A MEASURE of Dow Constantine’s success as King County executive is that no one of political heft filed to run against him.
His principal contender for the Aug. 6 primary, Alan Lobdell, 61, is a civil engineer who has worked in various cities and counties, has been once fired, twice bankrupt and never elected to public office. In political contributions, Constantine has outraised him by a ratio of 145-to-1.
Constantine, 51, is a liberal in a liberal county who has been constrained to govern in a financially conservative way. He says he has cut the rate of internal-cost inflation from 6 percent to between 3 and 4 percent and reduced the number of county employees from 14,000 to fewer than 13,000. He was wise enough to enlist his most accomplished 2009 primary opponent, Fred Jarrett, and to hire away the city of Seattle’s finance director, Dwight Dively.
There have been missteps. In his haste to attract an NBA team, Constantine overlooked the trade dependence of the state. Along with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, he struck a deal to build an arena in Sodo with promoter Chris Hansen, over the objection of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Port of Seattle.
Constantine didn’t get the tax-increase authority he sought for King County Metro, and will have to be tougher on labor costs. From 2000 to 2009, under Executive Ron Sims, Metro improvidently allowed bus-driver pay to rise by 38.5 percent and become one of the highest in the country. The drivers agreed to skip a cost-of-living raise in 2010, but their compensation package is still too high.
The incumbent has sounded the right note on water quality, which is to maximize cleanup per dollar. He pushed hard for a tax proposal for roads and transit, with no victory yet. He has continued the innovative programs on employee health begun under Sims.
In his first term, Constantine focused inward on making government work better. He should resist the temptation to turn outward. There is more work to be done.