After trailing election night and the following two days, Donald Cook overtook incumbent Leslie Hamada in their Kent School Board race.
Cook leads by 208 votes with 50.08% (12,611 votes) compared to Hamada with 49.25% (12,403 votes), according to King County Election results released Monday, Nov. 13, as counting wraps up for the Nov. 7 general election ballot. The write-in votes are at 170.
“Honestly, after that first drop of votes it was disappointing,” Cook said during a Nov. 10 phone interview about taking the lead. “I was down by 300 or more and I wasn’t sure that things would go my way.”
Hamada, in her fourth year on the board, led by 304 votes on Nov. 7 and 314 votes on Nov. 8 before her advantage dropped to 74 votes on Nov. 9. Cook took a lead of 166 v0tes on Nov. 10.
“I had hope the more conservative votes would vote first and I do believe she tends to be more conservative than I am, not that she’s a conservative, but she’s more conservative than I am,” Cook said about his rally.
There were only about 500 or so ballots left to count in the Kent School District on Nov. 10, said Halei Watkins, communications manager for King County Elections. Many of those ballots were counted Nov. 13. Watkins said recounts are not triggered until certification on Nov. 28, but at this time the Cook-Hamada race remains outside of the recount range.
Cook said there were certainly campaign differences.
“I’ve been very positive throughout the campaign and I’ve been told multiple times that people have noticed and I think that’s important,” Cook said. “Leslie started her campaign with a flyer that was negative about all three of us and I think that hurt her campaign.”
That was in the primary when Cook, Stephanie Lawson and Lizz Morgan challenged Hamada. Hamada and Cook advanced out of the primary as the two candidates with the most votes.
Cook said he had dinner with Lawson and Morgan during the primary and each agreed to support each other in a race against Hamada.
“I think it was really sticking to my goal of transparency, accountability and communication,” Cook said about the reasons for his victory. “If we can do those things, I think everything else will fall into place.”
Cook had to overcome raising and spending much less money than Hamada, who raised $24,168 and spent $22,161, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission on Nov. 7. Hamada used most of her own money to hit the $22,161 mark. Cook raised $3,950 and spent $3,239.
“I was surprised,” Cook said about how much Hamada spent. “I went into this race not sure how I would go about any fundraising. Leslie had said she would not do any, but that was prior to anyone else running against her.”
Cook, who said he didn’t spend any of his own money, can’t wait to get started on the board.
“I’m excited,” Cook said. “I want to get to work. That’s been my plan all along. I just want to get in there and help get the district to the place where it needs to be to pass our levies and bond.”
One levy on the Nov. 7 ballot is passing while the other levy is failing. Voters turned down a bond in April.
Hamada issued the following response when contacted by the Kent Reporter.
“While we started off with a huge lead, we had received over 50% support in initial ballot returns, I am grateful to the voters of the Kent School District for putting their trust and faith in me,” Hamada said in a Nov. 10 email. “Working for children has been for me the highest calling.”
Hamada had a lengthy list of political endorsements, including former Democratic State Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington; state Sen. Claudia Kauffman, D-Kent; State Rep. Chris Stearns, D-Auburn; State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines; King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove; and Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.
“The long list of endorsements came from people I know well and have many memories of what we did together,” Hamada said.
Despite the defeat, Hamada credited her campaign team.
“My guys putting out signs in the rain, sleet and wind are the best,” she said. “I had the most talented campaign consultant. I have the best support team in the 47th (District).”
Hamada said she decided to spend her own money rather than seeking campaign donations.
“I have never been good at asking for money just for me,” she said. “The causes I support is very different and asking for them comes easy. The school director position has a small stipend each year and the money I personally invested in my campaign came from that.
“I never took the job for pay. It is a true job and few have the time to give the job what is needed. Several supporters gave money and I thank them. At present, education from many areas is facing huge challenges and board directors face a great deal of criticism.”
Hamada had a final summary comment.
“It looks as if we will lose this race by a small number,” she said. “I wish whoever sits in a board director’s seat the best because our kids deserve it.”
Incumbent Meghin Margel is defeating Andy Carter 58.26% to 41.29% to retain her position on the five-member board.
Andy Song ran unopposed to replace Joe Bento, who didn’t seek reelection. Tim Clark and Awale Farah are the other board members.
Turnout in the Kent School District was 27.74% of registered voters, according to King County Elections. There are 102,928 registered voters in the district and 28,557 ballots have been counted with fewer than 500 ballots left to count.