Wrangling candidates in 9th District share common ground
Seattle Times staff reporter
The battle among the three candidates for the Republican nomination to the Metropolitan King County Council belies the common ground they hold on public policy.
Like the late councilman Kent Pullen, whose seat will be on the Sept. 16 primary ballot, candidates Phil Fortunato, Steve Hammond and Pam Roach are conservatives who want to free residents from high taxes and government regulation.
But to judge by the recent fireworks in the race, it might seem as though they had nothing more in common than do President Bush and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.
Hammond, who was appointed to replace Pullen pending the November general election, has the advantages of incumbency and the support of his fellow Republican council members, the King County Republican Party and Pullen's widow, Fay.
But Fortunato, a former state representative, and Roach, a state senator who sometimes refers to Hammond as "the placeholder," both claim they could mount a more credible campaign in the general election.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Barbara Heavey, an attorney and county manager of land-use and economic-development programs. The 9th District takes in Southeast King County and the East Hill of Kent.
Hammond has never won an election. A survey commissioned by the King County Republican Party in May showed he had less name recognition than the other candidates, and only 1 percent of voters said they would have voted for him at that time, compared with 14 percent for Fortunato and 16 percent for Roach.
Fortunato, who was the top choice of precinct-committee officers in the district for the appointment, was passed over by council members in favor of Hammond, who was viewed as a more congenial colleague. Council Vice Chairman Pete von Reichbauer said last week Hammond came with "less baggage."
Von Reichbauer said he was thinking not only about the candidates' styles — Fortunato and Roach both can be more cantankerous than the easygoing Hammond — he also was concerned about a bookkeeper's accusations that Fortunato had fraudulently altered two checks in his landscaping business.
Fortunato denied the accusation after it was made public by Democrats during his state House campaign last fall.
So far, the Republican primary has drawn more controversy than debate about issues.
A Renton resident filed suit after Fortunato filed for the County Council by submitting a petition with 1,039 signatures in lieu of the $1,039 filing fee. King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce last week dismissed the complaint, which objected to Fortunato's assertion that he could not afford the filing fee.
Roach, meanwhile, has been the target of two citizen challenges of her voter registration in the 9th council district and her eligibility to run for office. Roach says she has moved in with friends in Enumclaw. One of those complaints was withdrawn last week. A ruling is expected this week on the other complaint, which was supported by an affidavit from Hammond.
A senator for 13 years, Roach also carries the baggage of her emotional volatility — which once made the news when she stood up on the Senate floor in Olympia demanding to know who had moved a bouquet of flowers from her desk.
Hammond, until his appointment to the County Council in June, was pastor of Enumclaw's Cornerstone Bible Church. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from an accredited university and master's and doctor of ministries degrees from the Southern Baptist School for Biblical Studies, an unaccredited correspondence school in Jacksonville, Fla.
Steve Levicoff, author of the 1992 book, "Name It and Frame It," said he considers Southern Baptist a "degree mill" that doesn't require as much academic work as a traditional university. Hammond said of Southern Baptist School, "It did for me what I was looking for in education — to further and promote my chosen vocation."
No one calls him Dr. Hammond, he said, adding that theological studies are "not rocket science."
Roach, who was a longtime aide to Pullen, stresses her ability to work with citizens, state and local agencies and fellow legislators. She takes credit for nudging state officials to focus on an industrial site in the Georgetown neighborhood south of downtown Seattle rather than a location in Auburn or North Bend for sex-offender housing.
All three Republicans support reducing the size of the County Council from 13 members to nine, holding the line on taxes and surface-water management fees, and easing off what they view as overzealous enforcement of some land-use and drainage regulations.
With the county facing an estimated $24 million budget gap, Hammond suggests the county has so many employees they are "overwhelming the budget. ... County government has not shrunk with the size of the unincorporated areas shrinking. To me that's a disconnect."
Roach, who last week was endorsed by Service Employees International Union Local 775, suggests county employees be asked for ideas about cutting the budget. Many supervisory positions probably could go, she says.
Roach and Fortunato both say Hammond "owes" the council members who appointed him, so it would be difficult for him to be an independent voice.
Fortunato, an environmental consultant and one-time member of a county wastewater advisory board, says he can ask the tough questions.
"Somebody needs to be in there asking these kinds of questions," Fortunato says. "That seems to be a talent I have, because nobody asks those kinds of questions — which is probably what makes me a big pain."
Hammond, with financial backing from Republican Party sources and development interests, has raised more than $31,000. Trucking and development interests have contributed to Roach's campaign fund of $20,000. Fortunato has reported less than $10,000 in contributions.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or email@example.com
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