First Take: Handicapping Contenders for Seattle’s Next Mayor

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Photo by Jake Schumacher on Unsplash

The Seattle Mayor’s race in 2021 will likely draw a crowd of candidates. (Or maybe not, since the job is widely thought to be impossible and a bad career move.) One incentive this coming year is an open seat, since Mayor Jenny Durkan decided (early enough to give candidates a running start) not to seek a second term. Another inducement is Democracy vouchers, funding by citizens, which will be available to fund mayoral candidates for the first time. Many of the candidates will not be “serious,” meaning they lack the backing of some of the key interest groups needed to be viable or to dominate a “lane,” but run anyway, for self-advancement or ideological reasons.

Some in our list below might decide to run for the other slots in the 2021 election, such as the two at-large city council seats (currently held by Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda), or city attorney (now held by Pete Holmes). Presumably, the Gonzalez seat will also be an open contest, assuming (as we do) that Gonzalez runs for mayor. A crowded field means that some viable but narrow-appeal candidates could well survive the primary, where only 15-20 percent is needed to advance to the general election. 

The usual campaign analysis looks at “lanes” and whether they are crowded or relatively vacant. One obvious lane is labor (the biggest player in local politics and an effective veto), likely with Gonzalez as the front runner in this lane. Another lane is business, economic recovery, the downtown, as well as some neighborhood business districts: no real front runner in this lane (yet). A third lane is young/outsider, the local equivalent of the Mayor Pete lane; there are some prospects in the list below.

A fourth lane is the environmentalist/urban density/transit/bikes complex of issues, which Mayor Mike McGinn and Cary Moon (finalist against Mayor Durkan in 2017) used; Brady Walkinshaw might comandeer this lane. The final lane is social-justice/anti-racism/minority empowerment, drawing support from Berniecrats, Black Lives Matter, housing for the homeless, and the CHOP protesters; likely to lead this lane are Colleen Echohawk and Jessyn Farrell. 

Past mayors such as Greg Nickels, Ed Murray, and Jenny Durkan have tended to combine three volunteer- and donor-rich lanes: labor, urbanist greens and developers, and business. The failure of Mayor Durkan to hold that normally-winning coalition together indicates the need for a new trifecta this time. The business part of the old electoral troika is back on its heels in this capitalist-suspicious city, even though the recession and the plight of downtown might give more incentive for a candidate who can help restart the economy. A new factor: being older or a white straight male are now significant handicaps. 

Who might run and who might win? 

Below is a list of possible candidates, with annotations about their chances and attributes. Various sources and Post Alley writers chipped in to create this first-cut consensus on candidates and their chances. Each candidate below is rated on a 1-10 scale (10 being the best score) for two criteria: (the first number) likely to get in the mayor’s  race, and (second number) chances of surviving the August primary. The ones at the top of the list are most likely to be the leading prospects.

Please use the Comments section to list names we’ve overlooked and adjust our “math.”

