Covington Councilmember Cimaomo announces legislative campaign

The councilmember has spent six years serving Covington

After Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, announced last week his plans to retire from his position in the 47th District, a few candidates have popped up hoping to be elected in his place.

One of those candidates is Covington City Councilmember Joseph Cimaomo Jr. Cimaomo will be rivaling Kent City Councilmember Satwinder Kaur, who announced her candidacy on Monday, March 16.

Sullivan announced his intentions not to run for his seat again on Friday, March 13, in a press release. First elected to the state House of Representatives in 2004, Sullivan focused much of his attention on education and economic development. He served as a budget negotiator since 2009 and helped craft budgets from the recession through this past session.

“We made it through some difficult times,” Sullivan stated in the press release. “But we always managed to come through it even stronger as a state.”

Sullivan worked on a number of issues during his years in the House, including early learning, higher education and transportation. His focus, however, has always been on helping kids to be successful, according to the press release.

“Creating the Department of Children, Youth & Families was a significant step in improving the lives of children across the state,” Sullivan stated. “The agency is still in its fledgling stage, but I know it will be successful.”

Prior to serving in the Legislature, Sullivan served as the first mayor of Covington. He served as a legislative assistant in the House as well as the Senate, and also worked for the King County Council.

Cimaomo’s background in politics

Cimaomo said he’s the stand-out candidate because he has a reputation of “building bridges” among leaders who have differing opinions.

“I have experience for six years on the (Covington) City Council and being able to talk well with other people who have differing opinions, be able to work with other localities … and also being able to just admit when I’ve been wrong,” he said.

Cimaomo was a young family man when he first started to run for Covington City Council. He said as a parent he kept looking for things to do in Covington with his family, but didn’t see much coming down the line.

“My goal was to be able to get out there and get those things for young families,” he said. “I wanted people like me who were at the time in their 20s, starting a family, buying their first homes … to come and be able to find that place here to stay for years and decades to come. Not just for me and my family to benefit but for future families.”

This goal led to one of Cimaomo’s proudest moments on the council when the Covington City Council voted to approve a study of a possible new aquatics center.

“We’ve been looking at and debating the (Covington) Aquatic Center for years,” Cimaomo said. “So now we are really looking and finding something … the Aquatic Center is one of the most proudest parts of our city. It brings in an average of over 100,000 visitors a year.”

Starting a campaign for the Washington State Legislature while the state deals with being the epicenter for a national pandemic is interesting for Cimaomo. He said he’s agreed with a lot of the steps Governor Jay Inslee has taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, which has now affected people in all 50 states and has lead to nearly 500 cases in Washington alone. Cimaomo hopes to see more effort put into not only helping people stay safe from the virus but helping them economically.

“We need to make sure we are taking care of each other in the correct ways … but also finding ways to help those small businesses, and not just the loans that are coming out nationally and statewide but finding ways that we can help locally,” he said. “Whether that’s finding ways to give them a couple tax breaks so that during this crisis they’re not having to worry about ‘We have to pay X, Y and Z.’”

Cimaomo also spoke about working with families and local medical facilities to help cover testing costs and medical costs, setting up more triage centers in areas where people do not have hospitals close to home.

Cimaomo’s priorities

Cimaomo easily rattled off his top three priorities and how to fund his ideas — mainly with funding from the state’s marijuana excise tax.

These priorities include state education funding, expanding mental health services and decreasing the “tax burden” for his constituents.

To help fund public education, Cimaomo says there is funding in the general budget that can be used to help alleviate resident’s property taxes, which then will lead to more successful levy campaigns.

“As we all know with the McCleary decision that we had to find the extra money,” he said. “They pushed $4.5 million into education funding in 2018. And now we need to find a way to keep that money there but also increase it to make sure people who are needing that extra help can get it.”

This lead to his idea to help increase funding for mental health services, including more services in public schools for students. Cimaomo believes the state should take money from the marijuana excise tax pool, which brought in over $350 million in 2018, to help fund mental health professionals in Washington’s public schools. Cimaomo believes just using 30-40 percent of the tax money could fund services for students, the homeless population and average residents dealing with increased mental stress.

“We can have mental health professionals who work with the school districts that can go in and start having regular appointments with students, while they are at school,” he said. “It could be an extra resource for students who may not be able to afford to go to a psychiatrist or another mental health professional.”

Lastly Cimaomo wants to use marijuana tax funds to help boost transportation funding in the state. Last week the Washington Legislature passed a budget of $10.4 million to help continue transportation projects for the upcoming year if the courts uphold Initiative 976, which promised voters a standard $30 fee for car tabs. Legislators believe there will be massive funding issues the following year though.

Cimaomo’s idea is to take another 30-40 percent of the marijuana excise tax fund to use for grant funding to counties and cities who are facing major road projects and transportation construction.

Cimaomo said he’s been thinking about these issues and running for the legislature for a while now, but after Sullivan’s announcement on Monday, he decided it was time.

“It just felt like the right time to go for it and see where I can help out,” he said.