Transportation, small businesses and homelessness were the big topics of discussion at the King County Council District 3 forum on July 16 at Umpqua Bank in North Bend.
The forum, hosted by the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, is one of the last opportunities for candidates to speak to voters prior to the Aug. 3 primary election. District 3 comprises most of the northeastern part of King County— including Snoqualmie, North Bend and Duvall, and is the largest of the nine council districts.
The incumbent, Kathy Lambert, is seeking her sixth term and has held the third district seat since 2001. She is challenged by telecommunication attorney Joe Cohen and political consulting firm owner Sarah Perry.
This is one of the most competitive races for the District 3 position since Lambert has contested the seat. In her five previous efforts, she ran unopposed in three and handily won the other two, with almost 60% of the vote in each.
Lambert repeatedly pointed to her experience at the forum as an indicator that she will succeed in the position, which includes being named the 2014 elected official of the year by the United Way.
“When you have experience, you have insights you may not have otherwise had,” she said. “Because I’ve been elected for a number of years, I’ve learned and networked with many different people.”
Lambert pointed to the success the county council has had over the past year distributing COVID-19 relief grants and personal protective equipment to small businesses during the pandemic. When asked how she would spend federal money for COVID-19 relief, she said she would prioritize assistance to small businesses.
Cohen, a former aide to Sen. Maria Cantwell, and a drug control policy advisor to the Obama administration, said it is important for the county to recognize that the pandemic has impacted small businesses differently.
“We have to recognize there is a big difference, [and] this isn’t just one economy,” Cohen said. “Publicly traded businesses did pretty well during the pandemic, but small businesses were devastated.”
Cohen said the pandemic was critical in showing the disparities county residents face in terms of access to high speed internet. He said much of the eastern part of the district, including parts of the Snoqualmie Valley, live in areas with underserved or unserved internet access.
“We live in a tech hub, and this shouldn’t be the case,” he said. “If you want to work, you have to have an internet connection.”
Perry, who has owned her own business since 2002, said she wants to help minority-owned businesses thrive and wants to streamline or eliminate some of the fees placed on businesses that make it difficult for them to remain open.
“Some of our businesses have to jump through hoops,” she said. “Half of our jobs are small business jobs, and if small businesses thrive, we all thrive.”
Perry has received endorsements from several large figures in state politics, including, Gov. Jay Inslee, U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. In the forum, she also prioritized concerns about mental health and environmental issues in the county.
“I believe in science, I really do,” she said. “Our environment is in a crisis and we have to be focusing on it. It’s not going away.”
Transit and homelessness
All three candidates emphasized the importance of providing public transit to the region and continuing the development of the Sound Transit light rail.
Perry said she wanted to expand bus services to assist essential workers who need transport to work and developing a relationship with rideshare companies to meet the region’s needs. Lambert again pointed to the experience she had, including helping with the introduction of the Snoqualmie Valley’s door-to-door rideshare service and increasing bus services.
Candidates also agreed about the need to address the ongoing homelessness crisis. Lambert discussed her work with the council in the Health through Housing initiative. Cohen spoke on his experience working with people on the brink of homelessness as a pro bono lawyer.
“I have represented people facing homelessness. I’m aware of how hard it can be,” he said. “We need to keep people in houses so we don’t exacerbate the issue.”
Candidates were also asked about what the council should prioritize when appointing a sheriff. A new law, approved by voters last year, changed the sheriff position from an elected one to an appointed one. When current county sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht’s term expires in 2021, the council and county executive will be tasked with appointing a replacement.
Lambert, whose father was a police captain, said it’s important to communicate with unincorporated communities, where the sheriff’s office has jurisdiction, about what they want in a sheriff. Both Cohen and Perry said the new sheriff should prioritize safety and acknowledged that reforms are needed. Perry also said the new sheriff needs to go through bias training and know how to make everyone feel safe.
Of the three candidates, Perry has raised the most money for her campaign, according to the Washington Public Disclosure Commission, at just over $130,000. Cohen and Lambert have spent roughly $37,000 and $47,000, respectively, as part of their campaigns.
Ballots for the primary election should be received by mail no later than Monday, July 19. Ballots must be postmarked by Tuesday, Aug. 3, or deposited at an official drop box by 8 p.m. on Election Day to be counted.