City Hall

2021 Sammamish City Council election guide

Published by
Sharon Huang

Eight candidates are running for four open positions on Sammamish City Council in the upcoming Nov. 2 general election. 

Candidates Josh Amato and Amy Lam are vying for position No. 1. One-term incumbent and current mayor Karen Moran is being challenged by candidate Nazir Harb Michel for position No. 3. Richard Benack and Kali Clark are both contesting position No. 5. Lastly, Karen Howe and Melanie Kelsey are competing for position No. 7. 

On Oct. 6, five of the candidates attended a virtual candidate forum hosted by the Sammamish Independent. They shared their stances on public safety, youth mental health, city budget and financial stability, affordable housing, traffic and local actions to address climate change and more. Moran, Benack and Kelsey declined to join the event.

In addition, the Sammamish Independent has interviewed five of the candidates below, with Moran, Benack and Kelsey also declining our interview invitations.

Position No. 1

Josh Amato

Amato is a Sammamish planning commissioner, a board member for the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), and a small business owner. 

According to his website, focusing on youth mental health is a priority for Amato. He aims to expand the Lake Washington School District’s Mental Health First Aid program, the website states. 

Amato also prioritizes reducing traffic congestion, increasing senior services, and preventing overdevelopment to protect the environment. He proposes a Transportation Benefit District, which will give the city jurisdiction to levy taxes for transportation projects.

On his website, Amato emphasizes the community’s clear “want and need” for an increased police presence. He says he is most concerned about crimes of opportunity such as package theft and car prowls, and wants to see an increase in funding for the city’s “understaffed police.”

Sammamish Independent profile: Amato wants to steer city hall back to basics.

Website: https://joshforsammamish.com

Contact: josh@joshforsammamish.com 

Amy Lam

Lam is a first generation Asian American who has worked over 25 years as a designer. According to her, this background gives her the ability to creatively solve problems and work collaboratively. 

Lam said she wants to bring inclusiveness and empathy to the city council in order to “create solutions that are respectful and accessible by everyone.” Inclusion and innovation are also at the forefront of her agenda, her website states. 

“Leadership from individuals with a variety of lived experiences allows for more innovative solutions,” Lam said on the website.

Lam prioritizes municipal broadband, otherwise known as internet access owned by public entities, to make internet service fast and affordable to all residents. According to her website, she proposes a Technology Advisory Board to make Sammamish a “smart city” like San Jose, California. 

She said Sammamish can improve on its composting and recycling. She wants the city to provide free compost bins, at no cost, to all single family homes. Her website says contracting for food waste pickup should also be required for restaurants and grocery stores in town.

Sammamish Independent profile: Lam has a lot of new ideas for Sammamish.

Website: http://amyforsammamish.com

Contact: vote.amylam@gmail.com

Position No. 3

Nazir Harb Michel

Harb Michel aims to make Sammamish a more walkable city. According to his website, he plans to extend sidewalks in town and better distinguish bike-only lanes for improved accessibility to Issaquah and Redmond.

His priorities focus on government transparency, transportation and traffic, sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion. As one of the wealthiest cities in the country, Michel also believes fiscal responsibility should be “top of mind” for Sammamish. 

Harb Michel said he wants to increase electric vehicle infrastructure and work on eliminating the use of natural gas in buildings. He plans to organize programs on the environment that specifically focus on what residents can do every day and how climate change specifically impacts Sammamish.

With the slogan “Better Together,” he promises to work with the CWU-Sammamish campus to offer community classes on all the cultures, religions and languages that represent everyone in the community. With this goal in mind, he hopes to build bridges between the city’s many “communities of color,” according to his website.

Sammamish Independent profile: Harb Michel wants to make city council more responsive to a diverse community.

Website: https://www.electdrnazir.com

Contact: Nazir@electdrnazir.com

Karen Moran

Moran, who has lived in Sammamish for nearly 30 years, is seeking a second term on the council. She has served as both mayor and deputy mayor during her four-year term.

“My focus is on wise financial management, responsible growth and environmental stewardship,” Moran says on her website. “Sammamish is a bedroom community, growing faster than our roads and budget can accommodate.” 

According to her website, she wants to relieve traffic congestion within the city to improve commutes for residents. She also plans to ensure the city’s transportation options keep pace with growth.