22 Possibles:

  • Lorena Gonzalez (8/7), city council president who almost ran for mayor in 2017. If Durkan resigns early, Gonzalez would be acting mayor, a big advantage. Attorney, Hispanic, has run citywide, very ambitious, strong base with social-justice constituencies and labor unions, women, and ethnic groups. She once served as Mayor Ed Murray’s staff attorney. Obstacles: once-friendly business interests have cooled, difficult colleague, doesn’t easily gain allies, low voter approval of city council will hamper her.
  • Colleen Echohawk (8/7), CEO of The Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, a native-led organization serving homeless and other services; Native American, well-liked, broad connections through many community boards, thought likely able to mediate between Left-Left and Center-Left, relatively unknown and light on management experience.
  • Brady Pinero Walkinshaw (5/6). Now publisher of Grist (a Seattle-based national environmental website), so able to raise national environmental money early (which can discourage opponents); 43rd District legislator for four years; worked at Gates Foundation; challenged Jim McDermott before McDermott exited from his 7th Congressional seat but then lost against the formidable Pramila Jayapal. Spread thin, gay, very smart, Hispanic mother, strong campaigner, social justice and environmentalist orientation but also some establishment connections, young (36).
  • Jessyn Farrell (4/7). Former legislator, former executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition so a strong advocate for rail transit; Seattle native, attorney, strong left connections now working for Nick Hanauer’s progressive think tank; probably won’t run unless Gonzalez withdraws or falters, leaving that path open; dynamic campaigner who ran as a progressive for mayor in 2017.
  • Casey Sixkiller (5/5). Deputy Mayor for Durkan, where he has impressed by his negotiating skills, son of a famous Husky quarterback, Native American, was a business lobbyist in D.C. and worked for Dow Constantine before joining Durkan’s staff. Famous name, but would have Durkan and past lobbying baggage.
  • Lance Randall (10/2). Already declared as a mayoral candidate, with economic development credentials from SE Seattle. Unknown longshot, but has advantage of an early start.  
  • Nikkita Oliver (3/6). Came in a strong third in mayor’s race for 2017, very popular with young and populist left, poet, CHOP frequenter and charismatic campaigner; disinclined to run for now, but maybe a last-minute entrant if socialist left lacks a candidate; polarizing figure.
  • Dow Constantine (5/7). Entrenched three-term County Executive, so a move to the hazardous city post would be a surprise, a pay cut, and a risk for a cautious candidate also up for reelection this year in the county and whose real goal is to be governor. Strong manager, attracts top staffers, engagingly laid-back campaigner, has solid and broad constituent support and is well known; appeals to independents and business, so might have the pragmatist/experienced lane all to himself (and liabilities of a long voting record). Toying with running but likely to hold back and see how the race shapes up first.
  • Pam Banks (3/6). Now back in town to head the mayor’s office of equitable investments; former head of the Urban League and unsuccessful candidate against Kshama Sawant in 2015; well-known and respected African American leader.
  • Gael Tarleton (3/7). Was Port Commissioner, legislator, and near-miss candidate for Secretary of State; a real pro with Queen Anne political base. Good candidate for the professional-women, Emily’s-List lane that Durkan occupied.
  • Solynn McCurdy (4/6). An intriguing African-American candidate who did public outreach for Seattle U, was CEO for Social Ventures Partners (ex-techies network) and now works equity issues for BECU Foundation. A good year for electing Black politicians, and McCurdy is exploring a race where he has ideal credentials for the current realities.
  • Sen. Joe Nguyen (3/6). A young Vietnamese-American from West Seattle, works at Microsoft; in Legislature focuses on two very salient issues: housing and police relations. West Seattle is a good moderate/liberal base to run from, mixing Boeing bungalows with Capitol Hill vibe, and Nguyen would be positioned as a moderately experienced but fresh “outsider.”
  • Teresa Mosqueda (2/7). At-large city councilmember so would have to risk her seat if she runs for mayor; close ally with Gonzalez, former union organizer so very popular with labor; insists she’s decided to run for council seat again, but if Gonzalez falters, labor might twist her arm.  
  • Scott Lindsay (3/2). Outspoken law and order critic of current police and homeless policies; more likely to run for city attorney and would be anathema to the movement left. The neighborhood/homeowner and pro-police lane is wide open, but likely a political dead end.
  • Sen. Bob Hasegawa (4/4). Ran for mayor in 2017, has a strong base in SE Seattle and (older) social-justice voters.
  • Rod Dembowski (3/7). Forceful Democrat on County Council, attorney and a skilled legislator who may want a bigger arena. 
  • Kenny Stuart (3/5). Head of the Firefighters Union, admired widely and well versed in city politics; would have union support and voter appeal of being a fireman. His union is moderate and among the first to jump in behind candidates.
  • Tim Burgess (2/7). Moderate, highly effective former city councilmember and interim mayor who has earlier toyed with and declined running for mayor; possible last-minute recruit, but is likely too moderate and an “old white guy.”  Currently an effective “shadow mayor.”
  • John McKay, (2/6). Fled the GOP after being bounced from his job as outspoken U.S. Attorney, hails from a notable Catholic political family (as does Durkan), lawyer, idealist in the Dan Evans tradition, forceful campaigner, very connected, and maybe needs a new political hill to climb. As lawyer for the Recall Sawant effort he will create enemies and raise his profile.
  • John Wilson (3/4). As County Assessor, former journalist and public-affairs consultant Wilson has positioned himself for higher office by stressing affordable housing; hopes to ascend to county exec, but may be tired of waiting for Constantine to vacate the office and run for governor.
  • Tom Douglas (2/5). Could be a celebrity candidate, with wide connections in the city, but his libertarian views make him a poor match for woke Seattle.
  • Greg Wong (2/5). A good-guy public-interest attorney with city hall and school district experience. Asian-American, Seattle native, highly trusted, relatively unknown but admired by insiders and could actually run city hall well. 

