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African American women could make history in King and Snohomish counties

Brandy Donaghy, left, and Nicole Ng-A-Qui are running for office in Snohomish County.
Photos courtesy of Donaghy and Ng-A-Qui
Brandy Donaghy, left, and Nicole Ng-A-Qui are running for office in Snohomish County.

Voters in King and Snohomish counties have a chance to make history when they choose their candidates for county council seats. That’s because African American women are on the ballot in the council races of those two counties – and officials in both of those jurisdictions confirm that if even one is elected, it would be a first.

In King County’s District 5, Kent organizer Shukri Olow, who earned her doctorate from Seattle University in June, is challenging Dave Upthegrove, a former state legislator who has served on the council since 2014. Olow came here via Kenya as a refugee from Somalia.

And in the county to the north, two races for council seats are also noteworthy, says Chris Graves with the Snohomish Ebony PAC.

Shukri Olow
Karen Ducey
The Associated Press
Shukri Olow

That's Brandy Donaghy and Nicole Ng-A-Qui, who are both running for county council in Snohomish,” he says. “And I could be wrong, but to my knowledge, I don't know that Washington state has ever elected an African American woman to county council, and certainly it's not happened in Snohomish County.”

He says Snohomish Ebony PAC, or SEPAC for short, supports and endorses Black candidates that share specific values around equality, regardless of political party affiliation. The PAC seeks to hold elected officials accountable to their community, as outlined on its website.

The PAC’s values seem to skew progressive, though spokesperson Graves insists they’re nonpartisan. They include equal justice under the law and equity in education and economic opportunity.

Graves says the endorsements from his PAC point to two women who are “great candidates of their own accord.”

“Their talent, their contribution to the electorate and to public policy goes way deeper than just their skin color,” he says.

Ng-A-Qui is in an uphill battle challenging incumbent Nate Nehring; Donaghy is in a closer race against incumbent Sam Low. Both incumbents are Republicans — though the council races are officially nonpartisan. Both are white men.

Graves says representation of minorities in public policy and government matters because it shapes how future candidates are viewed by the overall electorate.

And even how minority voters view themselves or how marginalized voters view themselves,” Graves says.

“I mean, it's well-documented that racial, gender and ethnic diversity strengthens ideas in teams and business in other areas of industry. So likewise, I think having a diversity of candidates makes for overall better public policy in Snohomish County.”

The group endorsed eight candidates in Snohomish County in this election cycle. Seven of those have made it to the general election. They include the two candidates for County Council, as well as people running for city council seats in Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mukilteo.

SEPAC was founded in 2020. In that year, it endorsed three candidates. Two of the three were elected: state representatives John Lovick and April Berg, both in the 44th District. Candidate Shirley Sutton lost her bid for state representative in the 32nd.

Corrected: November 3, 2021 at 9:47 AM PDT
This story was corrected to reflect that Shukri Olow completed her doctorate in June.
Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to