From left: Derek Daniels, Maya Ojalehto, Rashawn Smith and David Chan.

From left: Derek Daniels, Maya Ojalehto, Rashawn Smith and David Chan.

Taxes divide candidates in South County Fire race

Rashawn Smith said David Chan has “disparaged” his constituents. The firefighters’ union endorsed the newcomer.

LYNNWOOD — Two candidates running to be commissioner for South County Fire agree on a lot.

But David Chan and Rashawn Smith don’t see eye-to-eye on one big issue: taxes.

David Chan, 70, has served on the South County Fire Board of Commissioners since 2005. Chan currently serves in Position No. 4, representing neighborhoods just south of Everett. He’s running for Position No. 7, an at-large seat.

Chan, an accountant, said his expertise with finance has proved useful. He identifies as fiscally conservative and expressed opposition to raising taxes. Chan said he wants to finish projects the commission has taken on, like merging other fire districts into South County Fire.

“Right now, we are financially stable,” Chan said. “I want to keep it that way. I am a person who can say no.”

Smith said he is not opposed to tax increases, in certain circumstances.

“I’m not saying that taxes should just be raised on everything as we are moving through this,” Smith said. “At the same time, you have to make sure these guys are doing their job as safe as possible. Sometimes spending that extra would not just keep those guys safe — it would keep everybody in the community safe.”

Smith said he finds it misleading that some of his opponent’s campaign ads use the words “re-elect.”

“This is not a re-election,” Smith said in an interview. “He’s running for a completely different seat.”

Asked about his use of the phrase, Chan said, “I’m not sure why we’re mincing words here. Let’s talk about policy.”

“It is a re-election,” he added. “I am currently a commissioner. I’m an incumbent.”

The seven seats on the South County Fire Board of Commissioners serve a population of 250,000. Five seats represent geographic districts. Two are at-large positions, meaning commissioners can live anywhere in the jurisdiction. Chan and Smith are running for six-year terms.

Smith, 39, has never campaigned for public office. But his experience as a master mechanic would prove useful, he said.

“My job is to fix things,” Smith said. “Sometimes I would consider that my weakness because I keep going at it until I can figure out and solve the problem.”

Smith, born and raised in Brooklyn, moved to Lynnwood six years ago.

The South County firefighters union endorsed Chan’s opponent in 2017, and the union endorsed Smith this time, after a series of interviews.

Smith “wasn’t bogged down in the minutiae of what we’ve done before,” said union political action director AJ Johnson. “He was more concerned with where we’re going from here.”

Johnson also said the union disapproved Chan’s plan to vacate his current seat before his term is up.

“Our union didn’t like the idea of that,” Johnson said. “That he already has a seat, and he’s just trying to run in another seat to extend his term six years.”

In his current position, Chan wants an at-large position so he has freedom to move within the district, he said.

In 2017, Chan drew controversy for making jokes with another commissioner at a public meeting, about hiring Mexicans as cheap labor. The conversation was caught on a hot microphone.

“Both Commissioner (Bob) Meador and I felt terrible about it and sincerely apologized to all the staff, the Board and the Lynwood City Council,” Chan wrote in an email to The Herald.

Chan attended diversity training. Johnson said he believes Chan is sincerely sorry for what he said.

“It has been a really tough time,” Johnson said. “That situation is still pretty raw for a lot of our firefighters who felt deeply offended.”

Smith agreed.

“There’s a large percentage of Hispanic individuals that live in our areas,” Smith said. “Their voice matters just as much as his voice does. His voice is their voice.”

Chan said he has apologized many times.

“That wasn’t my intent, to disparage,” he said. “This has become a life sentence. I have nothing against Hispanic people. They keep on using that. It is completely unfair to me.”

If elected to the at-large seat, Chan said he would encourage Smith to apply for the vacated seat.

Another campaign

For another at-large seat on the fire commission, No. 6, Derek Daniels is facing off against Maya Ojalehto.

Daniels, 41, a lifelong resident of the Lynnwood area, said his consulting work has given him a firm grasp on budget oversight.

“I’m detail-oriented,” Daniels said. “I have the ability to look at numbers and create graphs that are meaningful and understandable … they’re not looking for someone with a fire science background.”

Daniels’ opponent, Maya Ojalehto, could not be reached by The Herald for an interview. According to a biography in the voter’s pamphlet, she is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and has worked in hospital emergency rooms.

The union endorsed Daniels.

“It was for the same reasons that we chose Rashawn. He’s forward-thinking. He’s looking at the future,” Johnson said. “He reached out to us, and Maya never did.”

Johnson said the fire union urges voters to keep eye on these races, even if they might not have the cachet of others.

“Maybe people look at this like, ‘Oh it’s the fire department, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing,’” Johnson said. “It’s important to pay attention to these things, because they do affect people’s lives when they need us the most.”

Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486;; Twitter: @reporterellen

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