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Constantine, Hutchison to face off in November county exec election

Dow Constantine addresses the crowd gathered at the beach Saturday to celebrate a judge
Dow Constantine addresses the crowd gathered at the beach Saturday to celebrate a judge's ruling against Glacier Northwest's proposed pier.
— image credit: Isaac Hughes

Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison emerged as the top two contenders in a crowded pack of King County executive candidates Tuesday — transforming the non-partisan race into a contest between a liberal county councilmember and a conservative former television news anchor.

Constantine, who chairs the county council, and Hutchison, who worked for KIRO-TV for years, will face off in the November general election. According to the county's latest election results, posted Friday morning, Hutchison received 33 percent of the vote while Constantine secured 26 percent in Tuesday's primary .

The three other major candidates for county executive, all Democrats, barely broke into the double digits: State Sen. Fred Jarrett of Mercer Island got 12 percent of the vote; county councilmember Larry Phillips came in at just under 12 percent; and state Rep. Ross Hunter of Medina received just under 11 percent.

The race for the county's top spot — heated in the weeks leading up to the primary — promises to grow only more spirited. Early on Wednesday, Hutchison quickly took aim at Constantine, saying in a statement Wednesday morning that the county councilmember "serves special interests instead of people."

"Voters now have a clear choice," she said in the statement.

Sandeep Kaushik, Constantine's spokesman, fired right back, charging that Hutchison has offered up only "empty soundbites" and has shown "an unwillingness to answer the tough questions."

"Over the course of this campaign, Dow has been offering substantive policy proposals for the problems the county's facing," he added.

Constantine, whose district includes Vashon and who was on the Island Saturday to celebrate a judge's ruling against Glacier Northwest, is known by many on Vashon. Several fundraisers have been held for him on the Island, and his former chief of staff, Sharon Nelson, is now a Democratic state representative representing Vashon and Maury.

Hutchison is less well-known on the Island — and to voters in general. Unlike Constantine, who's held elected offices in the Legislature and then the county since 1996, Hutchison has never served in a public position, garnering name familiarity only because of her years as an anchor for KIRO-TV.

Both contenders, however, have plenty of critics and political baggage as the enter the final phase of the race.

The Seattle Times' editorial page dismissed Constantine as a "showy liberal" and, before the election, urged voters to cast their ballots for either Hunter or Jarrett. Constantine has also been criticized by Times' columnist Danny Westneat for the role he played in the creation of the King County Ferry District and, by some on Vashon, for his role in helping to secure the rezone of the K2 building.

Hutchison, meanwhile, has been labeled by some as a "stealth candidate" for her refusal to be interviewed by several major news organizations and her determination to hold onto the nonpartisan label, despite her obvious ties to the Republican party.

She was fired from KIRO in 2002, after which the station replaced her with a younger Asian-American woman. Hutchison sued for discrimination and settled out of court with the station in 2005. Documents from the case — unsealed earlier this month after the Times went to court to secure their release — show that she had a stormy relationship with her bosses and called in sick over the Fourth of July weekend only to be spotted canoeing in Oregon before she was terminated.

The winner of the November election will take on a county struggling financially, due in large part to the economic downturn. The county's budget deficit is now projected at $56 million.

For complete election results, visit the King County Elections Web site.

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