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After Divisive Campaign, Burien City Council Seats Remain In The Air

Will James
A streetcorner cluttered with campaign signs in downtown Burien

The makeup of Burien's City Council remains up in the air as races remain too close to call Wednesday afternoon.

A slate of four conservative-leaning candidates running on an anti-crime platform were critical of a law protecting undocumented immigrants passed last year by the city council.

Two members of that slate, which ran under the banner "Burien Proud, Burien First," were leading in their races Wednesday.

Joel Manning leads Pedro Olguin by about five percentage points, or 300 votes, in the race for an open seat. Incumbent Debi Wagner is leading challenger Jimmy Matta by about two percentage points, or 141 votes.

But two of the candidates on a progressive-leaning slate were also ahead Wednesday.

Incumbent Nancy Tosta has the biggest lead of any candidate in the City Council races. She leads challenger Darla Green by about 12 percentage points, or 803 votes. Krystal Marx is leading Patty Janssen by just five votes in an open-seat race.

The suburban community's election has drawn regional attention for its harsh tone and national themes.

Divisions hardened after the City Council passed a law last year that forbade city staff and police from asking about a resident's immigration status or religion. A repeal effort this summer resulted in protests and shouting matches at council meetings.

Throughout the campaign, supporters of one side tried to tie their opponents to President Donald Trump and white supremacists. The other side attempted to smear opponents by associating them with Seattle progressives.

Late in the race, an outside group targeted undocumented immigrants with a campaign mailer that purported to list the names and addresses of undocumented immigrants accused of crimes. 

It was sent by a statewide group opposed to illegal immigration called Respect Washington, and it urged Burien residents to vote for Manning, Wagner, Green and Janssen.

The mailer spurred condemnation by elected officials across King County. 

The "Burien Proud, Burien First" candidates have complained that they have been unfairly accused of racism, blaming their opponents for the harsh, personal nature of the race.

People of color make up about half of Burien's population, but only two have served on the city council since the city incorporated in 1993. The community's Latino population has tripled since 2000.

If either Olguin or Matta overcomes his deficit and wins, he would be the first Latino member of the Burien City Council.

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.