UPDATE: County Council Candidates Focus On Differences At B-Town Blog Forum (w/Audio)
[REPORTER’S NOTE: Writing on the fast-paced exchanges of a candidates’ forum presents a challenge in conveying what they say with accuracy and balance. Therefore, many answers are paraphrased to ensure fairness to both participants. Candidate responses are presented generally in the order they answered questions. To hear their full remarks in context, you can listen to the debate in its entirety by clicking on the “Play” button of the MP3 file below:]
Voters were presented with a clear contrast between candidates Joe McDermott and Diana Toledo, who are running for election to the King County Council from District 8, at a Sept. 28 forum sponsored by the B-Town Blog.
McDermott, a liberal Democrat and former state senator from the 34th Legislative District, pointed with pride to his party affiliation and support from labor unions.
Toledo, a moderate conservative whose election would alter the balance on the King County Council, spoke with equal pride about not having to answer to either party or union supporters.
Both candidates are from West Seattle. King County Council District 8 also includes Burien, North Highline, Vashon and Maury Islands.
“People can expect that I will manage King County [which faces a $60 billion revenue shortfall next year] well, based on my record and experience,” McDermott said.
He referred to his experience in the Senate during the past two sessions, where he was forced to make “painful” decisions that resulted in “tough” cuts in programs and the layoffs of state employees.
“The question of where the money for my campaign comes from is a great one,” Toledo countered. Her contributions come “from people I’ve worked with … to make [county programs run smoothly and effectively.”
She said managing and balancing the county budget responsibly through a non-partisan approach are her top priorities.
Asked what her individual leadership style on the nine-member county council would be, Toledo said she would “focus on people and focus on principles, not on party caucuses.”
Although council members are elected on a nonpartisan ballot, they still hold separate Democrat and Republican caucuses.
“In King County, problems are not Democrat problems. They are not Republican problems … they are community problems.”
McDermott said he would “bring my collaborative style” of working with people from both parties in the Legislature to the county council.
Noting that he and King County Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, a Republican, worked well together in the House when he was a state representative, McDermott added that he also worked collaboratively with legislators from throughout the region.
That’s why people can count on him to work effectively for King County, he added.
McDermott called the 2011 budget proposed by King County Executive Dow Constantine on Sept. 27 “a responsible budget given the deficit the county is facing.”
Because the county can’t afford to lose deputies and other law enforcement services, which would result under cuts proposed by Constantine, McDermott said he supports the proposed 0.2 cent county sales tax increase for public safety on the November 2 ballot.
But, said Toledo, “I don’t believe we can afford to lose people on the streets … I heard a deputy say there’s a cheaper way” to run the sheriff’s office and provide other services.
“We need to take a closer look” at finding efficiencies. “We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the taxpayers” – and “we may have to reopen union contracts,” she said.
Both candidates indicated they would support the transfer of 0.2 percent of local sales tax revenue from Metro Transit to help pay for deputies and other public safety needs and avoid the threatened layoffs.
And they favor an investigation into Metro Transit to determine what happened with sales tax increases approved by voters in 2004 and 2006 to provide more than 1million hours of new bus service annually – much of it targeted for underserved south King County
A Washington Policy Center study released in July found, however, that since the sales tax hikes bus service had increased by fewer than 400,000 hours, while much of the additional revenue had gone to driver salary increases.
In addition, they both noted that King County is not served well by Metro Transit – and even as bus service is reduced alternatives must be found to meet the needs of south county commuters.
McDermott called cuts in funding for human services, which “have been dire over the past few years, a travesty. For people who receive those services … those are core services. We need to find money for them. That’s why I support Proposition 1” – the sales tax ballot measure.
Toledo disagreed with his bottom line: “The question is how to help people get jobs. Raising taxes in a recession is not the answer.” And, “as a former regulator to say we’re over-regulated, I know what I’m talking about.”
Her first major initiative as a council member would be “to make this a truly non-partisan council. But, she stressed, “I cannot approve with good conscience any sales tax increase.”
McDermott’s first initiative would be “to work with all eight of my colleagues.” Although the seat is non-partisan, “I am proud to be a Democrat. I won’t leave my values at home when I go to work in the morning.”
In his concluding remarks, McDermott said he is “very proud to be the only candidate in this race to be voted ‘outstanding’ by the Municipal League” and to be endorsed by legislators throughout this region.
“I’m going up against the political machine,” Toledo said. “I’m running a grass roots campaign … supported by people just like us who saw the status quo is not working. I stand for working class people … it’s not about policies, it’s about principle.”