Too close to call – Covington election results

Many city races too close to announce a winner just yet

It’s almost certain Covington candidates’ hearts skipped when they saw the initial election results, which showed tight races across the board. Voters in Covington and Maple Valley had to focus on city races, local and state ballot measures, and school board members. Initial numbers, released by King County at 8:15 p.m., showed 2,524 ballots counted out of 12,599 registered voters.

Covington City Council

Three races between incumbents and challengers for seats on the Covington City Council showed some challengers taking the win while others were almost too close to call.

Incumbent Marlla Mhoon is possibly going to lose her seat as Position 1 on the city council with 35.15 percent of the vote, or 813 votes. Challenger Kristina Soltys was winning with 64.33 percent of the vote, or 1,488 votes. Another 12 votes went to write-in candidates.

In the race for council Position 2, incumbent Jennifer Harjehausen is neck and neck with challenger Elizabeth Porter. Porter was ahead with 50.04 percent of the vote, or 1,126 votes. Harjehausen was close behind with 49.24 percent of the vote, or 1,108 votes. That’s less than a 20 vote difference, leaving the race too close to call.

Harjehausen said she would be checking the polls every day until the last vote is counted.

“I’m feeling good, feeling optimistic with more than 500 votes to count,” she said. “I’ll be watching every day as I’m sure Elizabeth will.”

Harjehausen ran for this exact seat two years prior but was then appointed to the position just around six months ago. Even though the seat isn’t up for election for another two years, Harjehausen had to be confirmed through an election to keep her appointment. She said campaigning has been a great way to connect with Covington residents.

Harjehausen had some words of encouragement for Porter while the last votes are tallied.

“Hang in there, I know how you feel,” she said. “I know Elizabeth and I do feel comfortable saying best of luck and I’m right there with her checking (the votes) everyday at four o’clock.”

Porter said she will be spending her Wednesday afternoon, Nov. 6, clicking refresh on the election results page.

“It’s too soon to tell right?” she said. “It’s anyone’s game at this point.”

Porter said even if she doesn’t officially win the seat she feels like positive changes were made on the campaign trail that will echo through the council in 2020, including more efforts to communicate with residents. Win or lose, Porter won’t stop being engaged with the city.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Porter said. “In some ways we were split right down the middle on the issues. We are on a roll right now with engaging the (residents) and that’s something, I definitely want to capitalize on that momentum.”

In the final contested race, Position 5 incumbent Sean Smith was barely winning back his seat by 51.05 percent, or 1,139 votes. His challenger, Jonathan Ingram is catching up to Smith with 48.54 percent of the votes, or 1,083 votes.

“I feel good, cautiously optimistic,” Smith said on Tuesday night. “I felt Jonathan was campaigning very hard … and I put in a lot of work as well. I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m not declaring victory until the last vote is counted.”

Smith said he learned a lot on the campaign and if he is the victor, he’ll take some of what he learned back to the city. This includes making roads and public safety a priority along with an effort to create a unique identity for Covington. Another issue he said he’ll work on is making the council more responsive and communicative with the voters.

Smith said he was impressed with Ingram’s efforts and is wary to call the race.

“I had to work really hard for every vote and that’s a testament to Jonathan,” Smith said.

Ingram felt like a winner immediately, even being just a little behind Smith. To him the point of the campaign was to make a positive change in Covington and he “didn’t have to win” to achieve that, but he’s still being optimistic.

“I think considering how great of a candidate Sean is, he’s very popular and has some name recognition, that I think I’m doing great,” Ingram said. “It shows the message I’m trying to get across resonates with the community and frankly it’s closer than Sean and I both thought.”

Ingram said he’s enjoyed the friendly competition with Smith and has learned more about his city through the campaign, where he went to hundreds of houses and met residents from over 25 different countries. He said residents are looking for a better focus on transportation infrastructure and transparency among the council, which he thinks will be achieved whether Smith or himself takes the lead.

“(The campaign) has been a fabulous and fun experience,” Ingram said. “It’s been a blast, considering all the missteps and mistakes I made since it was my first campaign, it’s been a huge amount of fun. It’s an experience that will shape the rest of my life.”

Mayor Jeff Wagner retained his seat by 97.87 percent, or 1,701 votes, since he was running unopposed. And since incumbent Margaret Harto stepped down from the race, Jared Koukal won the seat for Position 3 on the council by 97.86 percent of the vote, or 1,694 votes. The remaining votes in both races went to write-in candidates.

Ingram said he believes Soltys will keep her lead in the race, and between her and Koukal there will be enough new blood to bring a new perspective to Covington’s leadership.

Koukal said he’s been humbled by the support he’s received from Harto, Wagner and the voters. After serving as a young man in the Army, he and his wife decided they wanted to keep serving Covington. He volunteered on the city’s Economic Growth Commission, but he felt the need to do more so he decided to run for City Council Position 3.

He knows some people are worried he is too young for such a strong leadership role, but he thinks he’ll be able to represent a part of the city that is sometimes ignored.

“I’m really hoping to encourage our growing community,” Koukal said. “We have a fairly young community so I wanted to be that representation for our young city. I’m hoping to bring a new level of understanding and communication. Someone told me one time communication is a skill to be practiced and the best way to do that is by listening to understand instead of listening to respond.”

Koukal said he plans to work on the top three issues in Covington; transportation infrastructure, a balanced budget and public safety. But he also hopes to bring more mental health care for veterans, elderly residents and teens to Covington.

“If I could put my name on something, it would be to put mental health services in Covington or in the South King County area,” Koukal said. “That’s what I really want to focus on for veterans, those with dementia and a whole range of things.”

Maple Valley races

Voters in Maple Valley voted to keep many of the current city council members.

Maple Valley City Council Position 3 incumbent Les Burberry was headed to a win to keep his seat by 61.04 percent of the vote, or 1,910 votes. Challenger Victoria Schroff was behind with 38.51 percent of the votes, or 1,205 votes.

Incumbent Syd Dawson was also headed to win his seat for Position 5 with 69.05 percent, or 2,131 votes. His challenger, Richard Axtell was behind with only 30.59 percent, or 944 votes.

The Tahoma School District Board of Directors will also see some new changes thanks to voters.

Malia Howell was headed for a win in the race for Position 3 by 58.01 percent of the votes, or 3,204. Jaime Fairbanks was close behind the race with 41.52 percent of the vote, or 2,293 votes.

For Position 4 Pete Miller was sprinting towards a win against Stormy (Lea) Rigtrup with 85.78 percent, or 4,639 votes. Rigtrup earned just 13.72 percent, or 742 votes.

Other races

In the races for the Kent School District, Leslie Kae Hamada earned a spot on the board of directors to represent Covington after running unopposed when incumbent Debbie Straus announced her retirement in May. Hamada earned 98.35 percent or 12,874 votes.

Covington says yes to fireworks ban

Voters have told the city they support a firework ban within city limits. As of 8:15 p.m. on election night, the city’s Proposition No. 1, an advisory vote, showed 60.49 percent, or 1,482 votes, in support and 39.51 percent, or 968 votes, against a ban.

The council expects to bring up the discussion of a fireworks ban during a meeting on Nov. 26.

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