Photo of Dow Constantine

Dow Constantine Runs for Reelection as County Executive Pushing COVID Recovery

by Chamidae Ford

Dow Constantine, the current King County executive, is running for reelection this year. Constantine is a Seattle native who grew up in West Seattle and attended the University of Washington. He has had a long career in politics, serving as a Washington State representative from the 34th District for two terms, a State senator for one term, and later held a seat on the King County Council for nine years. Constantine has served as the King County executive for 12 years. 

The current executive is running against Joe Nguyen, a member of the Washington State Senate who represents the 34th District, the seat once held by Constantine.. 

This election, Constantine’s main areas of focus are COVID-19 recovery and building strong, equitable communities.  

*This interview was edited for length and clarity.

South Seattle Emerald: You have been working in politics for a long time. Why are you choosing to run for reelection as county executive and how will this term be different?

Dow Constantine: I have, and I’ve been working to elect other Democrats and advance progressive causes for a long time. Every term is different. Every moment is different. The first term was really getting us out of the recession, trying to bring us through the struggle going on nationally around investment versus austerity, and trying to make sure that we kept services flowing. Kept the buses on the road, all that sort of thing. The next real act was getting Sound Transit 3 [the 2016 ballot measure expanding the light rail system] put together, planned with funding tools from the legislature and then passed and onto the ballot ultimately adopted by the voters. So it was a massive multi-year undertaking. Clearly this term has been defined by COVID and our response, which I think objectively has been among the best of the best in the country.

The confluence of crises that have occurred over the course of the last year has created a lot of opportunity, and it’s shaken loose the status quo. It’s gotten people demanding the kind of change we’ve been pushing dutifully up the hill — like our equity and social justice, anti-racism work that we’ve been building and building over the course of my administration. Like our work on climate, where people are suddenly much more aware of, maybe because of the smoke that rolled in last fall, but much more aware of the fact that the threat of climate change is a clear and present danger and not some future threat that they can kind of ignore. 

[And] the opportunity to transform the criminal legal system. And you know, we’ve been plugging away at that over time. And it has a lot of intersection with our equity and social justice work but that’s not the same thing. I, and suddenly [other] people, were like, “Oh yeah, that is not what our expectations are. We wanted differences.” … So for instance, the ballot measures that make the sheriff an appointed rather than elected position — it’s just one of many examples of the kind of progress made. So it’s a moment, in answer to your core question, where rapid progress is possible. And that is tremendously exciting. When you come to this work to make change in the world, to create better conditions, for the community and for future generations and the windows within which you can make rapid progress on different issues are few and far between, [it’s] sometimes hard to predict when they will open. But the windows have been kicked wide open right now. And for our staff, for my allies charging through that and taking these issues to fruition, [it’s] is really invigorating. That is what is motivating me to want to continue this work.

SSE: As more of King County is vaccinated and the city opens up, how do you plan to approach economic recovery?

D.C.: My core thesis about this moment of crisis is this is our chance to — before the Biden campaign came up with “Build Back Better” — this is our chance to make this economy both robust as it has been but also dramatically more equitable, to create economic justice, to have this economic story be one of abundance and affluence. But also abundance that is accessible to everyone. And I think almost uniquely in this country, we have the ability to do that here. And so my COVID recovery package just passed the County Council: $600 plus million dollars is really directed towards clearly getting people through the end of the public health crisis. And that’s the biggest part of it. But also to help people get through the economic impacts of the crisis and begin to work again, begin to be able to build their businesses again.

So $25.6 million specifically for BIPOC-owned and led businesses that have been disproportionately disadvantaged for all these systemic racism reasons we know about during this economic downturn — to help them accelerate ahead. Or the work that I’m doing with my pro-equity contracting executive order, where we are focusing on the artificial barriers to smaller Black- and Latino- and Asian-led businesses, Indigenous-led business, to be able to get government contracts, because we know that there are over a hundred billion [dollars] in just construction contracts in the pipeline over the next couple of decades, that if small BIPOC growing businesses are able to get those contracts, they can build their capacity. They can put people to work. More importantly, they can become more competitive for all the other work in the private sector that’s available.

