EVERETT — A civil war among Snohomish County Democrats ended Tuesday night with upheaval.
Voters were backing County Councilman Dave Somers over incumbent County Executive John Lovick, election-night ballot counts showed. Somers had 56.9 percent and Lovick had 41.9 percent. They were separated by 9,350 votes.
The two candidates awaited the election results at separate parties around the corner from each other in downtown Everett.
“I’m feeling very good, very positive,” said Somers, as he celebrated at the Vintage Cafe on Everett’s Hewitt Avenue. “I felt good over the past two weeks, but I was really prepared for it to be close or prepared to be behind.”
Somers credited his apparent victory to the coalition he built between Democrats and Republicans, environmentalists and homebuilders. He said he was ready to get to work and solve problems, starting with the county budget.
Lovick was at the Schack Art Center as results rolled in.
“I’m disappointed, for starters,” he said.
He wasn’t ready to concede defeat, saying, “There’s always a chance that things will turn around.”
The 68,114 votes counted on Tuesday amounted to about 16.1 percent of the ballots issued. That’s not quite half of the 33 to 35 percent turnout that county elections manager Garth Fell projected.
The Auditor’s Office plans to release updated election totals by 5 p.m. on Wednesday.
In the open, non-partisan county assessor race, Linda Hjelle was leading Marty Glaser with 56.8 percent of the vote. Hjelle works as the deputy county assessor and Glaser runs a private appraisal business.
The hard-fought county contest between two Democrats vying for a county council seat remained close.
Greg Tisdel, a political newcomer with deep connections to the local business community, was edging out incumbent County Councilman Brian Sullivan, a party stalwart who’s one of the best-known figures in local politics. Tisdel had about 50 percent of the total to Sullivan’s 49 percent. They were separated by 98 votes.
Tisdel made up significant ground from the primary, when he finished almost 11 percentage points behind. He was pleased, but cautious.
“You have to be excited, running against an incumbent like this,” he said from the Everett Elks Lodge on Hoyt Avenue. “We ran a heck of a campaign and it’s in the control of the voters right now.”
Sullivan, who had been with Lovick at the Schack Art Center, did not return calls Tuesday.
Sullivan, 57, is a former Mukilteo mayor and state lawmaker who recently moved to Everett. He was competing for his third four-year term. He represents District 2, which covers Everett, Mukilteo and Tulalip plus nearby unincorporated areas.
Tisdel, 60, has a long history in Everett’s economic development circles, but never sought political office until this year. He ran Tiz’s Doors, a company his father founded, from 1993 to 2010.
Some Democrats questioned Tisdel’s loyalty to the party and pointed out his past campaign donations to Republicans.
Sullivan has taken heat from business boosters for his opposition to commercial passenger flights at Paine Field and for siding with aerospace machinists against the Boeing Co.
Somers, 62, lives near Monroe. He’s in the middle of his third consecutive term, and fourth term overall, in the County Council’s District 5 seat covering the eastern part of the county.
A specialist in land-use policy, Somers cut his teeth as a fisheries biologist with the Tulalip Tribes.
He said he was undecided about whether to run against Lovick until it came time to file for office in May. The councilman said he could no longer stand by and watch Lovick ignore the county’s financial challenges or the policy nuances of the executive’s office.
Lovick, 64, is a former sheriff, state lawmaker and Mill Creek city councilman who is retired from a career with the Washington State Patrol.
He was appointed executive in June 2013 to replace Aaron Reardon, who resigned after a series of scandals.
Initially, Lovick enjoyed an outpouring of goodwill. Supporters highlight his compassion and positive leadership style.
Nine months after taking office, Lovick helped lead the county through its worst disaster ever, the Oso mudslide. Later in 2014, Lovick easily won an election against Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick, a Republican, to fill out the final year of Reardon’s unexpired term.
Somewhere along the way, Lovick’s relationship soured with three of the five county council members, including Somers.
The council chairman and other elected leaders said Lovick squandered a chance to fix problems Reardon left behind.
They faulted him for a lack of grounding in nitty-gritty policy issues, for poor personnel decisions and, like his ally Sullivan, for siding with the machinists union against Boeing.
Mark Ericks, who served as Lovick’s deputy executive until resigning in September, feuded with Somers and two other council members and unleashed obscenity-laced tirades against them at staff meetings. An investigator hired by the council concluded that Ericks created a hostile environment with his inappropriate comments, but did not violate any laws or policies, in part because he was an exempt employee.
Somers’ critics say that after 14 years in office, he shares some of the blame for the current government dysfunction. That includes bad council-executive relations under both Lovick and Reardon, as well as the moribund plans to build a new county courthouse.
In the August primary, Somers and Lovick advanced from a five-candidate field. A big question heading toward the general election was how the Democrats would divvy up the third of the primary electorate that supported the two Republicans and an independent candidate.
The winner of the executive’s job has some unenviable tasks ahead in managing the state’s third largest county, with about 2,800 employees and an operating budget of about $226 million.
The biggest challenge may be what to do about the county courthouse. Plans for an eight-story courthouse across the street from the county’s administration buildings fell apart earlier this year because of concerns over costs and parking.
Lovick recommended stepping away from the project and reducing the taxes that were supposed to pay for construction bonds. He supports using some of the bond money for emergency repairs to keep the existing 1967 courthouse building in use.
Somers said the old courthouse still needs to be replaced. He said it’s premature to cut taxes until elected leaders decide what to do about it.
There’s also the matter of repairing damaged relations. If the winner can’t restore peace with other elected officials, then political infighting will remain the norm.