By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Sofia Aragon is not shy, nor is she dramatic. She chooses her words with poise. The current Burien mayor knows what’s important to her and her constituents, and she intends to carry those concerns forward should she win her bid in November for King County Council District 8.
Aragon’s term as mayor has straddled the worst years of COVID-19, and the recovery. As mayor, she has seen the defunding of the police in King County and the rising complaints about crime and homelessness. She has witnessed inequities in healthcare of minority communities who experienced high rates of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Change takes time. Ask Aragon if she is “soft on crime,” as some constituents have commented, and her eyes will widen in surprise.
“I have priorities in terms of adequate public safety. There are significant shortages.” She has been instrumental in pushing forward initiatives to increase staffing and funds—but a lot of this will only roll out once she has gone. The term for mayor’s office in Burien is just two years, and the mayor is a part of a council—they do not act alone.
“I’ve done work particularly this year to solve a funding shortage that we have with regards to getting officers we need. We’ve been short-staffed.” Aragon worked with the city and the council to develop a ballot initiative and public safety funding that will be seen in the next budget cycle.
“Burien is served by the King County Sheriff,” she continued. “There are a lot of cities and also unincorporated areas that are served by the county. They all need adequate public safety. That’s something that I’ll definitely be advocating for on the Council.” One unincorporated area which Aragon looks after and will continue to look after is Vashon Island, where she “would assure more public participation regarding affordable housing and homelessness, to include “making sure the communities have equitable representation when it comes to zoning and permitting.”
Experience listening to many voices and working with many levels of government would serve Aragon on King County Council where “different lawmakers from local to state to federal…need to be engaged,” Aragon told the Weekly.
“Constituent work is something that’s really important. I’ll have more time to do that.” For someplace like Vashon, she is excited to work on establishing their new hospital district and improving workplace and transportation issues. For someplace like the Chinatown-International District (CID), which is more urban in comparison, she would have “regular town halls or meetings with CID leaders, residents, and businesses” to gather feedback.
If elected, King County Council will be Aragon’s only job. Her mayoral term will end and she will leave her role as CEO and executive director of the Washington Center for Nursing. She is “really excited to take that on full-time in King County” and “fully devote” herself.
Healthcare and health workers will continue as a priority when seeking more involvement of mental health specialists, nurses, and social workers alongside the police force.
“I would definitely like to meet the need there,” she said, and points out that the King County police force, like all county organizations, and elected offices, should mirror the demographics of the population it serves.
“We always need to listen to different points of view,” she said. “In Burien, we’ve worked over the last four years to have officers that reflect our diversity.” Aragon would also seek more interaction between public safety officials and the community, “not just being out there to make arrests and enforce the law,” but being part of the community, not separate. In the wake of increased violence against Asian Americans, this resonates even louder.
“Home invasions, assaults on Asian elderly, and vandalism of the Wing Luke Museum shows that adequate police for the CID should be a priority,” Aragon said. “I want to see seven-minute response times return. I would push for police that are trained to be culturally sensitive and urge hiring of bilingual officers to support better communication.” In Burien, a “store front” officer is stationed on their main street and “builds relationships with business owners.” “I would advocate a similar model for the CID with bilingual officers in the…languages that are needed the most.”
As an Asian American and a woman, Aragon’s campaign language indicates that she is “the result of the diversity, challenges, and promise that the county has to offer.” Her background encompasses much of what King County residents have been through—and the history of King County. A child of Filipino immigrants, she lived in east King County when it was just a sleepy burg whose residents had to flee every time the power went out. She knows the importance of infrastructure and making sure that the government “works right”—it’s what keeps her going.
While she started her political career in Olympia, working at the state level, city- and county-level government is now more appealing to her. She likes being “on the ground.” She embraces the nitty gritty of living where you work, of people stopping her at the grocery store, “sharing the impact of what’s going on with them and [asking], ‘Can you fix this please?’” “There does need to be more voice for the ‘nuts and bolts,’” she went on. “It gets ignored,” but “it’s just grown on me.”
Aragon is perplexed when her commitment to diversity is challenged. She has been put on the other side of the equation when constituents of other races and ethnicities ask her if she would support their needs. There have been those who wonder if, as an Asian, stereotyped for being quiet, she is “stern enough” to take necessary actions. Since her days on the Governor’s Commission of Asian Pacific American Affairs, Aragon has known that “we are all different communities…We all need different things, yet we’re all in this pool of minorities.”
If Aragon wins this race, she will be the first female Asian King County councilmember in over 40 years. The last person in that role was Ruby Chow. Apart from Girmay Zahilay in district two, the Council is still looking pretty monochromatic. Suffice it to say there is further need for diversity and representation on the Council, two things that are already integral to Aragon’s approach and part of who she is. Her definitions are also more open-ended than many. For her, it’s not just one part of her district, but all of it. Vashon. White Center. Tukwila. It’s not just one part of King County, but all of it.
“I’ve always had an interest in government and its role, and really want it to work well for people,” Aragon said. “That gets me fired up—which is so separate from the politics [where] there’s lots of debate and positioning. At the end of the day, we all know we have a job to do. I want to make sure it’s done well and it’s done equitably, for the people.”
Kai can be reached at email@example.com.