And we do that through a whole bunch of different mechanisms, but that’s something we worked out with Black and Latino community leaders, business leaders who identified where the hurdles were that were unnecessary and could be gotten rid of. So all of this is just a product of our very intentional focus on equity and social justice and leading with race. I mean, I determined when we rolled out our strategic plan that we would lead with race and attempting both inside the government and throughout all the institutions of society, attempting to figure out what we can do to make real, tangible progress, to actually uproot the impacts of systemic racism and change them.

SSE: As the eviction moratorium comes to an end, how do you plan to address the increase in King County residents experiencing homelessness and rental insecurity in general?

D.C.: I’ve already had a long conversation about this, this morning. I spent a lot of time thinking about it because, you know, first of all, keeping people housed is the most humane and also the least expensive thing we can do. Getting someone out of homelessness is tremendously costly. And it also doesn’t take away all of the trauma that comes along with losing housing, especially for kids. So we passed in this budget I just mentioned $100 million in additional rental assistance. And that’s on top of nearly a hundred million we’ve already put out in the last six months. And that is of course intended to help at least partially make up for the inability of people to make a living during this downturn and to help them pay their landlords so they can stay housed.

The moratorium is going to come to an end, and I’m going to be working toward more resources for that purpose. We need tenants and landlords to look ahead and see when there’s going to be trouble staying housed, and we need to have the resources to help them stay housed and to get employed. If the problem is that they need a job or need a better job, we have the capacity to do some of that. Waiting until someone is on the very verge of being evicted is a bad strategy. So the conversation we’re having today is how can we set up a better early warning system so that we can intervene with the resources and the simple case management that people need in order to be able to pay their rent and maintain stability for their family?

SSE: Do you have any specific plans yet for how people experiencing a situation where they might face eviction, how they can get help with that?

D.C.: Well, first we do have $100 million. It was just passed that can go specifically for that $100 million; [it] is a very large amount of money, but it is not enough to make up for all the past rent that is due. Second, I created in the same package, 400 jobs — County jobs that paid decently — for people to do work for our Parks Department, Natural Resources, Road [Services] Division, etc.  And it’s all aimed at getting people back on their feet if you’ve been unemployed. And particularly if you’ve been unemployed and without a home, helping you start making money again. And some of those are paired, as a matter of fact, like three-quarters of them have a rental voucher available. So you could actually pay rent and make a paycheck and be able to move forward towards self-sufficiency again.

I’m working with our human services staff right now to try to identify what the next step is because these federal funds are going to run out. We have no assurance there is going to be more federal or state funds coming, but the need is going to continue for some time. And even before COVID, there was a terrible housing shortage in this overheated housing market that was squeezing people out into the streets who, you know, historically during my lifetime would have been able to hang on, even if they were earning minimum wage, even if they had some challenges in their life. But today housing is so tight that you really have to be able to be working full-time in order to be able to afford it. It’s just an untenable situation.

SSE: There’s kind of this idea that homelessness is a Seattle issue. How do you plan to make it more of a regional issue and bridge the divide? So, it’s not seen as just a Seattle problem?

D.C.: Yeah, that is, this is a constant challenge because everybody who’s outside of Seattle, particularly political leaders, want to point and say, “Oh, that’s a Seattle problem. And it’s spilling over onto us” nonsense. People who are living homeless are from all over King County. I go out to homeless encampments, put my boots on and go talk with folks along with service providers. But it’s all about, how do we figure out how to get people out of chronic homelessness? But I visited an encampment in Kent. And when I say encampment, I mean this entire city in the woods, just across the road from Kent, that’s where everybody from Kent has been shooed, into the woods. And there are people who have been living there for years in shacks and tents all up the hills along [a] creek.

