The Student Newspaper of Highline College

Burien City Council races feature four contested elections

Samuel Watson Staff Reporter Jun 03, 2021

Local city council elections in the city of Burien will feature four contested races this year in the August primary.

City governments provide a variety of services, such as taking care of parks, police, planning, and maintaining local roads.  

The city of Burien has the council-manager form of government, in which the mayor does not exercise executive authority. 

The city’s current mayor, Jimmy Matta, was selected from the city council. Mayor Matta, who is a local business owner and union leader, is running for re-election to position No. 2 on the council. He’s being challenged by local residents Charles Schaefer and Mark Dorsey. 

Dorsey said his decision to run for office was brought on by changes he’s noticed in recent years.

“The political landscape of the past five years has motivated me to pay more attention to what is happening politically in Burien, which prompted many questions about decisions that were being made on behalf of the Burien community that were not in the best interest of the Burien community,” he said.

Dorsey cited the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC) as an example.

“While I agree that we need to have resources available to empower the less fortunate in Burien, I disagree with the way that the DESC facility has been proposed,” he said. “The collective actions of those involved in pushing the DESC facility on our community clearly communicate that this facility is designed to serve and benefit King County and not Burien. We need a city council that prioritizes the citizens and businesses of Burien and that is what I will bring to the table.”

Neither Schaefer nor Mayor Matta responded to requests for an interview.

Burien has three other competitive races this year. 

The race for position No. 1 is between Abdifatah Mohamedhaji, a local resident; Martin Barrett, a local entrepreneur; and Hugo Garcia, who currently serves on Burien’s Planning Commission. Councilmember Pedro Olguin is not running for re-election. 

Barrett said he believes the city of Burien has great potential and he hopes to help the city become even better than it already is.

“I believe that Burien has the potential to be the best city in the entire Puget Sound region,” he said. “We are a coastal gem, situated between two economic engines and next to a great global travel center. We have stunning views of the Olympics and the Cascade Range. No other city can boast this kind of location and potential beauty.”

Barrett said he thinks residents deserve to feel safe, small businesses must be protected, and affordable housing should be prioritized. He also said the city needs to protect people who are experiencing homeless or struggling with addiction.

“Burien must hold those on the margins in such high esteem that it will not allow people to be put away in small rooms to slowly kill themselves with drugs, meaninglessness and isolation,” he said. “Nor partner with or be in agreement with those that will allow them to slowly die on the streets.”

Mohamedhaji and Garcia did not respond to requests for an interview.

The race for Position No. 5 is between Sarah Moore, who currently serves as vice chair on the board of Burien’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Service (PaRCS) department; Alex Simkus, a local business owner; and local resident Georgette Reyes. Nancy Tosta, who has served two terms on the council, is not running for re-election. 

Moore said she’s already very involved with Burien as a city so running for office felt like the natural next step.

“I attend most city council meetings as an audience member or to give a statement on issues that are important to me,” she said. “I pay attention to the budget and the activities different parts of the city are involved in. I sit on the Parks and Recreation Commission. So, I thought, if I care so much about the decisions the city makes, and the people those decisions impact, maybe I should step up and run for office.”

Simkus said he thinks the city council is out of touch with the working class.

“They approved an eight percent utility tax during the pandemic putting struggling families into even harder situations,” he said. 

Simkus said he also feels that affordable housing is an important issue that isn’t being properly handled.

“Right now, the city council is trying to figure out if DESC should be allowed to build a new building that would be part of our affordable housing plan,” he said. “While housing for the homeless is an extremely important issue and needs to be addressed urgently, there is no focus on those working full-time jobs and barely getting by. We need housing for people that are struggling in Burien right now [and] the city council is not addressing that.”

Reyes said she wants to give everyone’s voice a chance to be heard.

“Burien is a very diverse city that is growing very quickly,” she said. “We have a large non-English speaking community in Burien. I want to make sure that everyone in Burien benefits from these changes, that everyone has a voice and that no communities are left behind.”

The race for position No. 7 is particularly crowded, with six candidates in the running. Residents John White, Stephanie Mora, Elissa Fernandez, Patty Janssen, and John Potter will all be challenging incumbent Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx, who is also the executive director for Seattle Pride.

Mora said that her decision to run was prompted by her experiences as a mother.

“Being a mom to small children gave me the drive to run for city council and be more involved in our city,” she said. “Like many families, we haven’t been able to enjoy many of our city’s beautiful spaces in several years due to them consistently being destroyed, trashed, and having people who are struggling to survive sleeping in or near what I consider children’s areas.”

Mora said she wants to offer Burien a fresh perspective and will create an environment that supports community members.

Neither White, Fernandez, Janssen, Potter, nor Marx responded to requests for an interview.

The primary election will take place on Aug. 3, with the two candidates who receive the most votes in each race moving forward to the general election later this year on Nov. 2. 

To learn more about who has filed for office in each city within King County, click here.