Election 2013

As Redistricting Commissioner, King County Council Hopeful Dembowski Argued for Boundaries Placing His House in District

As a member of the King County redistricting committee, potential Bob Ferguson successor Rod Dembowski argued for changes that placed his house in Ferguson's former district.

By Erica C. Barnett January 23, 2013

Did King County Districting Committee member Rod Dembowski, one of three finalists to fill the King County Council seat being vacated by Bob Ferguson, who won election as attorney general in November, redraw district boundaries so that he'd be eligible to run for Ferguson's seat?

Looking at the map of Ferguson's former district, whose boundaries were shifted as part of the county's once-a-decade redistricting process (which coincides with redistricting at the state and federal levels), one thing is clear: As of the fourth draft, in August 2011, the southern boundary of the district (which extends from Shoreline to North Seattle) was NE 70th St., about three blocks north of Dembowski's house. (That boundary is shown in red below).

By the fifth and final version, three weeks later, the southern boundary was one block south of Dembowski's house, on 65th Ave. NE (that boundary is in green), sweeping his house into the redrawn map.


"It appears Rod used his privileged position on a taxpayer-funded commission to influence and finalize a council district map that moved boundary lines to include his home, therefore favoring his run for an open council seat," says state Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-32, Shoreline), one of the other two finalists. (The third finalist is Shoreline City Council member Will Hall). 

According to a transcript of the committee's September 7, 2011 meeting, Dembowski argued for the more southern 65th Ave. boundary, saying it made more sense because it serves as "a natural geographic boundary" that keeps cities like Shoreline together in a single district.

However, his fellow committee member John Jensen expressed concern that changing the boundary "is a pretty significant move" for which "there needs to be a rationalization" to move thousands of people from the 2nd District, immediately to the south, into the 1st. Committee chair Chris Carroll, meanwhile, called the new line an "oddball arrangement." 

Reached by phone today, Dembowski—a Ferguson supporter (he's contributed about $4,500 to Ferguson's campaigns over the years)—denied trying to redraw district boundaries so that he'd be eligible fill Ferguson's old seat, and said he recused himself from the process of drawing the boundaries to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest. (Ferguson announced he was running for AG in February 2011). 

"I know there’s this thing out there—did he draw himself into the district?" Dembowski says. "If I was fixing this, I wouldn’t have drawn the line there." Instead, he suggests, it might have benefited him more to draw the line as an earlier version of the district map did, splitting Shoreline—home to both of his opponents, Ryu and Hall—in half along I-5.

"One of the things we were charged with was keeping communities together. It made sense that it was on 65th—that's a major thoroughfare. As someone who lives there, I certainly agreed with that."

"If I had been involved in creating a district that benefited me, we would have had a map that goes down to the ship canal and split shoreline" in half, Dembowski says. "It made sense to keep all those cities together. I think it's a really good district."

Dembowski also points out that the King County Municipal League concluded, in its 2011 report on redistricting, that the county committee's process "was conducted with integrity and without improper influences, that it meaningfully sought and considered public input, and that the Districting Committee’s consensus map of redrawn district boundaries meets the goals set forth in federal and state statutes and in the County Charter."


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