17 Not-gonna-happens:

  • Bruce Harrell, a strong campaigner with Black and Asian roots, but checked out of Seattle politics
  • Maud Daudon, former deputy mayor for Paul Schell, and CEO of Chamber of Commerce; almost ran for mayor in 2017
  • Chukundi Salisbury, ran for legislature and part of an important Black family
  • Reuven Carlyle, power in the Senate and no interest in being mayor, strong connections with tech economy and green economy
  • Jamie Pedersen, highly respected gay senator from NE Seattle, on a rising track in Olympia
  • Nicole Macri, Rep. from 43rd District and deeply knowledgeable on homeless and poverty issues
  • Jordan Royer, son of former mayor, worked for Mayors Rice, Schell, and Nickels; insider cred but positioned as a centrist
  • Shaun Scott, ally of Sawant and the Socialist Left, more set on running again for city council  
  • Eddie Vedder, politically savvy Pearl Jam singer and activist. Could easily self-fund his campaign and has celebrity status
  • Cary Moon, runner-up to Durkan in 2017 and endorsed by The Stranger for her urbanist battle against the Waterfront Park and tunnel
  • Carmen Best, former Police Chief who resigned in protest over council; Black, effective speaker, popular, but decided to pass
  • Zachary DeWolf, gay Native American on School Board who toyed with running against Sawant in 2019
  • Tom Albro, monorail owner and former Port commissioner with strong civic bent; a bridge-builder
  • Bill Bryant, former Port commissioner and independent/Republican candidate for governor; good business/trade connections
  • Kshama Sawant, firebrand Trotskyite on city council and not likely to do well in citywide race; tied down fighting recall
  • David Frockt, admired state senator from NE Seattle, attorney, pragmatic, but too smart to heed a mayoral siren
  • Peter Steinbrueck, president of the Port Commission, former city councilmember and unsuccessful mayoral candidate. 
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David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and Crosscut.com. His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Would you please describe your ranking methodology, including that for “Not gonna happen”?

    Also, would you please do a similar article for Seattle City Attorney and King County Prosecutor? People in these roles create the framework for a lot of City and County policy. Can you name QUALIFIED candidates i.e., candidates whose record of legal actions is roughly equivalent to the incumbents’?

    Is anyone recruiting qualified candidates for City Attorney and County Prosecutor from other states and regions (albeit, candidates who employ a somewhat different legal strategy)? If so, could you name them (and their organization?)

  2. No one is really recruiting, though labor unions are certainly active. The moderates who tried to recruit, including for city council, are very discouraged by the unwillingness of strong candidates to run. As for the methodology, it was to talk to knowledgeable folks and then form my own consensus and ratings. You are right for the city attorney and prosecutor, though both incumbents are very entrenched. Not sure if city attorney Pete Holmes will seek a new term, and he may have serious opposition this time. Prosecutor Dan Satterburg is probably invulnerable.

  3. Fong is a respected deputy mayor, deeply knowledgeable about city hall but unknown to the public and cautious. I gather he considered it and thought better of running, but things are still fluid. I’m dubious that someone so associated with Durkan would do well in a race.

  4. Thanks for the interesting list of possible contenders.

    Curious, though, why did you list Eddie Vedder but not Duff McKagan from Guns n Roses (who has been outspoken about the state of Seattle and semi-seriously joked about running)? Duff seems like someone who might get out there, just to have his voice/issues heard in the primary.

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