Habib says he is an education, transportation advocate
By SAM PAK
Kirkland Reporter Reporter
August 1, 2012 · Updated 5:19 PM
Cyrus Habib was 8 years old when he first learned to advocate for himself.
A second round of retinoblastoma, a rare type of eye cancer, had just taken the last of his eyesight and his freedom at recess. He was forced to play close to the school playground monitors because officials at Stevenson Elementary School in Bellevue didn’t want him to get hurt.
“This was hugely demoralizing to me,” said Habib, who now lives in Kirkland.
His mother, a lawyer, stood up for him.
She signed a liability waiver, absolving the school from responsibility if Habib was injured, and brought him to the playground on weekends so he could learn his way around the equipment without his eyesight.
Now 30, Habib is the Democratic candidate running to replace retiring Rep. Deb Eddy, D-Kirkland, for the 48th Legislative District, Pos. 2. He wants to fight for others as his mother did for him.
Education and transportation
Habib, a Bellevue attorney whose opponent is Redmond City Council member and Republican Hank Myers, said that, if elected, the biggest battle he wants to fight is for higher standards in public schools. A product of the Bellevue School District and member of the second graduating class of the International School, he said it is an important investment for society as a quality education leads to a trained workforce.
Habib also wants to work to improve affordability and accessibility in higher education. As a board member for Bellevue College, he said he is worried about the cost of community college being shifted to students — especially since many are putting themselves through school.
Habib filed to run for office in February when Eddy announced her retirement. He said since then he has knocked on more than 7,000 doors in the district, adding that it is important to meet voters and learn what issues they are concerned about.
Like him, he said many of the people he spoke with were concerned about Washington’s education system.
Habib said he also wants to address transportation, including the congestion on Interstate 405. He said it is important to invest in projects and services such as link light rail and RapidRide because they are vital to the state’s 21st century transportation grid.
Habib has worked as an intern for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and, while studying at Columbia University in New York, he interned for U.S. Sen. Hilary Clinton. His first day with Clinton’s office was three days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Habib, an Iranian American, said this was a very intense time to work for a U.S. senator.
“I spent most of that time helping businesses and individuals relocate (from lower Manhattan to other areas of New York),” he said, adding that this experience gave him insight into how public officials can help the public.
Habib also has been part of a movement to make U.S. currency accessible to the blind and testified before Congress on the issue. He said other countries’ currencies can be differentiated tactilely — whether by different-sized bills, with Braille or other methods. Habib noted that 70 percent of the country’s working-age blind population is unemployed and part of this is due to the fact that many entry-level jobs require the ability to differentiate among bills.
For Habib, this experience showed him there are pockets of injustice in areas that often go unnoticed, but still affect a lot of people.
“I believe my perspective will be new to Olympia,” he said.
Keeping startups in Washington
After graduating from Columbia, Habib received a Rhodes Scholarship and studied English literature at the University of Oxford in England. He then followed his mother’s footsteps and attended law school at Yale University in New Haven, Conn. He said he chose Yale Law School because it has a real commitment to public service and produces well-rounded lawyers who understand the role of the law in society.
Habib is in his fourth year as an attorney at Perkins Coie, a law firm based in Bellevue. He works in the firm’s business practice and focuses on emerging companies, licensing and technology and corporate governance and transactions. He mostly works with startups, largely in the high-tech industry.
Habib, whose father is an engineer at Boeing, said his job has given him insight to what the state can do to encourage and promote startups in Washington so they don’t leave for Silicon Valley, Austin or elsewhere in the country.
Support from others
Since Habib filed for candidacy he has raised $187,393 for his campaign and spent $135,081, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission (PDC). He said his campaign has held a few fundraising events, but much of the money has been raised online.
Habib’s endorsements include Cantwell, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee. Locally, he has been endorsed by King County Executive Dow Constantine, the mayors of Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland and a number of city council members from each jurisdiction.
He said the endorsements from the city mayors, 48th Legislative District Rep. Ross Hunter (Pos. 1) and 48th Legislative District Sen. Rodney Tom as well as the League of Education Voters have been the most meaningful ones he has received.