Dow Constantine wins re-election as King County executive, Lambert loses seat

In the Nov. 2 election, Incumbent King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert lost to challenger Sarah Perry, while County Executive Dow Constantine won a fourth term.

King County Executive Dow Constantine talks to reporters, while Washington Gov. Jay Inslee listens, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, during a news conference in Seattle. (Stephen Brashear/AP)

Change is coming to the King County Council, but not to the county executive’s office, based on the results of Tuesday's election.

With most ballots counted as of Thursday, King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert still trailed her opponent, Sarah Perry, by more than 10 percentage points. That means Lambert will lose her seat representing the county’s District 3, which includes suburban and rural communities east of Lake Sammamish. 

No similar upset happened in the race for the top job of county executive. The incumbent, Dow Constantine, still had a healthy lead over challenger Joe Nguyen as of Thursday, with Constantine winning 56.3% of the vote to Nguyen’s 42.5%. 

That means Constantine will win a fourth term. (See the rest of the election results here.)

After the first ballot drop on Tuesday night, Constantine called the early results "a clear victory" for his campaign. At that point, Constantine had captured 57.3% of the vote. While Nguyen gained a little on Constantine in subsequent ballot counts, it wasn’t enough.

"Folks were ultimately expressing appreciation for the work we have done quietly and methodically at the county," Constantine said Tuesday.

Although the county executive job is nonpartisan, both Constantine and Nguyen are Democrats. Nguyen still has another year left in his four-year state Senate term, so he will continue to serve in the Legislature even after losing the county executive race.

Nguyen told Crosscut he is proud of the campaign he ran.

"The idea we were able to go against somebody who is the epitome of the establishment, the epitome of the status quo, and they had to spend $2 million in this race just to barely be ahead? ... I feel good about where we are right now," Nguyen said Tuesday.

On the campaign trail, Nguyen hammered Constantine for failing to enact progressive tax reforms, as well as for opening a youth detention center that Nguyen thinks never should have been built. 

Constantine, meanwhile, criticized Nguyen as being inexperienced and idealistic, with little grasp of how to get things done. Nguyen, a 38-year-old program manager at Microsoft, first won elected office in 2018, while Constantine, 59, has been an elected official for 25 years, including stints in the Legislature and on the King County Council.

A similar dynamic shaped the District 3 council race, with Lambert, the incumbent, emphasizing her deep knowledge of government and Perry presenting herself as a more progressive alternative. Perry, 57, is a former nonprofit executive who now runs a fundraising consulting business.

Lambert, 68, has served on the King County Council for the past 20 years, and has criticized Perry as lacking experience.

But in the end, Perry put an end to Lambert’s council career. 

In ballots counted through Thursday, Perry had captured 55.1% of the vote to Lambert’s 44.6%

“I think people are just ready for a change,” Perry said Tuesday night. At that point, Perry was already leading Lambert by about 10 percentage points. 

While county council positions are also nonpartisan, Perry is a Democrat, while Lambert previously has run for office as a Republican.  

On Tuesday, Lambert said she is proud of her career on the council and in the Legislature, which she described as “27 years of serving the people.”

”That’s been really rewarding,” Lambert said, adding, “We ran a good race.”

During the campaign, the two council candidates clashed over what changes are needed in policing, as well as how best to make progress in addressing homelessness. 

The race’s biggest controversy, however, involved a campaign mailer sent by Lambert’s campaign that was widely criticized as racist. The ad warned that Perry would be influenced by King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay — the county council’s only Black member — to be soft on crime and bring socialism to the Eastside. Neither Perry nor Zahilay is a socialist.

Lambert said she featured Zahilay on the ad not because he is Black, but because he chairs the council committee that deals with policing and public safety and she disagrees with many of his positions on those issues. 

Still, the uproar over the flyer prompted the county council to vote to remove Lambert from committee leadership roles, a move Lambert also voted to support.

In four other races for the King County Council, incumbents coasted to reelection. 

In District 5, which includes SeaTac, Des Moines and most of Kent, incumbent Councilmember Dave Upthegrove was winning 67% of the vote as of Thursday, while his opponent, Shukri Olow, was capturing about 32%. 

Meanwhile, Councilmember Reagan Dunn defeated Kim Khanh-Van, a Renton City Council member and immigration attorney. Dunn had captured about 64% of the vote as of Thursday, compared with Khanh-Van’s 36%. Dunn and Khanh-Van were competing to represent District 9, which encompasses southeast King County and includes the cities of Covington, Maple Valley and Enumclaw. 

Similarly, King County Councilmembers Rod Dembowski and Pete von Reichbauer won decisively. Dembowski, who represents north King County’s District 1, won 83% of the vote against Sally Caverzan, a self-identified environmental advocate who hasn’t held public office before. 

And in the District 7 race, von Reichbauer maintained a 37-point lead over Dominique Torgerson, a resident of unincorporated King County who started a home-based brewery business. District 7 encompasses southeast King County and includes Auburn and Federal Way. 

A pair of contests for the Port of Seattle Commission proved far more competitive, with the apparent ousting of two incumbents.

In the race for the port commission's Position 4, Toshiko Grace Hasegawa appeared to have unseated incumbent Peter Steinbrueck. As of Thursday, Hasegawa was winning 51.3% of the vote to Steinbrueck’s 48.1%. Steinbrueck is a former member of the Seattle City Council; Hasegawa is the executive director of the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.

In another competitive port race, Hamdi Mohamed appeared to have edged out incumbent Stephanie Bowman. As of Thursday’s count, Mohamed had won almost 51% of the vote, while Bowman had only less tahn 49%.  Mohamed is a policy adviser in Constantine's office and also has worked as a political organizer. 

Incumbent Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, meanwhile, was cruising to reelection with about 74% of the vote.

Like the race for county executive, Port of Seattle races are elected countywide.

Updated Tuesday evening to add candidate quotes and information about port races. Updated again Friday to include the latest election results.

About the Authors & Contributors

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos

Melissa Santos is Crosscut’s staff reporter covering state politics and the Legislature.