The race for King County Executive wasn’t as close as both Democrat Gary Locke and Republican incumbent Tim Hill thought it would be. At 11:15 p.m. on election night, Locke declared victory when Hill officially conceded the race, becoming the first Asian American ever to win such a high-ranking post in Washington. At the time, Locke had already garnered 58 percent of the vote to Hill’s 42 percent.
Locke increased his lead throughout the night. With 45 percent of the ballots counted, Locke had 59.64 percent (188,661) of the votes to Hill’s 40.36 percent (127,658).
Locke had just finished a speech when his campaign staff yelled the news over the 200 people gathered at Pacific Northwest Brewing Company restaurant in Pioneer Square. “If Tim Hill has conceded, I think we can declare victory!” said an exhausted but jubilant Locke.
Minutes before the official announcement, however, Locke felt confident about the outcome. “We look forward to four years of aggressive leadership, addressing the tough issues before us because this is going to be and always be the best place to live, work and raise a family and enjoy the outdoors,” he announced as he held his nephew Matthew in his arms and his family gathered around him.
From Tim Hill’s campaign headquarters at the Belltown Billiards pool hall, a dejected Hill announce his concession to his supporters and the media instead of calling his opponent, which is customary in most electoral races.
“I want to congratulate Gary Locke and I believe that if the trend continues, he’s going to be the next King County Executive,” said Hill, who held the position for two consecutive terms. “If the voters give him the same opportunity they gave me for eight wonderful years, I think this county will continue to prosper and grow as it should.
Despite his criticisms of Hill’s management of King County during the past eight months, Locke acknowledged his opponent’s campaign and past service.
“I want to thank Mr. Hill for putting on a clean campaign. His aggressive style helped focus the issues, but in the end we are proud of the fact that despite some of the distortions, the voters of King County saw through it,” Locke said.
Locke, a Chinese American born in Seattle, will now resign his position in the state’s House of Representatives, to which he was first elected in 1983. Locke has been a key player in the legislature’s budget writing, serving as chair of the House Appropriations Committee.
It was Locke’s performance on the state level that convinced many voters that he was the right candidate to undertake King County’s merger with Metro, which takes effect Jan. 1, 1994. The merger brings Metro’s transportation and sewage under county jurisdiction. It will also make the King County Executive the second most powerful position in the state, next to the governor.
Former Washington Gov. Albert D. Rosellini said, “I’ve been impressed with him over the 10 to 12 years that I’ve known him. He is a dedicated, honest public official who has the intellectual ability to do the type of job and provide the leadership that we need in King County to get things done.”
Seungja Song agreed. “He has been doing such a good job through the state. I think he is sensitive enough to find out all the problems of King County. It’s not going to be easy but he has potential. He is a people representative, not just someone in the office all the time, bureaucratic,” said Song, a 30-year resident of King County.
Seattle City Councilmember Martha Choe said, “Gary stands for things I care about. He’s a champion for people of color, people with disabilities, human services, education, women. But, he’s also been fiscally conservative. He’s made tough decisions, and I’m just excited because his county has just languished under the last leadership.”
Locke said he doesn’t profess to have all the answers to the many issues he will be facing in his new position, but he pledged his commitment to serve county residents.
“We have a very special county with a diversity of people, and lifestyles and geography. We have to nurture that diversity and respect those special qualities and we have to empower those parts of the county. I call upon all of us—Democrats and Republicans, suburban, urban and rural—to come together and move our county forward.”