County Carnival

Three conservative Republicans turn a council race into a sideshow.

FOR A PARTISAN BODY in which relationships among colleagues have ranged from tense to fractious, theres surprisingly little drama in this years races for Metropolitan King County Council. In District 2 in northeast Seattle, Cynthia Sullivan faces her first serious challenge in 20 years from fellow Democrat Bob Ferguson. Out in Issaquah, former Republican and sometime Green Brian Derdowski is backas a Democratto try to reclaim his five-term District 12 seat from David Irons.

And then theres the 9th District, with enough soap-opera material for all 13 seats. The District 9 County Council seat represents the range of land from Seattles southeast suburbs all the way to Pierce County and the Cascades. The territory is overwhelmingly rural, but the part closest to Seattle is ever-encroaching urban sprawl. For 14 years, the late Kent Pullen represented the district.

When Pullen died last spring, Pam Roach, a longtime council aide to Pullen and a longtime state legislator, lobbied council Republicans to pick her as the interim successor. State Sen. Stephen Johnson, who purportedly was Pullens top choice to replace him after his death, said he would stay in the Senate. So the party forwarded to the council the names of three possible successors: Roach, former state Rep. Phil Fortunato, and a political neophyte, Cornerstone Bible Church minister Steve Hammond of Enumclaw. The council went with Hammond.

Now Roach, Fortunato, and Democrat Barbara Heavey are vying to unseat Hammond and fill Pullens term through 2005. Heavey, a land-use lawyer who entered the race in June, is unchallenged by other Democrats and is guaranteed a spot on the November ballot. But the three-way race for the Republican nomination has devolved into something of a circus.

Hammond supporters have challenged the candidacies of both his opponents. The famously outspoken Roach has been battling accusations that she doesnt live in the district, last week claiming that she is in the final stages of buying an Enumclaw home that she had been renting from friends. A Hammond volunteer helped Auburn resident Walter Watts file an Aug. 11 challenge questioning Roachs eligibility to run in the district. Watts wife, Donna, is a longtime ally of Fortunato. Watts withdrew his complaint last week, but a similar complaint by Scott Strawn was unresolved.

FORTUNATO HAS HAD PROBLEMS of his own. Claiming that his new environmental consulting business left him indigent and unable to afford the $1,039 filing fee for the race, Fortunato chose to file nominating petitions. Another Hammond supporter, Orin Wells, challenged the signatures, and after initially certifying Fortunatos petition, county election officials corrected themselves late last month and ruled that 52 of Fortunatos signatures were invalid, which would make him ineligible to run. But because he was already certified, Fortunato could not be removed from the ballot. A King County Superior Court last week rejected another challenge, saying the county elections office doesnt have the authority to delve into an individuals finances to determine indigence.

Hammond claims the support of both council Republicans and the late Pullen, who, according to Pullens wife, had expressed a preference for Hammond as his successor. (In a Seattle Times article April 29, when Johnson announced he was not interested in filling the seat, it seemed that all the other potential candidatesRoach includedalso were claiming to have been anointed in some way by Pullen before his death.) But little-known Hammond, who disavows having planned the challenges to his opponents eligibility, faces an uphill battle. Hammond has poor name recognition by comparison, and there are few substantive policy differences among the three conservatives. All cite a desire to cut taxes, to improve transportation, and to protect private-property rights.

IN THE ABSENCE of disagreement over issues and aside from questions of eligibility, the main discussion seems to be Roachs personality and the apparent sense of both Roach and Fortunato that a promotion from the poorly paying state Legislature to the much better paying County Council is rightfully theirs as a reward for years of public service. Roach has been a magnet for controversy throughout her career; this year alone, shes been formally reprimanded by the state Senate on ethics charges and fended off accusations by former staffers of invasion of privacy and of wielding a pistol at one of them.

While the three Republicans beat up on each other, Heavey, the Democrat, awaits the winner. Pullens long hold on the seat obscures the districts swing tendencies; both of the state legislative districts that fall within the area, Roachs 31st and Johnsons 47th, send a mixture of Democrats and Republicans to Olympia, and the articulate Heavey is closer to the political center than any of her potential opponents. Prior to Pullen, only Democrats had held the seat.

Polling shows this is a winnable seat for a Democrat, says Lisa MacLane, a principal for Moxie Media who is working for Heavey. Roach passes out her own Republican Party polling information from May showing that she led in the district in name recognition and popularity. But then, a lot has happened since May.

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