Photo by Renee McMahon
Strong jaw, cut arms, and a love for working a tight budget in an economic recession: Aaron Reardon is a political wunderkind straight out of central casting.
He's even got a touching and funny personal story to boot. His political life began with a single mom, living in a trailer, dedicated to raising a well-educated, world-wise son. "She wanted me to have more opportunities than she did," Reardon says. Every day they went through the newspaper together.
While scanning the national news section in 1981, something caught his eye. Then-president Ronald Reagan had just announced that ketchup could be considered a vegetable in public schools looking to cut the cost of providing subsidized meals to kids like 10-year-old Reardon. "It really bothered me," he says. After watching her son fume over Reagan's fauxmatoes, his mom suggested writing to their congressional representative, Al Swift.
Reardon didn't just get a Swift postcard with a stamped signature on the back thanking him for corresponding. A staffer called back to discuss his concerns. It might not have been the turning point of Ketchupgate, but it made the young Reardon believe you could actually use government to change things for good. "I think at that age I decided that's what I wanted to do," he says.
As he grew into his political ambitions, Reardon didn't just spend his time wonking out over federal food policy. He was an unapologetic jock, playing football and rugby and swimming, developing the bulging biceps that would someday gird his political platform with exceptional strength and vitality.
The swim team was what brought him to Central Washington University, but that first term he also took a political science class "and was hooked." Swimming only lasted two months as Reardon began cultivating his political career, adding a economics major to the mix. From Ellensburg, Reardon also began running smaller state campaigns, something he kept at while working for the Downtown Seattle Association after graduating in 1994.
But finally taking the candidate mantle himself was always in the back of his mind, he says, and in 1998, the 27-year-old Reardon took a shot at a vacant state house seat and won.
Five years later, Reardon was in session in Olympia while several would-be Snohomish County Executives were duking it out back home. His wife, Katie (did you really expect a dreamboat like this to be single?), went to one of the debates, then called her husband on the Senate floor.
"She said, 'Look, hon, I just got back from a county forum and you need to get into the race,'" he recalls. The election was less than six months away. He had no campaign war chest. But his family, now with daughter Madeline, began pounding the campaign trail. It worked—he managed a 52 percent victory over his Republican challenger.
Critics were skeptical about having a man so young at the helm. But he played small ball, focusing on local businesses and a little public art. It was enough to convince the naysayers, and last fall 65 percent of the county's voters decided to give him another term.
At 37, Reardon is no longer a flash-in-the-pan. In fact, he exerted a big influence on the Sound Transit expansion plan that will be voted on this year. So what's next?
"Right now, I'm having a good time as a County Exec, and I've told myself that I'm not going to look further than this term at this point," he says. But forgive us if we look a little further. And we're not talking politics.—Laura Onstot