Coming Soon: Contest for Seattle
By Jean Godden
A deluge of candidates -- 55 of them -- were running for seats on the Seattle City Council. On Aug. 6, we said goodbye to 41 hopefuls, leaving 14 contenders to battle over Seattle's future.
Whatever the final outcome, the Seattle City Council seated Jan. 2, 2020, will be a different body. At least four councilmembers will be newcomers, replacing incumbents who aren't running. The three remaining incumbents survived but must face opponents of varying strength. Two or the three (Kshama Sawant and Debora Juarez) received less than 50 percent of the vote, not an encouraging sign
The August 6 primary election took place amid summer vacations and angst-ridden distractions. The word on Seattle's streets more often concerned national turmoil and the tragic August shootings.
But the election did not go unnoticed in Seattle. Turnout in the city itself varied from one council district to another, but it averaged over 40 percent -- not bad for an election without national implications. There were no presidential or congressional contests to drive enthusiasm.
Local commentators are still trying to make sense of what the voters were saying. Some insisted that, despite rhetoric espoused by the "Seattle Is Dying" crowd, the electorate wasn't saying: "Throw the bums out." But results were a mixed bag: much more nuanced than overnight punditry. Here are a few takeaways:
Libraries are beloved: Seattle's Proposition One, a levy to help fund city libraries for the next seven years, was passing with breathtaking approval -- 75 percent at last count. Earlier there had been concerns over the property tax increase and rhetoric from those who oppose the libraries' need for levy support. But overwhelming approval shows voters' loyalty to our incredible library system.
Democracy vouchers work: Seattle's experiment with giving each resident four $25 coupons to spend on city candidates is paying off for those who agree to campaign contribution and expenditure limits. Vouchers encouraged dozens who said they wouldn't have run otherwise. The innovative program has gained national attention as a way to limit candidates' reliance on monied donors.
Independent expenditures are soaring: One downside of limiting what candidates can ask of donors (capped at $500) is the dramatic increase in independent expenditures -- those PACs that can spend unlimited amounts as long as they don't coordinate with campaigns. Large amounts were spent on behalf of candidates and on negative ads skewering opponents.
Newspaper endorsements matter: More than in most years, candidates benefitted enormously from backing from either the Seattle Times or The Stranger. The 14 finalists all were endorsed by one publication or the other.
Homelessness isn't the only issue: Although homelessness concerns figured heavily in the election, two major "Seattle Is dying" candidates, Third District candidate Pat Murakami and Second District hopeful Ari Hoffman, didn't outlast the primary.
Business backing counts: The PACs that drew financial backing from business interests -- the Chamber of Commerce's Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE) and former Councilmember Tim Burgess' People for Seattle (POS) -- had a good rate of success.
Labor backing misfired: The Martin Luther King County Labor Council, ordinarily a major player in city elections, didn't fare well. Two heavily endorsed candidates, Zachary DeWolf in the Third District and Emily Meyers in the Fourth, did not make it through the primary. Then there was the curious case of Seventh District winner Andrew Lewis. He attracted one of labor's largest expenditures -- a $150,000 ad buy from Unite Here, Local 8. However, the ads focused on an odd theme ("Andrew Lewis grew up near Edith Macefield's house"), a head-scratcher since Lewis is running elsewhere and Edith only wanted to be left alone.
These are a few random conclusions from the primary election. But one thing is for certain: This is a change election. Not since the 1970s days of CHECC on Seattle, a progressive slate designed to transform the council, has there been so much opportunity to set the city's future course.
As a voter in this change election, you will need to know as much as possible about your district finalists. You should examine every statement, question every campaign promise and don't fall for word salad ("evidence-based priorities"). If you have concerns, the candidates should respond. If you want the best city possible, these are the folks to endorse, to work for, to contribute toward and the ones that you'll want to elect in November. Our city depends on you.