Puyallup Republican Bruce Dammeier had a slight edge over Tacoma Democrat Rick Talbert in the race to fill Pierce County’s top elected position Tuesday.
If his lead holds, Dammeier would become the first Republican to run the county in 16 years.
But county government could maintain its divided leadership if an open seat on the Pierce County Council goes to Tacoma Democrat Carolyn Edmonds, as initial tallies indicate. Her election would hand control of the County Council to the Democrats for the first time in 12 years.
Speaking from Lakewood where Republicans gathered to watch results, Dammeier said he was “obviously pleased to be up by at least two points,” but he wasn’t ready to claim victory.
“There’s still a lot of votes left to be counted. A lot of votes,” he said.
The Pierce County Auditor’s Office counted fewer than half of the expected votes late Tuesday. The next release is expected early Wednesday.
Talbert also was waiting for those results to see whether the gap shrinks, he said Tuesday.
“We expected all along it would be close,” Talbert said. “We hoped that we would be on top at this point, but we’re not.”
Dammeier and Talbert are battling to replace Pat McCarthy, a two-term Democratic executive who was winning her race for state auditor Tuesday.
Throughout the campaign the candidates agreed on many issues, including a sales tax increase for mental health and chemical dependency services, and added patrol deputies, but differed on how they would solve them.
During the campaign, Dammeier said he supported a one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase but that he wanted a plan in place before the tax is collected. He said he would prioritize the county’s mental health crisis and homelessness by bringing together mental health and chemical dependency professionals in the public and private sectors to identify where help was most needed.
Dammeier also pledged to re-evaluate each county department to find efficiencies, which could include replacing some department heads.
As executive, Talbert promised to pick up where McCarthy left off on pushing for a proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales tax increase to support mental health and chemical dependency programs. Talbert also promised to bring together social and health service professionals to address crises in mental health care and homelessness.
Talbert said he would continue looking at consolidating county departments into a central hub to find fiscal and operational efficiencies.
If her lead holds, Edmonds would replace Joyce McDonald, who is prevented from running by term limits. McDonald was winning her race for state House in the 25th Legislative District on Tuesday.
Edmonds said she had anticipated a close race against Sen. Pam Roach, R-Sumner, noting the district is “pretty conservative.” The Tacoma real estate agent credited voters with seeing through the “bad behavior” of her opponent.
“I’m just really, really grateful right now to the voters in District 2 for supporting me and supporting my mission for our district and how I want to work to make things better,” Edmonds said.
Edmonds co-chairs the Northeast Tacoma Neighborhood Association. She spent 1 1/2 terms in the state House and one term on the King County Council, both when she lived in Shoreline.
She lost her King County Council seat in 2005 when the council shrank from 13 to nine members.
Roach has been a controversial legislator during her 25-year Senate career. Her confrontations with staff that led Republicans to kick her out of their private meetings from 2010 to 2012. In 2008, she was barred from contact with Senate staff for several years following one incident with a staff member.
Roach did not answer requests for comment Tuesday night.
Elsewhere, initial returns showed Council Chairman Doug Richardson, R-Lakewood, narrowly leading Lakewood Democrat Linda Farmer, communications director for the Pierce County Library system, in the race for Council District 6.
Richardson said late Tuesday that he liked “being on my side of 50 percent,” referring to the initial vote count. He expects the gap to widen as votes are counted.
Council incumbents Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, and Jim McCune, R-Graham, looked well on their way to their second terms.