MUKILTEO — He’s the guy who wouldn’t give up.
Riaz Khan, 50, a Boeing engineer, ran for public office five times in five years.
He lost the first four, including three in the primary.
It didn’t deter him from taking another stab at the Mukilteo City Council in 2019.
“I had the previous signs. I used them,” Khan said.
This time, he made it to the Nov. 5 general election. He faced newcomer Christopher Maddux, who got more votes than Khan in the primary.
On election night, Khan held a 12-vote advantage. The second day, he was ahead by 24. In the end, he garnered 51.4% and won by 218 votes.
In the diverse bedroom community of 21,500, Khan is the first Muslim to get on the historically white City Council.
“I’m the only elected Muslim in Snohomish County,” said Khan, who has led a campaign to build an Islamic Center of Mukilteo for several years.
The first two times Khan ran, he used his full name, Mohammed Riaz Khan. He dropped Mohammed in 2017.
“A lot of people know me by Riaz Khan. I go by my middle name,” he said.
Mayor Jennifer Gregerson said she didn’t know of anyone else who had run unsuccessfully for council three times.
“He has been really committed to serving the community,” she said.
Khan and his wife, Ayesha, grew up and married in India. They have three children, ages 6, 16 and 20. The family moved to Mukilteo 12 years ago from San Antonio, Texas, for his job at Boeing. She is a substitute teacher.
He is a neighborhood watch captain. He recently graduated from the Mukilteo police academy for citizens. His campaign issues centered on public safety and government transparency.
“I’m trying to learn every step I go,” he said.
Try and try again
Khan’s first run for a spot on the Mukilteo council was in 2015. He lost big-time to Scott Whelpley.
He made bids for state representative in 2016, City Council in 2017 and state Senate in 2018.
This year, on his fifth try, he studied the candidates in the four open positions before settling on Position 5.
Incumbents Whelpley and Richard Emery had moved to Position 4. In Position 6 was Peter Zieve, who did an anonymous citywide postcard campaign in 2016 to oppose plans for Khan’s mosque. Former Mayor Joe Marine was among those in Position 7. There was a lot of maneuvering among the candidates jockeying for positions to give them the best chances of winning. For a brief time, it appeared Khan would face his wife in the primary. She withdrew.
Khan got a jump start on his term. He was sworn in Nov. 27, after Whelpley resigned from Position 5, saying he was moving out of the city.
“Because the seat was vacant, upon certification of the election he took the seat automatically, based on state law,” Gregerson said.
On Jan. 6, the other newly elected members will be sworn in.
The council is known for its theatrics. Gregerson routinely has to remind the council of a rule against “insinuations or derogatory remarks” about her and other members.
A measure on the November ballot to change the format of government from a strong mayor to council-manager would have meant she’d have been out of a job. Khan supported keeping the current structure, which prevailed.
Khan is friends with the mayor. He is friends with most people. He sports a smile more often than not.
“He is the calm person of the family,” his wife said.
He already faces his first difficult vote.
At a November meeting, an ordinance was proposed to cut the mayor’s salary to $30,000 without benefits. It would not go into effect until Gregerson’s term is over in 2022. She is paid about $70,000 plus benefits.
The vote ended in a 3-3 tie with Whelpley, Christine Cook and Steve Schmalz in favor of the pay cut and Emery, Bob Champion and Sarah Kneller opposed. Councilwoman Anna Rohrbough abstained, but on Dec. 2 asked for a re-vote.
That will happen at the Dec. 16 meeting. Khan’s vote looms as the tie-breaker.
“I’m still studying both sides,” he said. “Then I will go for what’s best for the city.”
Victory at last
After four consecutive years of losses, was Khan ever tempted to give up?
“I was confident I’d make it,” he said. “People started recognizing me all the time. When I go to the supermarket, or the playground or the beach or to festivals, they always call me by my name, Riaz.”
Others might have had doubt.
“We had to prove it,” he said.
Instead of fundraisers, he used social media. He pounded the pavement and door-belled.
“If you ask people for money they disappear,” he said. “Once you hold a seat, people believe in you.”
The campaign was a family effort. His kids waved signs along Mukilteo Speedway. He and Ayesha walked side streets and back roads to neighborhoods where houses are tucked down long driveways and that don’t get much foot traffic by trick-or-treaters or politicians.
“We did everything,” she said. “Now we see the fruit. We worked so hard.”
Khan didn’t run for office to get rich. A spot on the Mukilteo council pays $6,000 a year. It is a chance to represent people in his new hometown and adopted country.
Over the weekend, he was just another Costco shopper. He picked up a “Congratulations Riaz Khan” sheet cake for his victory party at Mukilteo’s Pointe of Grace Lutheran Church, which hosts Islamic events. Construction of the proposed Mukilteo mosque is expected to start in 2020.
“He’s an extremely bright man,” Grace pastor Paul Ingram said of Khan. “He wants to make sure Muslims in Mukilteo have a voice. There is a substantial number of Muslims, mostly from South Asia, mostly from India.”
Ingram was among those at the party for Khan.
“He was doing a little dance,” he said. “Some of the guys got up there and were waving their arms, having a great time.”
A reception is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at Mukilteo City Hall for retiring councilmembers Christine Cook and Steve Schmalz
The regular meeting is at 7 p.m. Topics include the Peace Park bid award and a motion to cut the mayor’s salary and benefits.