And every person I talked to was from here. They were from Kent, they were from Auburn, they’re from the Green River Valley. They didn’t come here from California and certainly didn’t come down from Seattle to live in the woods. They were there because that’s their place. And in their minds, they’re going to get it together and reconcile with their families and go to their high school reunion and get a job and get their life back. And that is a reasonable hope to hang on to, but we’ve got to make it possible. They are not all from Seattle, not all the people you see on the streets of Seattle … They didn’t lose their home in Laurelhurst and end up in a tent in Pioneer Square.

A lot of them are in Seattle because they came looking for help from other parts of King County or other parts of the region. And some of them, yes, are from Seattle. And for the same reasons, people in camps don’t want to go far away. This is their home. And if I became homeless, I would not wander off somewhere. I would be as close as possible because in my mind I would still be identifying with the network that I built during my life, my family, my friends, the institutions that have supported me. I would hang around, and people do that. 

I led the setting up of the regional homeless authority and the idea there, it started with this recognition that Seattle and King County with the two governments that had a lot of programs directed at emergency services, for people who are actually on the streets, there’s a lot more going on in prevention, creation of housing, behavioral health, etc. But for the immediate interventions, for people on the streets, [there are] two separate sets of contracts, very confusing and bureaucratic. We just said, City Council, mayor — we should unite these. So people are spending less time filling out forms and dealing with varying requirements and more time helping people. And then the second thing was there are 38 other cities in this county who need to be participating in this.

So, we need to get them a full seat at the table, and we need to invite them to join in on this interlocal agreement and provide resources, which none of them has yet done. Although they’re happy to take full voting authority at the table. And then we said, “This is only the government. We need to include people with lived experience.” And this is consistent with the way in which we’ve been trying to evolve, how the government delivers services. We wanted to bring people who actually knew what it was to be without a home, who knew what it was to be able to get out of that situation and which systems helped and which did not help and [that were] actually a hindrance. So, we created an equal spot at the table for people with lived experience. And this is where leadership like mine requires a lot of patience because you can’t simply order the suburban cities to suddenly step up to the responsibility.

You can’t simply order the people with lived experience to suddenly wear both authority and responsibility for everything that is going on. And you have to give people the space and the time and the grace to learn how to fill these roles. And so, it just takes a while. 

SSE: What are some of your plans to address those experiencing chronic homelessness?

D.C.: We were able to get the legislature to give us authority for one-tenth of a cent sales tax to create permanent, supportive housing. And then when COVID hit, just because of COVID, we moved people out of congregate shelters, mats on the floor, shelters that are run by various organizations, into hotels, like the famous Red Lion in Renton. And the lesson we learned through that was not only did that prevent the transmission of the coronavirus pretty effectively, but it helped people just get better, right?

You get a room of your own, you got all your stuff locked up. You’re not afraid of getting jacked. You’re not afraid somebody is going to attack you in the middle of the night. You can actually get a full night’s sleep and not have to sleep with one eye open. You can get up in the morning, you’ve got your own shower. You can make yourself a cup of coffee, you can sit in your own room and look at the TV or look at your phone and start to get centered. 

And well, we perceived [that] as a dramatic change in people; the University of Washington came in and studied and said, yes, indeed, there was a dramatic change in people, not from any services, but just from that experience of having a safe, secure place. And we realized that’s key, not just building, you know, a $400,000 unit, and it’s supportive housing that takes three or four years to get sited and built. We’re getting hotels right now and getting somebody experiencing homelessness right now and getting them into it so they can start reclaiming their life. 

And so we got the legislature to change that 10th of a cent authority to allow us to buy existing buildings, because all these hotels are now vacant because of COVID, and we’ve been out buying them, and I’ve opened the first one on Lower Queen Anne, but I’ve got several others under contract. They’re going to close soon. We’re going to be able to get those. And within like a week, we will have hundreds of people off the streets and into housing of their own. And it is a really important moment in this crisis because we’ve never had this resource before. Where ultimately between the new units we’re buying, the units the City is building — that we’re going to pay for the services in. Housing vouchers, we have 300 that we provided and the federal government is going to provide another 1,000 through the housing authority. We’re up to over 3,000 opportunities to get people out of chronic homelessness, out of tents, out from under the overpasses and into a safe place with indoor bathrooms, with services, with security, and with the opportunity to access services to move forward. And that is, I think, an indispensable sort of foundational piece to solving the whole problem. I mean, the big causes are income inequality, which is a national and global phenomenon that we are battling locally, but we’re battling against a lot of forces that are much bigger than us and the housing market here. And the story of the housing market here is a story of companies doing very well and hiring people from elsewhere to come in and make six-figure salaries who are driving up the cost of housing for everyone.

