An interview with Councilmember Larry Gossett

By Jimmy’a (jih-MY-uh) Carter, a summer intern for the Executive’s Office Customer Service team. Jimmy’a, a 16 year old who will be a junior this fall at West Auburn High School, plans to attend a four-year college and get a degree in youth counseling. She joins us from the Bridge to Prosperity mentoring program.

Pictured: From left, Councilmember Larry Gossett and author Jimmy’a Carter.

Last month, I was so excited to do an interview with King County Councilmember Larry Gossett because I had heard he has done good things for our community, and through his policies and activism he has had a huge impact on the residents of this county. It was very interesting getting to meet someone like that because a lot of people don’t get that opportunity.

Councilmember Gossett grew up in Seattle in a close family. He played all-city basketball, and even boxed from age eight to 23.  By the time he was at Seattle’s Franklin high school, he was already known as an activist fighting for people like him: who had grown up in poverty, and who didn’t have a lot of opportunities. After he graduated from high school, he went to the University of Washington.

During that time, he was a student activist and helped found the school’s Black Student Union. He also joined the VISTA community organizing group, which introduced him to new experiences and opportunities that he said that had a big impact on his life.

After graduating from college in 1967, he worked for and ran a local non-profit organizations serving communities of color. In 1993, he ran for King County Council for the first time, and won. 24 years later, he has been re-elected eight times.

Some of the work that he is most proud of is helping to make the county’s Drug Court and Mental Health Court a reality. After he learned that many people who commit crimes are also struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, or untreated mental health issues, he worked closely with fellow councilmembers, County Executives, and the courts to call for building and funding drug and mental health courts so that struggling residents get the help they need.

A lot of people were angry and didn’t like the special courts or the costs. But so far, the program has been successful at helping lots of people stay out of jail.

Councilmember Gossett is currently following progress on construction of a new family justice center, which he supported, with programs to help families and support youth to stay out of jail and off of the streets. He is also trying to work with other leaders in the area to make jobs more available for unemployed King County residents, especially youth and the growing number of people who live in poverty.

He also believes that we need more housing in King County. Thousands of residents struggle to afford housing in this area, even though there are many global and national companies here with good paying jobs available.

But most of those jobs require at least a high school diploma, technical skills, or advanced education. Councilmember Gossett feels that everyone should be able to get a good job that pays livable wages based on their ability to do the job, even if they don’t have an expensive education. “Why does an education determine whether you’re fit for the job or not?” Gossett asked. “Many of our most creative people don’t have formal training.”

Councilmember Gossett likes being one of nine councilmembers who get to help make policies for improving the area for county residents. He said he has no plans to retire, but one day hopes to use the knowledge from his long career in public service to teach policy and development back at the UW.

For now, he is focused on his job serving the county and in his spare time is writing a book about his colorful and inspiring life, which has taken him from poverty to a powerful position where he can help those who struggle to get ahead, just like he did.

I think Councilmember Larry Gossett is a great asset to King County because he cares about the community, he works to make changes that make people’s lives better, and he uses his voice and power to help the people who do not have the same opportunities.