With a focus on tree retention and clean water policies, Moran also promises to be a good steward of the environment and natural resources. 

Her website highlights the importance of using financial resources wisely. She also said an “intimate understanding” of needs and funding options in the city, as well as requirements imposed by the state, is a necessity. 

Moran declined our requests for an interview.

Website: http://www.karen4council.com

Contact: karen@karen4council.com

Position No. 5

Richard Benack

Benack is a former air force intelligence officer, and was responsible for investigating cybercrime and cyberterrorism. He currently uses these skills to stop online fraud in the tech industry, and also works as a private investigator, hypnotherapist and martial arts instructor. 

He said his experience on the Sammamish Human Services Commission has shown him the importance of investing in social services, especially related to mental health. 

Benack is also focused on ensuring public safety along with balancing growth and infrastructure. His website emphasizes concerns about overcrowding in local schools and its overall impact on education.

“As a longtime resident of Sammamish, I have observed our community evolve from a nice small town, to a congested city with failing infrastructure,” he said on his website. 

He argues the city’s increase in traffic is leading to environmental destruction, according to his website. The 20-year resident aims to push for solutions to traffic management and environmental protection.

Benack declined our requests for an interview.

Website: https://www.richbenackforcitycouncil.com

Contact: RichBenack4CityCouncil@Outlook.com

Kali Clark

Clark is a former wildland firefighter for the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), according to her website. She went on to work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) before transitioning to Sound Transit to focus on emergency planning.

Through each of these roles, her website states, she is knowledgeable about policy development, sustainable transportation, emergency management and natural resources. Her work also created opportunities to communicate with a broad range of landowners, municipalities, tribes, agencies and communities toward a common goal, she said.

“I am entering this race to be a bridge between the diverse perspectives and priorities in our community,” she said on her website. “We all want a safe, strong, livable and affordable Sammamish.”

Clark wants to strengthen partnerships within the community to educate residents on sustainable and environmentally-sound development. She aims to “tie progress on sustainability with walkability and livability” in Sammamish so that all community members can thrive in safe, healthy environments, her website states.

Sammamish Independent profile: Clark could make history as city’s first LGBT council member.

Website: https://www.electkaliclark.com

Contact: electkaliclark@gmail.com

Position No. 7

Karen Howe

Howe aims to ensure Sammamish is a more livable city that promotes quality of life and wellbeing for all residents, according to her website. She is running with a focus on growth, transit, housing and youth. 

“I will fight to make Sammamish a community that is safe, beautiful, socially cohesive and inclusive, and environmentally sustainable,” Howe states on her website.

According to her, regional infrastructure has not kept pace with growth and residents are “frustrated with the onslaught of development.” She is committed to bridging the divide between those for and against growth, her website states.

She is interested in bolstering the city’s partnership with A Regional Coalition for Housing (ARCH) to increase housing options, while also seeking more affordable choices. As a transit supporter, she wants to start work on a Sammamish Park & Ride to move residents more efficiently with transit.  

According to her website, 35% of residents in Sammamish are under 18 years old. With anxiety and depression on the rise, she said, there is a need for school therapists and counselors in every school. She said her work as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for foster kids has “opened her eyes tremendously in this area.” 

Sammamish Independent profile: In third run for council, Howe pledges greater community engagement, transparency.

Website: https://electkarenhowe.com

Contact: karen@electkarenhowe.com

Melanie Kelsey

Kelsey is running for city council to combat the overdevelopment and increased traffic in town, according to her website. She is committed to budgetary responsibility, environmental preservation, affordable housing and public safety.

With a long background in finance, her website says, she has experience in “evaluating expenditure and revenue needs” to achieve a balanced budget. Kelsey argues that more work has to be done in order for Sammamish to reach a truly balanced budget.

“We need more than just across the board cuts and nickel and diming every line item,” she said on her website. “We need reductions in programs or increases in revenue.” 

Her campaign is also focused on infrastructure and traffic management, her website states. She claims that population growth has led to over-capacity schools, clogged roads and increased stormwater runoff. The council needs to implement a comprehensive transportation plan before allowing more growth, she said on her website.

Kelsey declined our requests for an interview.

Website: https://www.melanie4sammamish.com

Contact: melanie4samm@gmail.com

Sharon Huang

Sharon Huang attends Eastside Catholic High School and is in the class of 2022. She covers City Hall news for the Sammamish Independent.

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