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Thursday, September 29, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Joni Balter / Seattle Times editorial columnist

Irons' burden? It's all relative

Who is David Irons Jr. and why is much of his family unwilling to vote for him in the upcoming King County executive contest?

Irons is the Republican county councilman from Sammamish who comes from, well, a spirited political family. Irons can't muster a vote from his parents and younger sister, Di, because of old disagreements about growth, zoning and his 1999 run against then-Republican County Councilman Brian Derdowski. His successful primary challenge put his sister, then Derdowski's aide, out of work.

A private family squabble spilled into the public realm when Di then ran against him as a write-in candidate in the general election in the same race. His father and Di favored more-controlled growth; David was more pro-development, or at least insisted on building the schools and roads to go with it. David won and that might have been the end of it, but it wasn't.

With Irons in a tough race against County Executive Ron Sims, a Democrat, I wondered if the family might put the past behind and rally around David. Nope.

Di will vote against her brother and for Sims because she, too, is a Democrat, considers her brother too conservative and still bristles over the Derdowski run: "It's not every day you see an older brother put a little sister out of a job."

The depths of this family feud are as old as the Derdowski race and as fresh as her brother's lambasting of Sims for cutting road money for a project near Issaquah. She says her brother supported a citizens' initiative that gutted funding. He says he tried several times to secure county funding. And so on and so on.

How many of us have sat around a Thanksgiving dinner table knowing it is better not to discuss politics with certain family members because the conversation always veers downhill?

Irons' mother is an independent who votes for — or in this case against — individual candidates. Angry about a different family matter years ago, she won't support her son.

The candidate's dad is a Republican likely to vote for Sims because of the vague term, veracity, or in his view, his son's lack of it. David Sr. is a political person himself. He ran unsuccessfully against Dino Rossi for state Senate in 1996.

Irons' other sibling, Janet, supports her brother: "He listens to everybody and works really hard. I would enthusiastically support him even if I wasn't related to him."

Irons is not the best candidate Republicans could have put forward against a wounded Sims, but he is a credible challenger.

Irons wants to move to the executive's office after serving on the County Council. That means he is steeped in county issues. Sims transitioned from council to executive in 1996 after Gary Locke became governor.

Irons came to the council after serving on the Issaquah School Board and he has been elected to the council twice.

This year, voters in King County's primary had to select a Democratic or Republican ballot. Using the primary as a straw poll, 63 percent picked the Democratic ballot, 37 percent picked a Republican ballot. Some observers say it doesn't matter if Irons can win votes from his family. This is a Democratic county, so why fuss?

To which I say: Tim Hill. Republican Hill won the King County executive's job in 1985 and again in 1989, running as a Republican in the suburbs, and a moderate not too scary for Seattle.

Irons' family is sharply divided about his character and basic political philosophy. A few uncles and aunts, most of whom live outside King County, signed a card in support of him.

The spat keeps spilling from private to public. A few years ago, Irons' 97-year-old grandfather was very ill, but because of the family tiff, David didn't know the man would soon die.

Irons lamented about the situation to the Issaquah Press, blaming his relatives for the estrangement. A private matter becomes public.

Sims is damaged political goods himself this election season but for different reasons. He is diminished by public missteps that have dominated the news in recent months — blunders in the elections office, problems related to a county payroll computer and a tempest over Southwest Airlines' desire to move to Boeing Field.

The executive race is one of the hottest contests this fall. Sims in the past has sailed to re-election with victories in the 60- to 70-percent range. Irons' family troubles aside, Sims won't do so well this year.

Joni Balter's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is jbalter@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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