So, we are a victim of our success and prosperity in that regard, and the housing market that the builders don’t keep up with. Any hour of labor, any piece of lumber is going to housing for people who make a lot, because you can make more money building for people to make a lot than for people to make a little. So that’s why all of our local subsidies are going into the zero to 30 AMI range. So hundreds of millions of dollars into that. And it takes years to bring to market. It just takes years to get stuff up and running. 

SSE: Your challenger, Joe Nguyen, has discussed helping communities of color much like unincorporated South Seattle achieve home ownership in order to build generational wealth. Do you have a similar plan in place and what would it look like?

D.C.: Yeah, a hundred percent. I mean, that is, I truly believe, and this is not a universally shared value, but I believe home ownership is absolutely critical. I think it is, first of all, critically important for building generational wealth that is a primary mechanism by which most families achieve financial security over time and has been denied to Black and Brown families because of red-lining, because of restrictions on lending, because of a whole bunch of glaringly racist influences in all of our systems — some in government, some outside of government. But it’s also critically important for the building of social capital. People put down roots in a place that they have a deep investment in, a place that they have relationships that extend over decades with their neighbors and the neighborhood and the local school, I think — and this is a very old fashioned notion — but I think that it is critically important for people to be able to stay in place and putting deep roots down in community.

And that is a big problem with America and its transience is that we lose that social capital, [others who] catch you when you fall and your ability to catch others when they fall. And then everybody just relies on the government to do that. And the government needs to feel a big part of that role, but we cannot substitute for family and friends and church and local business. The programs that we have been directed toward just creating housing in gross, and it had less of a focus on homeownership. But I’ve worked both in the nonprofit sector and in the public sector to identify ways that we can increase the opportunities for home ownership and affordable home ownership. 

And there’s one project that I just visited a couple of weeks ago, maybe a month ago in Renton. King County is participating in it, and it is zero-net carbon emission townhomes that are built healthy. So, you know, very consciously sort of allergen free with clean air and so forth. And the entire project is designed to be permanently affordable homeownership with down payment assistance. So you can get into that in a very diverse community. You can get into this, you can build equity in it, and when you sell it, you get equity, but also the price is rebased. So, the next family can also get into it affordably and have a healthy place to live and contribute nothing to the climate crisis by removing carbon impact from that, from the grid. That is a model that we want to help builders replicate all across the county. And the key is moving it from being a nonprofit model to being one that people can actually execute in the private sector and make some money on. And that involves subsidy. It involves regulatory requirements, and it involves showing, like taking the risk on the public for the first ones, so we can show people that it works. 

SSE: You’ve been a long-time supporter of improving transportation in King County. How do you hope to expand on any of the progress you’ve made so far?

D.C.: I think I’m probably the number one transit advocate of my time in King County. And at a time when transit systems across the country were flat or even losing customers, we were gaining riders on Metro transit because we were continuing to push products that people wanted and needed. And we were named the best transit agency, the best large transit agency in North America in 2018. And I also created, really from whole cloth, Sound Transit 3. I mean, by creating an alliance that is going to the legislature year after year until they gave us a rusty bucket of financing tools to use, to put it together, creating a three-county plan, a $54 billion investment that was 50 years overdue — and then raising the millions of dollars that it took to get the thing passed on the same ballot when Donald Trump was elected president of the United States.

