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King County gets a new Sheriff: Mitzi Johanknecht defeats John Urquhart

It appears that King County will soon have a new top law enforcement official. Thursday’s ballot drop saw sheriff hopeful Mitzi Johanknect widen her lead over incumbent John Urquhart for the second consecutive day, significantly diminishing the likelihood of a comeback victory by Urquhart in the remaining late ballots.

Johanknect (pronounced Joe HANK Nick) is a veteran deputy who has held many positions in the sheriff’s department during the past few decades. She decided to challenge Urquhart after concluding the county needed new leadership at the top. She was endorsed by The Stranger, The Seattle Times, NARAL, the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, former King County Executive Ron Sims, Equal Rights Washington, and several Democratic legislative district organizations.

Mitzi was also rated “Outstanding” by the Municipal League; whereas incumbent John Urquhart received a rating of “Very Good”.

“Mitzi is running for Sheriff because it is time to focus on the business of public safety in King County,” reads the pitch on her campaign website. “The women and men of the Sheriff’s Office and the communities they protect deserve a Sheriff who makes fighting crime and community building her first priorities. Mitzi is an experienced law enforcement leader with a track record of success.”

“Born and raised in King County, Mitzi has served her community for thirty-two years,” the website goes on to say. “She is an experienced, progressive law enforcement leader, having risen to the rank of Major.”

“Mitzi was the first woman to command TAC-30, the King County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, and has served in leadership roles in every division and location in the Sheriff’s Office. As a deputy, she was the first to work with a multi-disciplinary team in King County housing projects. She collaborated with other agencies, community groups and residents to build relationships and trust, promoting public safety.”

Urquhart’s campaign — his third in the last five years — was plagued by weeks of bad headlines. Urquhart has been accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by multiple individuals (he denies the allegations). Urquhart’s financial dealings as Sheriff have also come under scrutiny in recent weeks.

Angered by the reporting of The Seattle Times, Urquhart’s campaign sent a representative of the newspaper to a nonexistent election night party on Tuesday night instead of providing the actual location. The paper’s reporter ultimately tracked Urquhart down at his real party and confronted Urquhart.

Urquhart said he was only playing around, calling the feint “a joke”.

But he’s probably not laughing now that his opponent is projected to win.

Urquhart was for many years the Public Information Officer for the King County Sheriff’s office. He retired from that position prior to deciding to run against appointed Sheriff Steve Strachan in 2012. Urquhart easily defeated Strachan, who ultimately found another job leading the Bremerton Police Department.

Strachan will be leaving that position at the end of 2017 to take over the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

Urquhart was unopposed for reelection the following year (2013) and won a full four year term. During his tenure, he has repeatedly made headlines for terminating deputies for conduct unbecoming of a law enforcement official.

But, as mentioned, more recently the headlines have been about him and his alleged conduct — and not the problematic conduct of the rotten apples Urquhart vowed to get rid of when he first sought the position in 2012.

Johanknect will be King County’s second female sheriff, after Sue Rahr, who succeeded Dave Reichert following his election to Congress in 2004. Rahr resigned in 2012 to lead the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission, three years after running unopposed for a full year term. Rahr still runs the Commission today.