We understand, and in many cases agree with, the critiques of John Urquhart. The sheriff clearly has a background in public relations—he was the department’s spokesman for years before taking charge of it, and is hyper-conscious of his messaging and how it reflects on himself. This has led to plenty of problems: As exposed by The Stranger, he’s talked a widely different game on immigration and safe-consumption sites depending on what audience he’s in front of. As explored by this paper, when a rape allegation was made against him, he directed the captain in charge of internal investigations to not document it—which the captain later said went against protocol—in part because he did not want the allegation to be used against him by political opponents.
The rape allegation itself is suspect, and has been ruled unfounded by several law-enforcement agencies, but Urquhart’s handling of it smacks of bald self-dealing. So we get it. But we’re still endorsing him. While his comments about undocumented immigrants are troubling, we can’t ignore a recent report out of the University of Washington’s Human Rights Center that praised the King County Sheriff’s Office for its “strong language” on rebuffing unconstitutional requests by immigration agents. We also can’t ignore the fact that, when an opioid-crisis-committee proposal for safe-consumption sites was unveiled, Urquhart was there for the announcement, and unequivocally stated his office’s support for them in front of a bank of television cameras. Whatever games he plays with massaging his messages to different audiences, we contend that when it matters most he says the right thing, and we contend that that matters.
His opponent, Major Mitzi Johanknecht, is a department veteran who’s running for all the right reasons: She cares about the Sheriff’s Department, has deep reservations with Urquhart’s management of it, and is putting her money where her mouth is. However, Johanknecht’s focus on improving morale within the Sheriff’s Office concerns us. Urquhart may be hard on deputies who screw up, and he may do so in a very public way, but in many cases that’s been to his credit. The county recently settled with a group of deputies who claimed wrongful termination, including two deputies who were caught on camera berating a Metro bus driver who asked them for help. Johanknecht points to the settlement as proof Urquhart is messing things up; we were pleased to hear Urquhart apologize for nothing when the settlement was announced. Were we inside the department, we may feel differently. But from our vantage point, we’d rather have the top cop be overcritical of county law enforcement than under-. That’s why, with reservations, we say vote Urquhart.