Seattle Courant

First Debate with Democratic Candidates for King County Executive

Larry Phillips and Ross Hunter talking after debate. May 5, 2009.
By Keith Vance
May 6, 2009 03:05AM

Oh well, the Carpenter’s Hall was packed, with standing room only each of the candidates told the audience why they should be elected King County executive.

Here’s how it breaks down (remember we’re dealing the differences between Democratic candidates so we’re going to be looking for shades of gray rather than stark contrast).

Phillips said he’s a leader and that he has a track record of doing just that – leading. He said he will hire the best people and basically manage from the top down.

Before the debate, Legislative Aide Travis Commodore said that what separates Phillips from the other candidates is that “he has that executive experience.” And if repetition means anything, he’s going to be campaigning heavily on the launch of light rail this summer; he mentioned it about 10 times during the 90-minute debate.

Hunter is positioning himself as the angry, frustrated and renegade candidate who believes the time for patience is over. “Impatience is a virtue,” appears to be his campaign slogan.

“Sometimes you just have to make decisions,” Hunter said.

And to prove his trendsetter bona fides – that he cuts against the grain – Hunter made a point of telling the crowd that he was the first ever Democrat elected in the 48th district. And judging by tonight’s performance, Hunter is the change candidate, sort of the bull in the china shop politician who’s going to break some stuff but will get things done.

In somewhat of a stark contrast to Hunter’s maverick style is Jarrett. Jarrett’s the oldest of the candidates and he’s presenting himself as sort of the elder statesman. He wants voters to see him as someone with patience and practical common sense, as someone who’s been around the block enough to know that knee jerk rash reactions are not where one finds long-term sustainable solutions to complex problems.

For instance, Jarrett is the only candidate so far to say that he will get rid of the 40/40/20 rule that arbitrarily determines how King County distributes bus service throughout the region. Instead of choosing routes based on rider demand, the rule requires that any new service be split up with 40 percent going to the Eastside, 40 percent for South King County and only 20 percent for Seattle.

The rule “makes absolutely no sense,” Jarrett said because it focuses on effort rather than results. The result is empty buses running in places people don't ride the bus and not enough buses where people need them.

But while Phillips is saying he’s a leader, Hunter is the renegade and Jarrett the measured practical candidate, Constantine is a little trickier to nail down.

During the debate Constantine received the loudest applause but it seemed to be based more on his rhetorical style rather than the substance of his argument. He didn’t set himself apart from the other candidates in terms of platform or policy differences. He talked about fixing things and making things better, but so did everyone else.

State Sen. Fred Jarrett. May 5, 2009.
State Rep. Ross Hunter. May 5, 2009.