As King County District boundaries shift in the 2005 election with the reduction of its council districts from 13 to nine, the dynamics of many races have been altered in terms of voter diversity as well as the candidates seeking office within them.
One of the largest political changes will be the incorporation of Capitol Hill, First Hill and the downtown area north of Yesler Way into the Metropolitan King County Council's District 4. Once serving only the communities of Queen Anne, Fremont, Ballard and Magnolia, District 4 will now serve more businesses, residences and a greater range of lifestyle interests.
Out of the integration of District 4 comes a race that will feature one of the only independent candidates running for county office this year, Ed Pottharst, against 14-year county councilmember and chairperson Larry Phillips.
Just a few short weeks after his campaign kickoff, Pottharst is cele-brating his "outstanding" rating from the Municipal League of King County. Pottharst, who is not only an independent candidate but also deaf, formally kicked off his campaign Aug. 17 with the collection of the required 100 signatures to run for county council in the general election this November.
Neighbors, friends and family of all walks and areas throughout Seattle milled around the Ballard Neighborhood Service Center off Market Street as Pottharst promised he would be an active community partner to resolve constituents concerns and "not become just a name on a ballot every four years."
Pottharst sees the redistricting of District 4 as regrettable, given the loss of representation at the county level for the massive population he now sets out to serve. But he is eager for the chance to use his skills gleaned from working as a neighborhood coordinator for Queen Anne, Magnolia, Northgate and Lake City in the city's Department of Neighborhoods. "I have hired many people in the Department of Neighborhoods," said Brent Crook, who is no longer affiliated with the department, "but none have exceeded the character of Ed. He has integrity and a grasp on community issues."
Considering himself to be a known community activist throughout the district and a catalyst for change, Pottharst described his decision to stay independent as an easy one - though not without its challenges. Being independent and known for holding a nonpartisan position has become a crucial element in his leadership and his campaign, he stated.
His campaign kickoff focused on his goals as a potential council member, most of which, he stated, have come from personal experience and the 5,000 constituents he has visited with at their homes or on the streets.
Relating the story of an elderly woman facing the possibility that she would be unable to afford a home in her community during retirement - someone he met while doorbelling in Magnolia - Pottharst adopted the issue of housing into his campaign. Noting that affordable housing is needed in all areas of Seattle, Pottharst stated that, if elected, he planned to address the housing issue by looking at such models as the city's Demonstration Program for Innovative Housing underway in Fremont.
He also declared his intentions toward increasing the availability of transportation, such as light rail and bus service, as well as alternatives such as biking lanes throughout the county. By linking broken trails to smooth out bicycle commutes and by better publi-cizing routes, Pottharst hopes to encour-age more people to opt to ride to work.
Pottharst, partly from his own experiences, sees one of his primary roles as a councilmember to ensure that the county government, its programs and members are accessible to other governments, organizations and individ-uals. "I'd like to be able to link up the city, the county and other community groups - including businesses, organizations, schools and individuals - to help the constituents' concerns and help individuals feel connected," Pottharst said. "Too often they don't know whom to turn to for help."
As Pottharst made his nomination official, Larry Phillips' brochures were circulating throughout District 4 promoting his reelection. Distinctive blue-and-orange leaflets were sent out declaring "He's a BIG guy - but no concern of yours is too big for him."
Phillips, who stands 6 feet 5 inches, will stare directly into the eyes of his equally tall opponent in the months before the general election. Phillips, however, doesn't see Pottharst as strictly a political opponent. He said he has known Pottharst "for years, and I like and enjoy his company."
Phillips has served as a county council member since 1992 and has been council chairperson since 2003. During his tenure Phillips has helped to preserve 1,800 acres of salmon habitat under the Waterways 2000 program. Additionally, he worked to establish the Snoqualmie Preservation Initiative preserving 100,000 acres of forestland around Snoqualmie Falls.
Phillips also noted that, most recently, the council has been working to redesign the elections department in hopes of avoiding a reoccurrence of last year's elections problems.
Looking toward reelection, Phillips remained committed to alleviate traffic ingroblems within the county. "The lack of transportation is hurting the quality of life here in the city and county as well," Phillips stated in a phone interview. He recently joined fellow councilmember Dwight Pelz in proposing a line connecting First Hill into the Sound Transit system.
Additionally, in his 17 years of political experience, four of which were spent representing the 36th Legislative District, Phillips has committed to developing growth-management plans for the area. Early in his career he helped guide the Growth Management Act of 1991 through the Legislature, in response to rapid population growth and urban sprawl. Soon after its passage, Phillips found himself playing a central role in its implementation at the county level after being elected in 1991 to the county council.
His efforts in growth management continue today as the council's chairperson, working with "cities across the county securing public and private funding to ensure that development doesn't threaten the overgrowth of single-family and residential areas," Phillips said.
The biggest change during his reelection campaign, Phillips indicated, will be getting to know the newly incorporated areas of his district. He remains wholly optimistic, citing his experience and dedication. "I have the energy to build on that foundation that I have already started," he said. "It is an exciting time for King County, and I am excited to be a part of it."