know that there’s going to be a robust campaign, and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
The power of incumbency and the Democratic Party’s stamp of approval might give Lovick an electoral edge. By the time Somers entered the race this week, Lovick’s campaign had raised $20,000.
Some seasoned Democratic political consultants, nevertheless, give Somers a shot.
“There is an opening for Dave Somers to win this race, given some of the challenges in Snohomish County government,” said Seattle-based John Wyble, who has worked for Somers on past campaigns. “I think it’s great that Snohomish County voters have a choice.”
Snohomish County Democrats don’t welcome the internal competition. Chairman Richard Wright, whose wife, Stephanie, sits on the County Council and supports Lovick, told Somers he was disappointed.
“I reminded him that the county party had early and unanimously endorsed John — making his (Dave’s) decision more than a bit awkward,” he wrote in an email.
The primary election will be held Tuesday, Aug. 4. The voters’ top two candidates for each race, regardless of party, move on to the Nov. 3 general election.
Republicans have yet to recruit a candidate for the race. Some prominent Republicans, including former deputy executive Gary Haakenson and longtime Councilman John Koster, have made clear they aren’t running.
The last time the GOP fielded a serious challenger was in 2003, when then-Edmonds City Councilman Dave Earling lost to Aaron Reardon by 4,635 votes. Earling is now mayor of Edmonds.
Christian Sinderman, another Seattle consultant seasoned in Snohomish County campaigns, said internal squabbles won’t win the race, but real issues could. He called the coming election “an uphill battle” for Somers and a “referendum on both candidates.”
“You’re dealing with two extremely different public personalities,” Sinderman said.
Lovick, 64, of Mill Creek, is retired from a career as a Washington state trooper and was twice elected county sheriff. His political resume includes multiple terms in the state House of Representatives and as a Mill Creek city councilman.
Lovick was appointed executive in mid-2013 after Reardon resigned amid scandal. In November, Lovick won a special election to finish the final year of Reardon’s term, winning 55.5 percent of the vote against Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, a Republican.
Somers, 62, of Monroe, is in his third consecutive term representing the council’s District 5 in east Snohomish County. He served a previous term in that post, but lost re-election in 2001. Before entering politics, he worked for 18 years as a fish biologist with the Tulalip Tribes.
Somers has more experience in office than any other current elected county official, excluding treasurer Kirke Sievers and a few judges.
Lovick and Somers have been clashing for months.
Somers has challenged the executive for awarding pay raises to some of the highest-salaried county managers, even as the potential for budget cuts loomed. He believes the county has suffered because Lovick declined, until recently, to try to recruit a full-time finance director. Somers also has argued for a more cautious approach to spending on the county’s $162 million courthouse project.
“I just don’t think he gets it,” Somers said. “I think he’s listening to a couple of people who have given him bad advice.”
Lovick has argued to save social programs that Somers and others wanted to cut. He defends manager pay raises as necessary in an increasingly competitive labor market. Some of the raises were necessary, he said, to make sure that female managers were paid salaries similar to their male counterparts.
“I’m really proud that we’ve done the work that we said we were going to do,” Lovick said. “We haven’t had to lay anybody off. We have some tremendous staff, they get the work done every day.”
In budgetary issues, Somers has led a majority of the council in a coalition with conservative Democratic Councilman Terry Ryan and conservative Republican Councilman Ken Klein. That’s made for some interesting company, given that Somers’ career, more than anything, has been shaped by his work on environmental conservation and land-use policy.
Council members Stephanie Wright and Brian Sullivan have consistently sided with Lovick’s administration.
Somers criticizes Lovick for failing to meet budget while sheriff and for being slow to address deaths at the county jail, which was then under his supervision.
Lovick’s disagreements with Somers, at times, have been similarly sharp.
Last month, the executive slammed Somers and his council allies for a “total leadership failure” after they rejected his administration’s restructuring plans for the management-challenged county morgue.
The Lovick and Somers camps have exchanged allegations of incivility.
Last year, Somers and his two council allies authorized a $15,000 investigation into intemperate comments made by Lovick’s deputy executive, Mark Ericks. The attorney who performed the investigation concluded that Ericks had created a hostile workplace with his comments, but broke no laws or county policies. The report also said Lovick appeared to have done little to keep Ericks’ behavior in check.
At one point, Lovick questioned the point of the investigation, saying, “Grown, adult men should be able to work out issues among themselves.”
In April, Lovick wrote Somers a letter accusing him of making a racist joke about Native Americans at a gathering with the Tulalip Tribes — for whom Somers had worked for nearly two decades. Tribal leaders who attended the gathering said they took no offense and supported Somers’ position that he was recounting a traditional song from their culture. Before the dust-up hit the press, an unsigned draft version of Lovick’s memo already was being circulated in Olympia political circles.
As of Wednesday, Lovick and Somers were the only candidates who had filed paperwork with the county to run for executive. The filing period runs through 4 p.m. Friday.