by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
In a dramatic turn of events, the King County Council voted on January 4 to pass over Sen. Joe McDermott (D-34) and appoint Jan Drago to the open seat created when Dow Constantine became King County Executive.
The vote was 5-3, with Democrat Larry Phillips joining the Council's four Republicans to give the seat to Drago.
The appointment fills the seat pending an election for the position in November. Drago has promised not to run for the seat.
Phillips, who represents northwest Seattle, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Downtown and First Hill, is one of four Democrats on the Council. All held firm for McDermott in a long and contentious Council meeting on December 14.
The Council's four Republicans held equally firm for Drago. Phillips' decision to switch his vote to Drago broke the deadlock and enabled the Council to fill the open seat.
While former Seattle City Council member Drago is also a Democrat, the Council's Republicans reportedly wanted a caretaker appointment. McDermott had indicated he would run for the seat in November whether he got the appointment or not.
If elected, he will be the Council's first openly Gay member.
"Time to break
Speaking with SGN, Phillips indicated he supports McDermott's run for the post.
"I absolutely support Joe McDermott," he said. "I think he'll be great on the Council. I'm 100% supportive."
Phillips explained that his vote was intended only to break the 4-4 deadlock on the Council and get the seat filled.
"Since Dow left, there are eight votes," he said. "Four opposed Sen. McDermott. No matter how you want to count it, or how much you want to change it, that's how it was."
"It was time to break the impasse," he added.
Phillips revealed that Council members had tried and failed to come up with possible compromise candidates who would please both Democrats and Republicans.
"We went back to the advisory committee," he said, "and asked would they come up with some new names? And they said 'no, we won't reconvene, pick from the four we sent you.'"
Both Drago and McDermott, along with Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11) and Rep. Sharon Nelson (D-34) were selected as finalists for the appointment by a 12-member advisory committee chaired by attorney Anne Levinson.
"Dow asked us to hurry up&"
According to Phillips, Constantine wanted his seat filled as soon as possible.
"Dow asked us to hurry up," Phillips said. "Dow implored us, 'Please have this appointment done as soon as possible.' Dow had a big hand in coming up with the process, even coming up with the composition of the committee."
Constantine's office has not returned SGN's calls for comment on the appointment.
Phillips told SGN that in the end, he believed it was better to fill the seat, even if it meant voting with the Republicans, than to keep it open.
"To be candid," he said, "I don't think it's a good idea to take repeated negative votes. It would have been a bad situation for Sen. McDermott."
Phillips calls McDermott
Phillips also revealed he'd called McDermott soon after the vote.
"I talked to him yesterday [January 4]," Phillips said. "He was stunned. I don't want to use a stronger word. We agreed to meet again soon."
Phillips said he assured McDermott that he would support McDermott's run for the Council seat in November.
"I'm very, very, very supportive of Sen. McDermott," Phillips said.
SGN also called McDermott for comment, but he was reportedly in meetings all day.
McDermott is considered the favorite to win the seat in November, since the 34th Legislative District, where he is hugely popular, makes up 60% of the Council District.
Asked why Republicans would want to block the appointment of a candidate who is likely to be elected to the Council anyway, Phillips replied "I don't know. You get into public motivation versus private motivation. Their public motivation was they wanted a caretaker."
"Some members have really strong feelings about that," he added. "I don't care that much about it personally, but some of them feel strongly."
"Have them call me!"
Phillips vigorously denied "off the record" reports that he voted for Drago because he was still angry that Constantine had won the County Executive position. McDermott has been an ally of Constantine and was seen as Constantine's choice to succeed him.
"Let's set this straight," Phillips told SGN. "Within a few days of the primary I approached Dow and I endorsed him. I'm meeting with [Deputy County Executive] Fred Jarrett this afternoon [January 5]. We have a lot of things we need to work on."
"When Joe's name came up for the [Council] seat, I called Joe and I told him 'I'm endorsing your campaign,'" Phillips continued. "We had a very pleasant conversation. Joe told me my endorsement was the first in the door."
"And on a personal level that was hard for me," Phillips added, "because I have a long history with Jan." Drago managed one of Phillips' runs for the state House of Representatives before he joined the County Council in 1991.
"My actions speak louder than their words," Phillips said of the "off the record" sources. "Have them call me! Have them call me! We'll have a conference call and you can sit in if you want."
"They say these things off the record because they know these doubts and these rumors will get into your paper and they don't have to take responsibility for it," he added.
New Council member
New County Council member Jan Drago revealed to SGN that she had been approached to run for the open Council seat in November.
"I went to [Dow's] swearing-in [on November 24, 2009]," she told SGN. "I was busy, busy, busy. I was in high gear getting ready to leave the [City] Council. And I was celebrating."
"I was approached to run for the open [County] Council seat," Drago continued, "and I said 'no, I'm not interested in more campaigning, but if you want a caretaker - let's say an interim member - I might be interested.'"
Drago would not reveal who approached her.
"A couple of people," she said in response to the question. "We should just let that remain where it is."
According to Drago, she then dropped by the Council offices for "an informal chat with the members who were there. Both Democrats and Republicans."
"I talked with [County Council Chair] Bob Ferguson, but just about process issues," she added.
"One advantage to an interim appointment," Drago told SGN, "is that you can fully devote yourself to doing the job. You can take the hard votes without worrying about the political consequences."
Asked if that meant she saw herself voting with the Council's Republicans on some issues, Drago answered, "Oh, I'm not envisioning that. The single hardest issue will be the budget. If there were easy cuts they would have been made already. That's what I'm talking about."
While Drago insists she will keep her promise not to run for the Council seat in November, she declined to endorse McDermott for the spot.
"I have not gone there yet," she said. "I expect Joe will be elected. And I think he'll do a great job."
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