And that was just a huge, heavy lift that took a decade. It’s relationship building from all the way back when I was an urban planning student at the University right up to today. We’re working to make sure that the plans are pulled through and the transit gets built. My plan is to be able to take the kind of the level of funding that we have for transit inside of the City of Seattle and go back to county-wide. In 2014, we took a one-tenth of a cent measure. We only have one-tenth of a cent authority left from the State — remember, counties are creatures of the State. So we only get what the State provides. We have one-tenth of a cent authority. We took it county-wide to restore and improve service after the last recession — the Seattle Times just viciously attacked it, and me, and ultimately we lost by a few percentage points.

I came right back, I got the County Council to create a new option for cities to contract with King County and Metro to provide service. And then we went to the ballot with the city government, with the city-only measure. And I raised a whole bunch of money for that campaign as well. And in November of that same year, we got it passed. And that’s why Seattle bus service was not only maintained but was increased, because we were able to get that revenue authority inside. We have to take it back county-wide. People don’t just live their lives inside one municipality. They live all over this region, go to school all over this region. We have to have a transit system that responds to that reality. We’re one big, basically three-county metropolis, not a collection of dozens of individual, autonomous cities.

SSE: How do you feel about making transportation free?

D.C.: So my opponent has proposed that riding on the bus be free. And I think this shows his lack of understanding of the major issues we’re dealing with. During my administration, we have created the Orca Lift card. That is a card that provides a discounted bus fare for people earning less than twice the poverty line. And then we have a free bus card for people who have no money, right? Those used to be provided as coupons that we gave to nonprofit agencies to hand out. We now have a new actual Orca card — a free card. The idea is that everybody will pay what they are able to ride the bus. 

And for the remaining people who are earning more, 60% of those fares are paid by their employers. They are paid by Amazon. They are paid by Costco. They are paid by Microsoft, Alaska Airlines. That’s who’s paying for the majority of the bus fares. The only other way we fund buses is that one-tenth of a cent sales tax that would generate — since the City of Seattle is already collecting there — [that’s] what generates less than half of the 60 some million dollars, a 10th of a cent collected county-wide. But the loss of revenues from his proposal would be about $280 million. That is a cut of more than a quarter of all the service in the system. So you are giving a big break to big corporations that employ a lot of people and have to buy bus passes. And you are either shifting that onto the regressive sales [tax] or because it’s so much money, making a massive cut in the service that people depend on. It’s an alluring proposal that can only stand in a complete absence of understanding of how the system actually works.

SSE: Your challenger also talked about how he thinks your approach to addressing the racial wealth gap and erasing racial bias in policing has been slow-moving. If you are reelected, what more do you plan to do to improve police accountability and address the growing inequity?

D.C.: Up until Jan. 1 of this coming year, we have not been in charge of cops and an independently elected sheriff was the boss of the cops, right? And I’m talking about the King County sheriff now — we have empaneled a group of community leaders and advocates to help with two things: to co-create a new approach to public safety in King County and help to create an ordinance for the Council to pass that will define the duties and structure of the Sheriff’s office. And second, to help me select the person that I will point to as the sheriff, a person who will answer to me and to the County Council and to the people. And this is a drastic departure from the past, when the sheriff was independently elected and had independent authority. And I will take over the authority for the hiring and the firing and the discipline of officers.

Now, the one place where we have had some authority is in the inquest process — the coroner’s inquest. Here King County is unique in having a public, transparent process to find out what happened in the case of a police use of force that ends in a death — so usually shooting. And the families, the bereaved families, those who lost their lives to police, not just by King County cops but any police in the county. The medical examiner function of the county government came to me and said every one of these processes ends with the cop being asked, well, did you fear for your life? And the cop saying: Yes, that’s why I had to shoot. And then the conclusion, the press reports the police officer feared for their life. Therefore, this was justified. And that is not okay, because that is not even the question that’s supposed to be asked. But more to the point, why did the police officer fear for their life? Was it because their life was actually in danger because they perceived the person as somehow being dangerous? Maybe because of their race or their age? 

