EVERETT — Voters are getting a lot of choices for the District 2 seat on the Snohomish County Council.
Eight candidates — seven Democrats and one Republican — are vying in the Aug. 6 primary for a shot at representing residents of Everett, Mukilteo and the Tulalip area. Ballots will be mailed this week.
The top two finishers will face off in the November general election with the winner securing a four-year term. The position, one of five on the County Council, pays $123,484 a year.
It’s a big crowd partly because no incumbent is in the race for the first time since 2007. Councilmember Brian Sullivan must step aside after 12 years due to term limits.
And the fact that they’re nearly all Democrats is reflective of a surge in activism and engagement in the party’s ranks across the country.
“There’s a lot of political energy,” said Jennifer Gregerson, the mayor of Mukilteo and one of the Democratic candidates. “There’s a lot of people who have seen changes in our nation and feel it’s time for them to step up.”
It’s an impressive slate of Democratic competitors, she said. “I think there will be a lot of late votes as people take more time to decide.”
District 2 has proven to be a safe seat for Democrats this past generation.
Sullivan’s reign followed Democrat Kirke Sievers’ 12 years in the job.
Sievers is now in his final term as county treasurer and Sullivan is looking to succeed him in that post.
Through their combined six elections, they didn’t always have a Republican opponent in November. When they did, the GOP hopeful didn’t top 35 percent.
Anna Rohrbough is the lone Republican competing this year. As the only R, she is widely expected to earn a spot in the fall face-off.
That makes the primary all the more important for voters considering the Democratic candidates Gregerson, Alex Lark, Louis Harris, Tyler Verda, Megan Dunn, Cecilia Wilson or Sharita Burton. History shows whomever emerges next month will be the favorite to win in November.
Rohrbough is confident she can buck the trend if given the chance.
Though the partisan label “differentiates me” from the others on the ballot, she said she is focused on pushing policy ideas, not party affiliation.
“I think it’s the right time and I have the right energy,” she said.
Rohrbough, 46, a resident of Mukilteo, is in her second year on the City Council, where members are nonpartisan. She works as a certified leadership trainer and serves as a board member with the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation. Republican county councilmen Sam Low and Nate Nehring endorsed her.
Reducing crime is her top priority. “It’s the number one thing I hear from people,” Rohrbough said. “They are concerned about their family’s safety and their own safety.”
She wants to boost resources for public safety and repeal a policy to not file felony possession charges against those found with small amounts of controlled substances such as methamphetamine. She said she’ll look to protect private property rights and review regulations impeding construction of new housing, especially single family homes.
She won a seat on the Mukilteo City Council in 2003 and was re-elected twice. She was elected mayor in 2013 and won a second term in 2017. In this race, she’s backed by state Sens. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, and Derek Stanford, D-Bothell, state Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, and the mayors of Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace.
Gregerson touts the value of her political tenure. It has provided her a more direct involvement in tackling the region’s challenges than any other hopeful.
“I have to lean on my experience,” she said. “That’s who I am.”
Gregerson, who holds a master’s degree in urban planning, cites her work in Mukilteo to ensure transportation and housing policies align with future growth. To deal with a housing shortage in the county, she backed use of a new state law to divert a sliver of sales tax toward development of affordable housing.
She’s proud of opposing commercial air travel at Paine Field and now is determined to protect residents from negative impacts of those flights.
While they’ve been quiet on the campaign trail, Gregerson and Rohrbough have been involved in a very public scrape for months, mostly regarding the now discarded practice of the mayor paying severance to departing employees without informing the council. Rohrbough proposed the council’s no-confidence vote in Gregerson and is part of a faction pushing to eliminate the independently elected mayoral position.
While no other Democratic candidate now serves in elected office, most are familiar with government and politics.
Alex Lark, 32, an Everett planning commissioner, ran for the City Council in 2017, losing to incumbent Jeff Moore. He works at Housing Hope, an Everett-based nonprofit, and is an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. Retired congressman Brian Baird and Ed Peterson, a founding member of Housing Hope, endorsed him.
Lark’s focus, like in 2017, is housing and transit. “We’ve just dialed up the intensity,” he said. “There is a housing crisis and I want to fight to solve it.”
