EVERETT — Sam Low remembers walking by the county’s administrative buildings as a teenager on the way home from watching baseball games at Everett Memorial Stadium.
On Tuesday, the outgoing Lake Stevens city councilman found himself in one of those buildings for the next phase of his career. He was sworn in as the newest member of the Snohomish County Council.
“Never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d be working in one of those buildings,” Low said before the ceremony.
Low, a Republican, is beginning a special one-year term in office following his Nov. 8 victory over County Councilman Hans Dunshee, a Democrat. Low won with 52.4 percent of the vote and a lead of more than 3,400 ballots. Because Dunshee was an appointed council member, Low was able to take office after results were certified Tuesday.
The newly minted lawmaker will represent District 5 covering eastern Snohomish County. It includes the cities of Lake Stevens, Snohomish, Monroe, Sultan, Gold Bar, Index and part of Bothell, as well as unincorporated areas such as Machias and Maltby. Roughly a fifth of Snohomish County’s more than 770,000 inhabitants live there.
Low received an effusive welcome Tuesday after Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne administered the oath of office. The crowd packed almost every seat in council chambers, with a full row standing against the back wall and then some. They included supporters from the campaign trail, well-wishers from county government, colleagues from Lake Stevens and personal friends.
“Everybody here today, I have a story about each one of you,” Low told the crowd.
Dr. Gary Goldbaum, who heads the Snohomish Health District, said he grew to appreciate Low’s work as a city representative on the county Board of Health, where he’ll be returning soon to represent the county.
“I can’t say enough positive things about Sam’s commitment,” Goldbaum said. “He is a truly dedicated public servant.”
Lake Stevens City Councilman Kurt Hilt has known Low since they were 4 years old. He assured everyone his lifelong friend would “dive into the details” of any issues that come his way and work with people of all political persuasions.
“I was very excited to be able to serve with him on the Lake Stevens City Council and even more excited that he’s on the other side of the (U.S. 2) trestle,” Hilt said. “He’s a straight shooter. He’s going to work with everyone.”
Low also comes highly recommended by Lake Stevens Mayor John Spencer, a Democrat who was quick to praise his Republican colleague.
“I think Sam is a really bright guy,” Spencer said. “He is very committed to making sure that government runs well.”
The mayor commended Low for keeping in close contact with constituents on issues such as pedestrian safety on Highway 9 and a shortage of adequate sidewalks. He said Low got up to speed quickly on city budgets and took time to talk to people about the city’s fast pace of development.
Low, 46, also runs a painting business. He’ll be leaving his City Council seat about a year short of a full term. The city expects to start seeking applications soon and to fill the opening early next year, Spencer said.
Four friends who graduated with Low from Everett High School’s Class of 1988 also were on hand to see him take the oath.
In a sense, the county job will bring Low back closer to his roots. He grew up in public housing in north Everett. He can see the neighborhood from one of the conference rooms near his new office on the eighth floor of the county’s Robert Drewel Building.
Low’s one-year County Council term will expire after 2017. It’s unclear who might challenge him when candidate filing week rolls around in May.
Dunshee has been noncommittal. When a local government activist prodded him at a recent County Council meeting, asking if he might be back in a year, Dunshee responded: “Yes, I know and Costa Rica beckons, so I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next year.”
The election dealt Dunshee his first loss at the polls since 1994. He had been elected to the state House every two years since 1996.
The council seat was left vacant after Dave Somers, a Democrat, was elected county executive last year. Local Democrats nominated Guy Palumbo, a fire commissioner who lives in the Maltby area, as their top-ranked choice for the appointment. The County Council instead chose Dunshee, the Democrats’ second-ranked pick. Palumbo opted to run for an open senate seat, which he won in the recent election.
The race between Low and Dunshee featured diverging approaches to issues such as improving congested roadways and combating opioid abuse in the community.
Improving the area’s highways remains a top priority for Low.
“Early on it’s going to be finding solutions to Highway 522,” he said.
A possible solution is shoulder driving where the road bottlenecks to two lanes from four, an idea that Dunshee also suggested. Low said he’s been in touch with state lawmakers and local city officials about it.
Democrats have held a 4-1 majority on the council since 2008. With Low’s arrival, their advantage will be 3-2.