And so we set about with those families to create a new process. It was first Tommy Le’s family who came and met with me and that happened because I knew his attorneys and worked with them for many years. But you know, also the family of Charleena Lyles, and the Butts family, and the Taylor family — in particular DeVitta Briscoe — came and sat with us and helped create this new process. And I’m really proud to have her support and create this new process. And it is aimed at identifying what actually happened. Did the officer depart from the policies of the agency and the training they received, or did they do exactly what they were trained to do, and yet someone ended up dead? And if so, what is wrong with your policies and procedures? What is wrong with the way you equip your officers? What is wrong with the training you’re providing them? What is wrong with your discipline agency, whether it’s Seattle Police Department or the Kent Police Department or the King County Sheriff’s office?

Because the whole point is to figure out how to interrupt the cycle, how to stop this from happening. And so we get this — and I signed an executive order, and we’re going to start this whole new process. And we’re taking the prosecutor out of it, because the families are concerned that the prosecutor was biased for bringing in independent attorneys and independent people in a quasi-judicial role. And I get sued. I get sued by the Seattle police.

I get sued by all these suburban cities and their police departments. I get sued by our own Sheriff’s office. And that is all the way up to the Supreme Court now, trying to decide whether I have the authority to have this process that’s aimed at getting at the truth, and we’re waiting every week for the Supreme Court to rule so we can get on with it. So in the process where we are remaking the King County Sheriff’s Office, it is my belief — and this is not a novel concept — that we need to dramatically narrow the range of issues that we rely on the police to respond to. We have just gotten lazy now, like nationally, and we just make everything a law-and-order issue. We make everything a police issue. We make everything a court issue — just like in the context of schools, we made everything the school’s problem to solve.

That’s not how this can work, right? So fewer things for the police to respond to, much more capacity in human services and public health proactively out on the street, intervening in conflicts that are happening in community … helping individuals who are having a behavioral health crisis to get them somewhere safe and into the services they need — to not be the next person who gets into a deadly conflict with a cop. And in this budget that is passed, setting up a team, the behavioral health team — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — in the courthouse area, the Pioneer Square area, to do exactly that. To go out, to engage with the people who are having really obvious challenges and to get them somewhere safe and to begin getting them into the services that are going to keep them from becoming that next person who gets into a deadly confrontation with the cops. And I think the model is when are we going to be able to use it in many other communities across the county?

SSE: You suggested that the sheriff retire. What other plans do you have as executive to ensure that real reform takes place?

D.C.: The sheriff retiring is a bit of a sideshow. I mean, she’s become like a lightning rod, right? And it distracts from the real work that needs to be done. The work I described is this community-based group doing the work that we have to do on inquiries— all the work that needs to be done. You’ve got the sideshow going on with the lame duck sheriff. So I said retire — because that is the easiest, most graceful exit. She is now eligible to retire. It would be easy to do that. She’s chosen not to; she was elected until Jan. 1 next year. I can’t make it. But it would make our lives easier. So my plan is to work deeply with communities to tee up what the expectation is of what real safety and community is going to be in the 21st century — safety from being a victim of crime but also not having to be constantly worried about being victimized by the State, making sure that the safety in communities is owned by the communities and that the police can be within appropriate bounds — it partners in that.

But also [so] the communities are able to rely on the human services help and the public safety helping that. … the public health help and the economic development help, to get people into jobs and into economic security — they need to be able to live successful lives. And so one of the things that’s really exciting that we’re doing is our gun violence prevention initiative. So under my zero youth detention initiative, it’s in conjunction with Harborview and Public Health. And the whole idea is for us to take not a law-and-order, carceral approach to gun violence prevention — which has proved an utter failure in this country — but rather to take a public health approach. And then using a public health approach, you can identify who is most likely to be victimized by gun violence and who is most likely to be involved in gun violence, to victimize someone else. And it’s only really a few hundred people. It’s not very many people who are involved in the cycle and you can intervene with them, intervene from a public health perspective, intervene to help people figure out what’s going on and how we can unwind this. And I’ve put in this same budget jobs — jobs for people who are in danger of being victimized by or victimizing someone with gun violence, to get them out of that cycle and get them into something that can actually help them build the life that deep down they and their families want for themselves.

