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Joe McDermott to King County Council? - Would be first openly Gay Council member
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Joe McDermott to King County Council? - Would be first openly Gay Council member

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

When Dow Constantine was sworn in as King County Executive on November 24, he set off a swirl of behind-the-scenes politicking to succeed him on the County Council.

Openly Gay State Senator Joe McDermott (D-34) has already stated his intention to run for the Council seat in 2010. McDermott is also arguably the favorite to win appointment to replace Constantine until the seat can be filled by election next November.

McDermott is one of four finalists for the position who were interviewed by the County Council committee of the whole on December 7. If successful, he will be the first openly Gay King County Council member.

Speaking to SGN by phone, McDermott was upbeat about his chances.

"Both from my interview with the committee of the whole and from my conversations with individual Council members, I'm optimistic," he said. "I still have more work to do to make sure I have all the votes I need for the appointment."

PCOs LOBBYING HARD FOR MCDERMOTT

Constantine represented County Council District 8, including West Seattle, Pioneer Square, Georgetown, Burien, Normandy Park, Vashon and Maury Islands, and parts of Tukwila and SeaTac.

A large swath of Council District 8 corresponds very neatly with the 34th Legislative District, which Constantine represented before going to the County Council, and which McDermott represents now.

The other piece of Council District 8 lies mainly in the 11th Legislative District.

Constantine was appointed to the County Council when then-Council member Greg Nickels was elected Mayor in 2002. Constantine had represented the 34th District first in the House (1996-2001) and then as Senator (2001-2002).

When Constantine left his House seat for the Senate in 2001, McDermott succeeded him. Now McDermott wants to repeat the exercise.

State Representative Sharon Nelson (D-34), who succeeded McDermott when he left the House to go to the Senate, now wants to succeed to McDermott's Senate seat.

34th District PCOs - the precinct committee officers who are the foot soldiers in the Democratic Party's ground game - adore McDermott, and they also like Nelson. While none of them is talking for the record, they are known to be lobbying hard for McDermott to be appointed to the Council and for Nelson to step into his Senate seat.

"I think the Council realizes they're hearing from the 34th District and in fact from all over the 8th District," McDermott told SGN. "I've run for office five times in 60% of the [8th] District."

Their task was complicated, however, when 11 other candidates - including 11th District Rep. Zack Hudgins (D), both the current and the former mayors of Normandy Park, a former mayor of Burien, Seattle City Council member and unsuccessful mayoral candidate Jan Drago, and Nelson herself - threw their names into the race.

A 12-member advisory committee appointed by the County Council and chaired by attorney Anne Levinson, fresh from leading the campaign to approve Referendum 71, interviewed all 11 and narrowed the choices to four.

Two of the final candidates - McDermott and Hudgins - have said they will run for the seat in 2010, and two others - Drago and Nelson - have indicated they will be caretaker Council members, serving only until the election.

The four were interviewed by the committee of the whole on December 7, with the final decision to be made on December 14, the Council's last meeting of 2009.

Some Council members, notably Bob Ferguson, have expressed a preference for a caretaker appointment, presumably to avoid giving one of the already announced candidates an incumbent's advantage in the November election.

On the other hand, Reagan Dunn, who chaired the committee of the whole on December 7, reportedly wants to help name the presumed front-runner for 2010.

McDermott is skeptical of a caretaker appointment.

"It's not a job I'd be interested in," he says. "I think it's in everybody's interest to appoint someone who wants to represent the 8th [Council] District and who will hold themselves accountable to the voters."

While the process is complex enough, it is complicated further by party politics. Since November 2008, all King County offices are officially non-partisan, but all the current Council members were elected as party candidates, with the Council split between 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans.

Council District 8 was always considered a safe Democratic seat, and it is difficult to envision a Republican-identified or Republican-leaning candidate winning there in 2010.

For the Council's Republicans, then, the choice becomes which Democrat they would prefer to work with.

A CHOICE BETWEEN DEMOCRATS

McDermott is openly Gay, he is a union member (American Federation of Teachers 1789), he is identified with progressive political issues, and he is an ally of Dow Constantine.

All of these qualities appeal to many Democrats but few Republicans.

The Council already split along party lines on November 16, in a vote on how to choose Constantine's successor. All four Republicans voted not to allow the appointment of a candidate who intended to run for the office in 2010 - which would have ruled out McDermott.

The five Democrats voted to keep him in the running, however.

While Hudgins is also a Democrat and a union member (Communication Workers of America), he is less associated with Constantine and with progressive causes than McDermott, and might be more acceptable to the Council's Republicans.

McDermott dismisses the idea that Republican Council members might try to block his appointment.

"Republicans actually have a disincentive to do that," he told SGN. "I will win the election and I will be there a year from now. Going with someone else now is only a short term political gain for them."

McDermott has not formally endorsed anyone to succeed him in his Senate seat, but he has kind words for Nelson.

"I'm focused on what I need to do to get the appointment," he said, "but Rep. Nelson would be an outstanding person to succeed me in my Senate seat."

Asked if he was glad to be leaving the Senate after looking at Gov. Gregoire's 2010 budget proposal, McDermott replied "The budget the Governor was required to present was - I don't know how to put it into words - certainly not something that reflects my values or what I would want for the state."

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