He’s called for the county to support efforts like Homes and Hope Land Trust, which acquires property to be set aside for affordable housing, and to pursue a sweat-equity home building program along the lines of one used by the federal government in rural areas.
Lark backs dedicated lanes for bus rapid transit and expansion of a green economy through development of less energy-intensive industries. And noting he was raised in a union household, he said he wants to make sure “40 hours of work a week earns you a roof over your head.”
Louis Harris, 31, of Mukilteo, works at the state’s Department of Social and Health Services as a public benefits specialist. He’s held leadership positions with the NAACP of Snohomish County and the Snohomish County Young Democrats. State Rep. Jared Mead, D-Mill Creek and Mukilteo School Board member Shaun Olsen endorsed Harris as has the Washington Federation of State Employees.
He wants to address the opioid crisis and growing homeless population, reduce traffic congestion and build a broader local economy. “I am working for a Snohomish County where everyone can feel safe and can thrive,” he said.
Harris, who is gay and African-American, said he is the candidate best able to give voice to the ideas and aspirations of an increasingly diverse party and community.
“I represent a changing Snohomish County. I see all of their issues,” he said. “This race is about who has the innovative approaches to solving the issue … and preserving what makes Snohomish County great.”
Tyler Verda, 33, an Everett resident, works in the county’s Office of Community and Homeless Services. He formerly served as a legislative aide to Hans Dunshee on the County Council and to state Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett, both of whom have endorsed his candidacy. The son of a union electrician, he’s also backed by unions representing county workers, aerospace machinists and electricians.
Getting chronically homeless into supportive housing is the defining issue, he said. “We all see the impact on our communities,” he said. “People want cost-effective solutions for homelessness. That’s my day job.”
Verda wants more law enforcement services embedded with social service workers to connect homeless with services. He backs expansion of the county’s rapid re-housing program which provides short-term financial aid to help people secure housing in the private market and avoid becoming homeless. Overall, he wants to increase county spending on human services.
He also wants to address the opioid epidemic, expand Washington State University’s presence and strengthen apprenticeship and training programs for workers.
Megan Dunn, 43, who lives in Everett, was a leader in the effort to create district representation on the City Council. She has a long history of environmental advocacy, including working to curb pesticide use at Everett city parks. She works as Healthy People and Communities Program Director with the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides.
She’s backed by the Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters and is the preferred choice of a statewide coalition of progressive groups. Everett Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher endorsed her. Mukilteo councilmembers Christine Cook and Scott Whelpley have endorsed both Dunn and Rohrbough.
Dunn, who regularly attends county council meetings, said her goal is “to be a public servant” and touts accomplishments of two decades of civic activism.
“To me it’s about proven leadership,” she said. “Some have great ideas. I have proven I will follow through on my ideas.”
She supports a tax credit for working families and “would like to see big businesses pay their fair share” to help fund public services. Like others in the race, she supports measures to address climate change, ease homelessness and increase workforce training.
Cecilia Wilson, 54, an Everett resident, manages constituent services for Democratic County Executive Dave Somers’ office. Wilson’s endorsement list includes Somers, Council Chairman Terry Ryan, Sheriff Ty Trenary and former councilmember Dave Gossett.
She began work with the county in 1991 as a legislative aide for then councilwoman Karen Miller. She served the same role for councilwoman Barbara Cothern and Gossett before joining the executive’s staff.
The opioid crisis, lack of affordable housing, impacts of growth and transportation needs are among her key issues.
Her experience is a strength, she said. She knows how the levers of government turn. She understands the challenges facing the county and has built relationships with those who will play a role in tackling them.
Pointing to her endorsements, she said, “These are folks who know I know county government and know how it works.”
Sharita Burton, 53, lives in north Everett, runs a marketing consulting firm and has worked to revitalize Everett’s Broadway corridor. She has said she sees the County Council job as a way to support businesses large and small.
Another goal for Burton is providing housing options for people of different age brackets and income levels.
The former Minnesota resident said she’ll bring the freshest perspective to solving problems.
“I am not with a governmental entity,” she told the audience at a July 1 candidate forum. “I am the only transplant to the community bringing change to the community.”
Candidate statements can be found in the Snohomish County Local Voters’ Pamphlet. It can be found on the county elections website: snohomishcountywa.gov/224/Elections-Voter-Registration.