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Geek of the Week: County Exec Dow Constantine’s passion? Preserving place where he has deep roots

Dow ConstantineDow Constantine
Dow Constantine has been King County Executive since 2009. (Photo courtesy of Dow Constantine)

In a city where it’s easy to meet a newcomer at practically every turn — folks who are drawn to Seattle by its booming tech economy and more — Dow Constantine’s local roots run deep.

The King County Executive, who is GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week, was raised around Alki in West Seattle, where he graduated from high school. His great grandparents came to Everett, Wash., more than a century ago to work in the mills. His mother’s father was the first to go to college, and he played football at the University of Washington. His parents, who married as students at UW, are retired teachers.

“I met my wife Shirley at the University of Washington, when we both worked at the college radio station,” Constantine said, adding that it took a few decades to get around to getting married. “She was very cool. I was less so. I also tended bar, taught skiing, worked in a salmon freezer plant, and so on.”

Constantine earned bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees and went on to practice law before becoming a state representative and senator, and eventually being elected to the King County Council. He has served as King County Executive since 2009.

“Preserving this amazing place and serving the people who live here are my lifelong passions,” Constantine said.

Constantine also weighed in this week on an issue attracting a lot of (loud) voices when it comes to what kind of place Seattle might be, and for whom. In the Puget Sound Business Journal, he said the city’s idea to tax big businesses and jobs is counter-productive and that collaboration is necessary to fight homelessness. Check out his answer to our startup question below.

Now dad to a 3-year-old daughter (and a “considerably older shelter cat”), Constantine said his time away from the office is spent working.

“My time away from that is spent with family, skiing or, when we can get a sitter, catching a show around town.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Dow Constantine:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “King County is home to nearly 2.2 million people — one of the nation’s largest counties and larger than 13 states. Every day, I work with our 14,000 employees to provide vital regional services — from transit to public health, environmental sustainability, and criminal justice. We have a two-year budget of about $11 billion and more than 60 lines of business.

“I have such a deep sense of stewardship for this place — the environment, culture, institutions, and more. I consider it my personal mission to ensure everyone, no matter where they started in life, has the opportunity to thrive.”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “Our continuous improvement campaign is called ‘Best Run Government,’ and we’ve applied new models of employee engagement and innovative problem-solving to local government. Even as population grows and demand for services increases, we have reduced costs without sacrificing quality. We give local businesses tips on how we’ve done it, and the feedback has definitely re-enforced that we’re on the right track.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “Inspiration can strike at any time. During a visit to the University of Washington, researchers explained the importance of early childhood experiences on brain development. We created the Best Starts for Kids initiative to invest in the lives of our youngest residents, and make the most difference for them and their families. As people share their stories, their hopes — and, yes, sometimes their frustrations — we make improvements and make life better for everyone who calls this place home.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “I mean, like most people, my mobile phone keeps me connected everywhere I go, day or night (not always a good thing).”

Dow ConstantineDow Constantine
The conference table in Dow Constantine’s office is made from reclaimed timbers in the King County workshop. (Photo courtesy of Dow Constantine)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “It’s a pretty standard, out-of-date rabbit warren of cubicles. We have plans but can’t afford more than incremental modernization. I at least have a corner office with a door, the centerpiece of which is a long conference table made from reclaimed timbers in our county workshop. It is here that I meet with community members, other elected officials, and staff. Partnerships and collaborations have been the hallmarks of my administration, because I believe that government, business, labor, philanthropy and community can only accomplish what’s needed by working together. On the walls, I have all manner of Husky memorabilia, my dad’s paintings, and a poster of the most magnificent mess of a band ever, The Who — autographed by Pete Townshend himself.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “Try not to eat lunch alone at your desk. Use that time to connect with old friends, or gain insights from new ones.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Windows, of course. From our friendly neighborhood software manufacturer.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Overall, Picard. But Kirk from ‘Wrath of Khan’ is my favorite thing ever.”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Time Machine. Much of my, erm, time is spent contemplating the future we wish to have, or avoid.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Summon the creativity and energy of the tech community to tackle homelessness.”

I once waited in line for … “Sniagrab. Ask your old-school Seattle friends.”

Your role models: “My grandfather Abe Wilson showed what hard work, grit and determination meant — on and off the football field. And our County’s namesake, Martin Luther King — courage, vision, and the ability to inspire us to better ourselves and our nation.”

Greatest game in history: “1926 Rose Bowl. Alabama 20, Washington 19. While my great uncle, All-American George Wilson, was in the game, Alabama did nothing. When he was out for a quarter or so after being intentionally injured, Alabama scored all 20 of its points.”

Best gadget ever: “The smart phone. See answer about gadget I can’t live without.”

First computer: “Leading Edge model D – 8088 processor, 20 mb hard drive, 5 1/4″ floppy drive, monochrome (amber) monitor.”

Current phone: “Samsung Galaxy 9+.”

Favorite app: “Alaska Airlines lets me obsess endlessly over my seat assignment and keeps me from missing my flight.”

Favorite cause: “Regional Animal Services of King County (pet adoptions).”

Most important technology of 2018: “Reusable rockets.”

Most important technology of 2020: “Blockchain everything. And the gizmo we haven’t heard of yet that will autonomously extract and sequester excess atmospheric carbon.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “We want to hear from you. Tell us about your top concerns and ask questions of your local government.”

Website: King County

Twitter: @kcexec

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