By Krystal S. Marx, Burien City Councilmember
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
“When Trump became the President of the United States of America, I knew I had to do something…”
I wish I could say that my decision to run for local office had a loftier beginning, but I have heard that people don’t like it when their elected officials lie. To that end, I want to share with you what it was like to decide to run, to find the best and worst in people while running, and to win my race with the help of a vibrant, beautiful community for Burien City Council (Position 7) this past November.
To do that, I first need to bring you up to speed on All Things Burien. Here are a few, key pieces of information that you have to know before we get started:
- Burien, Washington becomes an incorporated (“real”) city on February 28, 1993
- Population in 1993: 27,129
- Population in 2016: 50,997
- In August, 2014 Burien City Council passed Ordinance 606, referred to as “The Trespass Ordinance” which included wording that made it possible for Burien Police (contracted through the King County Sheriff’s Department (KCSD)) to trespass someone from the city for up to one year for disorderly contact, rude/dangerous behavior and, of all things, having poor bodily hygiene. It became more commonly known as the “Smell Bad Ordinance”, and was met with much protest from groups both inside and outside of Burien, drawing national media attention, a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and protest groups.
- In January, 2017 Burien City Council passed Ordinance 651, which they called a “Welcoming Ordinance”, which many referred to as the “sanctuary city ordinance”; this ordinance essentially reemphasizes the KCSD’s stance on not inquiring after someone’s immigration status by city staff, and adds protections against the formation of a religious registry. This ordinance brought out community members, labor unions, local elected officials, media and, once again, Burien made national news.
- Immediately after that, representatives from a group called Respect Washington started appearing at City Council meetings, protesting undocumented immigrants and announcing the need for more cops, more laws, more safety.
- Over the summer, Respect Washington (funded by US, Inc. and private donations) paid to have signature collectors flown in from out of state to get people to sign a petition to repeal Ordinance 651. On July 7, 2017 they submitted the signatures to the City Clerk. This petition called for the immediate repeal of the ordinance, or to have the repeal option placed on the November 2017 ballot. After numerous legal struggles (here, here, and finally, here), a King County Superior Court Judge decreed that the proposed voting measure was outside the legal scope of the citizens of Burien, and the repeal was removed from the ballot.
- In October, 2017 Respect Washington sent out a letter citing the names and last known addresses of undocumented individuals believed to have been charged and/or convicted of crimes within Burien city limits from 2008 – 2017 to all 3,400 individuals who signed the failed petition. This letter also endorsed the “Burien Proud, Burien First” slate of candidates (one of which was my opponent, all of which were supported by the current Mayor of Burien), and was quickly denounced by the City, Highline School District, King County Sheriff John Urquhart, King County Executive Dow Constantine, unions and local elected officials.
Did I mention that campaign season began in April of 2017, right as all of this is going down?
So, when I decided to run, I had lived in Burien for all of two years; sure, my husband had grown up here, and I had lived in neighboring SeaTac for a decade, and Renton before that but, as I was reminded more often than I can track, I was an outsider. I didn’t have the name recognition, the social backing or the community involvement of the incumbent I chose to go up against – Steve Armstrong. A lifelong Burien resident, Mr. Armstrong had served for four years upon the council, and was at most every community ribbon cutting and seemed knowledgeable about city issues… but I felt that I could do more for the city than he was doing.
When I committed to run, I decided to seek the advice of a good friend from high school who had worked in local politics for the last decade. He set up a meeting between myself and a campaign consultant – Jason Bennett of Argo Strategies – so I could pepper him with all the questions bouncing around in my head:
How do I file? How much will it cost? What is the process of running a campaign? How much will it cost? How much can I do on my own vs. having to pay for? How. Much. Will. It. Cost? Can I do this AND see my family AND work full-time AND volunteer? COST. HOW MUCH?
A couple of days later, I filed to run for Burien City Council (Position 7)… and so did four other people. By the filing deadline for King County Elections, 17 people had filed for the four (4) open seats.
As a bisexual woman, mother of four children under 10, wife to and caretaker for an Army combat veteran with PTSD, full-time nonprofit employee, volunteer organization leader and training provider, I was fairly certain I could handle just about anything that came my way on the campaign trail. I knew I needed to reach out to the local labor organizations – the machinists, the carpenters, the laborers, the bus drivers, the service clerks, the janitors, the teachers – as well as the police, firefighters, local elected officials, and former City Councilmembers… so that’s what I did.
I spent hours every day emailing, calling, and meeting with anyone who would meet with me, asking for their support, their advice, and their endorsement. I also had to start fundraising, which took up another hour or three every day. I was emailing, calling and texting everyone whose contact information I had, tracking it in an Excel spreadsheet, and praying that I could gather enough funds to create things I had never thought I would be creating: a website, a campaign video, an online marketing campaign, mailers, letters and campaign literature (on top of paying for a consultant).
I got to know the three other progressive candidates – Pedro Olguin (Position 1), Jimmy Matta (Position 3) and Nancy Tosta (Position 5, incumbent) – and got to work alongside them. We attended many of the same endorsement meetings, spoke at the same events and were, eventually, dubbed “The Fantastic Four” by our base of support in Burien.
Then there’s the work of the actual campaign. I feel guilty calling it “work”, because this is where I truly felt myself come alive and saw this amazing community in Burien start coming together and turning out for events. Every Thursday, I would be at the Burien Farmer’s Market from 5:30 – 7 p.m., talking to anyone who wanted to ask questions. I would host “coffee with the candidate” events in the afternoon. After I came in first in the primary election in August, I attended forums, more forums, and still more forums while knocking on doors and/or making phone calls most nights of the week and every Saturday morning.
The part that did, admittedly, feel like work was the amount of time I was kept away from my family and friends. Many nights (most nights, near election time) saw me giving my husband and ten, eight, six and two year-olds a kiss as I ran out the door to a meeting or event. While my husband could not have been more supportive, and truly never once complained, the unfiltered honesty of my children’s disappointment in missing me yet again was impossible to ignore.
By the time the Respect Washington letter hit in October, putting Burien residents’ lives in danger, my family, friends, community and I had been hit pretty hard; my sexuality was targeted and taunted as a “way to corrupt our youth”, my appearance was targeted with hateful language, someone had called my sons’ school to see what classroom they were in, an upset individual took to driving his car onto my friend’s property to mow down the progressive candidates’ yard signs, frivolous Public Disclosure Committee (PDC) reports were filed against me and, finally, someone left a pile of human feces on my porch.
It was then that the community came together even more, planning and attending a peaceful nighttime march and vigil on November 1, where local elected officials and community organizations came and spoke to the racial divides being perpetuated in Burien. While I can’t say that I knew I was going to win the election that night, I knew that Burien would win. We would fight for the right policies, stand up against those that would harm our marginalized communities, and we would not let something like this continue to happen.
This is exactly why I decided to run, when Donald Trump became our 45th president – because allowing even a 24-year old city just 10 miles south of Seattle to be controlled by racially motivated fear mongering is wrong. Because our city, just that year, had to fight to hold its very first Pride celebration. Because kids in school reported levels of harassment and bullying I never saw as a young person. Because of my privilege and ability.
In the end, it wasn’t the slanderous words against me, or the great speeches made in my favor that won me a seat on the Burien City Council – it is the work of the community. It is the over 5,000 doors knocked, over 3,000 numbers called, community groups like Burien Represent hosting community BBQs and allowing us to speak, union members showing up to donate AND knock on doors, mothers and fathers bringing their babies along to canvass and call, and the burgeoning LGBTQ community of Burien seeing one of their own step up to run not just for them, but for all of us.