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posted Friday, November 5, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 45
McDermott heads to King County Council
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McDermott heads to King County Council

Councilmember-elect to become first openly Gay member

by Robert Raketty - SGN Contributing Writer

State Senator Joe McDermott will become the first openly Gay man to be seated on the nine-member King County Council after celebrating a win over Diana Toledo by a wide margin on Tuesday night with supporters at Georgetown's Calamity Jane's. McDermott had been one of four finalists to be appointed to the seat vacated by King County Executive Dow Constantine, but lost out to former Seattle City Councilmember Jan Drago last January.

'I look forward to serving the entire Eight Council District and, especially, our community,' McDermott told the Seattle Gay News outside his election night victory party. 'I spent most of the last year talking to constituents from across the Eight Council District. To have been met with such a strong reception among voters tonight makes me feel great.'

McDermott praised his opponent and the voters of District 8 for focusing on the issues rather than his sexual orientation. 'I am proud to be the first member of our community to serve on the King County Council. I think it is noteworthy that it wasn't an issue in the campaign; that I could run on what I feel is my experience and the values I bring to the job,' he said. 'The 8th is the kind of place where you can run a campaign on the issues, and that the fact that I am an openly Gay man is really a non-issue shows how far we have come. It is a positive statement about King County.'

Josh Friedes, executive director of Equal Rights Washington (ERW), said the election of McDermott will have important ramifications for the LGBT community and its allies. 'There is nothing like being able to speak from the first-person perspective,' he said. 'It just changes the dynamic, especially when someone like Joe McDermott, who has a reputation of being so popular among his colleagues and who has lived his life so openly and with such integrity, is elected.

'This is going to be an education for the King County Council which - generally speaking - is very good on LGBT civil rights already. More importantly, it is going to be a bully pulpit for Joe to be able to talk about the needs and the lives of LGBT individuals and families.'

ERW, according to Friedes, had expended great effort and money to ensure the election of pro-LGBT politicians and progressive ballot measures, but came up short due to the shifting political climate. 'We appear to have very easily elected our first openly Gay man to the King County Council. All openly Gay legislators were reelected. An out Lesbian candidate in Tacoma was elected. In that respect, it is very good for the LGBT community,' he concluded. 'However, it is not so good that a lot of our allies appear to have lost their reelection bids. That will make it much harder to pass LGBT civil rights legislation. It will make it harder to protect the AIDS/HIV budget and the services that are so important to the Gay community.

'One of the great sadnesses of mine as the executive director of Equal Rights Washington is that a lot of ballot measures that could have helped the revenue picture were either voted down or - in the case of 1053 - was approved. We have a real crisis in Washington state right now, as well as in King County. The bottom line is that unless we find a way to increase revenues, we are not going to be able to provide basic services that are essential: HIV/AIDS services and prevention, mental health services, substance abuse services, healthcare, aid to the homeless, and senior services.'

The projected deficit for King County - the difference between revenues and costs - is $60 million for 2011. Although the Council will have approved the budget by the time McDermott takes office, he will be responsible for implementing the cuts and measures needed to balance the budget. McDermott said he plans to preserve essential services but acknowledged tough decisions lay ahead.

'The county is dealing with a significant budget deficit - budget gap - and they are working on closing that now. I'll join the council at a time when they would have just adopted that,' he said. 'I'm going to work to ensure we do that as efficiently and diligently as we can while still providing the services we need to provide to the county: public safety, human services, and Metro Transit.'

Councilmember Larry Phillips told the SGN that he has confidence McDermott is prepared for the task ahead. 'There is a lot of work to do, so we are anxious to have him join us. He is a veteran of local politics and state politics, so he knows what he is doing and it won't take him long to be very productive,' he said. 'I think it is going to be great having him with us. He is a very strong progressive and we welcome that at the County Council. I think it is going to make for a more productive County Council having him there helping us to get the job done.'

State Representative Dave Upthegrove, who served with McDermott in the state Legislature, agreed. 'I think he will do as well as anyone could. He has worked in the state House as well as the Senate. He had been through change before,' he said. 'He's a bright guy. I think he will do fine. King County needs to do a lot of reforming to save money. I hope Joe can be a voice for what progressive reform looks like.'

In the 34th Legislative District, Sharon Nelson ran unopposed to take McDermott's Senate seat, which includes West Seattle, Burien, and Maury and Vashon islands. Joe Fitzgibbon, a former aide to Nelson, won over Mike Heavey, a staff member to Drago on the Council. State Representative Eileen Cody retains her seat in the House.

'Things are rock solid in the 34th and we look forward to working with them and moving forward with them on a number of bills,' said Friedes. 'We have Sharon Nelson, a champion of LGBT civil rights, moving up into the Senate seat. Of course, Eileen Cody will be returning as a state representative. She has always been wonderful on LGBT civil rights. Right now, it looks like Joe Fitzgibbon will be our new state rep. He is passionate about LGBT civil rights. Of course the other candidate in that race - Mike Heavey - was also wonderful on LGBT civil rights and had previously worked for the Human Rights Campaign.'

Fitzgibbon sought to assure the LGBT community on Tuesday night that a voice for LGBT civil rights would not be lost by the election of McDermott to the Council. 'The LGBT community has a lot of good friends in Olympia and I'm excited to be a straight ally for the community,' he said. 'Losing Joe in the Senate just means that we are going to have one more great champion of LGBT civil rights in local government.'

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