And I think this is going to be a big breakthrough. This has happened in a couple other places around the country. I talked with my peer in Cook County, Toni Preckwinkle, about the program that they have going there. And Cook County has had a really serious challenge with gun violence, but they understand, and we understand, that you’re not going to solve it with cops and courts. You’re going to solve it by really figuring out the underlying causes, which are social and health — and intervening to unwind those. And we’re putting in place the tools to do that. It’s a very exciting — complicated but exciting — program, completely co-created with community and community-based organizations like Choose 180 and Community Passageways and many organizations. And the idea is to divert people into those restorative contexts, where they can begin lowering the temperature and begin accepting the alternatives that we can fund and provide. [I’m] very, as you can tell, excited about it.

SSE: And then you have talked a lot about wanting to end youth incarceration, but you did support the building of the new youth jail. Can you explain the reasoning behind that support?

D.C.: The old youth detention was uninhabitable, and we’re required by law in the courts to have a place to detain. You were required by state law — the state law that my opponent is in charge of as a member of the legislature — to have a place to detain youths. If we have youth courts, there’s youth code and there’s youth detention. So we had to build a new building for courts and all the other services surrounding the courts. We were able to have a new clean detention facility that’s barely half the size of the old one.

You know, all the people keep saying, “Oh, you built a much bigger new detention.” Now it’s like 40% of the total building that got built. And it’s only 112 total beds compared with 212 for the old one. But that also was built to be able to be collapsed and made smaller and smaller and smaller as we continued to make progress on my zero youth detention work— the work that we’ve been doing over my entire administration. Did you know that we have reduced youth [in] detention centers from nearly 90 youth [in detention] when I was sworn into office to nine youth centers yesterday, and we did it through prevention, like Best Starts for Kids and all of the other prevention programs? 

We did it for diversion, including the kinds of programs that I’m setting up now with our Restorative Community Pathways that will bring 800 youth away from the system entirely — not just away from detention but away from adjudication. $6.6 million I’ve put in our biennial budget to do that. Including restorative practices, like what is done in peacemaking circles with organizations like Choose 180. All of this work is step-by-step unwinding. The system that we inherited and creating safety in communities while reducing trauma for individuals and helping put them on a path to a successful life. That is our work and is not something you can do with slogans or with snapping your fingers — it is something you have to actually shoulder and work at continuously. 

We’re now at the point where we can engage the community and what I have charged our system to do. And that is to find a way to get us to the goal line, to be able to close centralized youth detention, to have even in the most complex cases, the most tragic cases, to be able to be closer to home and community where both they and the community are safe. And ultimately, to engage in the work that I started with Best Starts for Kids, to continue to push resources upstream and make sure that every single youth gets the support they need for healthy development, for emotional stability, to make sure that we catch behavioral health challenges, to be sure that parents who are struggling, get the support they need so that we can end this, so that we can stop this and not simply respond once a crisis has already happened.

SSE: Is there anything else you wanted to add? 

D.C.: I think that the challenges we have today are the most serious. We’ve done all the easy stuff. Everybody’s done all the easy stuff, right? We are the team that is able to shoulder the big burdens and take our progressive ideas and turn them into real progress, right? Like a three-county high capacity transit system, like the nation’s leading early childhood support system, like the best results in the country, pretty much on COVID, even though it landed here first. My opponent cannot argue that his ideas are more progressive than mine. I can argue that I’m the only one in this race who has the proven ability to take mere ideas and make them real. So that is why I ask for the voters’ support.

Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 06/29/2021 to clarify Dow Constantine’s response to a question about youth incarceration as well as the legislative changes that have happened in the past year. Constantine discussed “youth in detention centers” rather than ”youth detention centers.” Constantine was also quoted as saying, “It’s gotten people demanding the kind of change we’ve been pushing beautifully up the hill …” This quote has updated with the word “dutifully” rather than “beautifully.”

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Photo courtesy of Friends of Dow Constantine.

Before you move on to the next story …
Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!