Second Take: Handicapping the Race for Seattle Mayor

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Photo by Nick Bolton on Unsplash

Time for an update on the Seattle Mayor’s race. The race, in the words of two reluctant candidates, remains “very fluid,” which means that the candidates so far are not exactly world-beaters, leaving the path open for some late deciders to get in. 

That said, here’s my new evaluation. (I’ve dropped quite a few from the earlier tally, not picking up any signals that they might run.) The first number in the rating of each is their likelihood of running, the second one is their likelihood of making it through the August 2021 primary (with 10 being the top score).

Early Ins

Lorena Gonzalez (8/7). The City Council president is the leading candidate, though not yet declared, with strong ties to ethnic groups, social service agencies, and labor. But Gonzalez is a difficult political partner and is said to be toying with some job outside the city council and mayor, since the Seattle stigma hobbles higher ambition. Maybe City Attorney? Maybe County Executive? Maybe run for reelection on the council and keep options open? She has an early start and might sew up key endorsements, slamming the door on other candidates.

Colleen Echohawk (9/6). Positioned somewhat like Gonzalez, the CEO of the Native-run Chief Seattle Club (serving urban Native Americans) is about to jump in. She is relatively unknown and lacks city hall experience, but she is widely liked and admired and serves on numerous influential boards. Her expertise in homelessness issues would be a plus.

Lance Randall (10/3). This Macon, Georgia-native was the first to declare for mayor. He’s an expert on small business, a pro-business Black, and well known in the South End. He’s relatively unknown but has worked in economic development at city hall, has a courtly Southern manner, and will inject some interestingly fresh ideas to propose, particularly on homelessness, using vacant lots and volunteers, modeled on Hillsborough House of Hope near Tampa. 


Early Outs

Brady Pinero Walkinshaw (2/6). Only a week ago quite intrigued by making a mayoral run, this former legislator, former candidate for Congress, former Gates Foundation employee, and current CEO for the environmental website, Grist.org, Walkinshaw surprised many by deciding against it. He would have been a gay candidate, which leaves that “lane” open, along with the urban-environmentalist lane. He says it’s “highly unlikely” that he would run, but I sense the door is still ajar. 

Teresa Mosqueda (2/7). The at-large city councilwoman’s seat is up this year, and she has decided to run for reelection to her council seat. Long-term, she is being groomed to run for Adam Smith’s 9th District Congressional seat, so she may need to temper some of her Seattle Left politics. Strong labor support, and increasingly aligned with the movement-left majority of the council.


Actively Mulling

Greg Wong (5/6). A public-interest lawyer known for his helpful role in education issues, Wong is a Seattle native with a compelling life story and considerable insider respect for his problem-solving skills. Wong would be well positioned to knit together the center-left and left-left factions, running on a platform of vaccinations for the entrenched advocacy and demonizing toxins of current politics. He was urged to run in 2017, and is giving much more serious thought to a race this time. As an unknown, he would have to get started early and have a distinctive message.

Casey Sixkiller (4/6). Son of a famous Husky football star, Sixkiller returned to Seattle to work in Dow Constantine’s shop and is now deputy mayor for Durkan. Before that he worked in public affairs in D.C. Good negotiating skills were evident in the budget wars, but still pretty new to Seattle politics. 

Solynn McCurdy (3/4). A Black candidate who has jumped around in the job market, often as the outside face for such organizations as Seattle U and BECU. Actively exploring a race, but probably not well enough connected.


Lurking

Jessyn Farrell (2/7). The former legislator could run well in Seattle, sounding notes about urbanism, environment, and transit. With Walkinshaw out of the race, that lane is open and Farrell has lots of cred there. But she says it’s “highly unlikely” that she would run, even though she ran for mayor in 2017.

Nikkita Oliver (3/7). A charismatic leftist, Oliver nearly made it into the finals in the 2017 mayoral race, and she would have lots of foot soldiers and maybe the endorsement of The Stranger if she jumped in (a key factor in primary races). She would be a polarizing figure, so a more moderate opponent might do well in the November finals.

Tim Burgess (4/7). Burgess, a former mayor and city councilmember, is busy recruiting mayoral candidates of his center-left hue, but he gives the impression of missing the job. He’s older, white, and too moderate for the present climate, but there are lots of people who want expertise at city hall and more attention to job creation and safe streets.

Dow Constantine (3/8). The county executive is said to have firmly decided to seek reelection not emigrate over to city hall. But a fourth term at the county might not appeal, and if there is no experienced candidate as we get close to filing deadline in May, Dow’s arm will be twisted. He has sure political instincts and manages large public bureaucracies well, but he lacks fire for a new job and most wants to be governor some day.


X-Factors

City Attorney Race. One unresolved question is whether city attorney Pete Holmes will run for reelection. He says he hasn’t decided and won’t give a date for deciding, but even if he runs he might draw a strong challenger. In turn, that could rattle the dominoes in the mayor’s race. Replacing Holmes could be another opportunity to complicate the Leftward-Ho of current Seattle politics, and the position can be a powerful one.

The Sawant Recall is another unknown. As the state Supreme Court takes its time in deciding if the recall is legal, and as the recallers need time to collect all those signatures, those factors seem to have pushed the recall election to the August primary. That means all those Sawant loyalists on the Left will be heavily mobilized (though only in her 3rd district), which could help a candidate like Oliver and complicate the politics for the other mayoral candidates.

Labor. The unions are somewhat split, but the momentum is toward “movement politics” of the woke variety. Lorena Gonzalez has strong connections, but the unions might be wary about her reliability and hold off early, pre-emptive endorsements. They remember the coalitions of business and labor that Ed Murray and Jenny Durkan and Greg Nickels assembled and might look for a candidate, like Constantine, who revives those days of “grand bargains.” 

The Seattle Curse. As Seattle politics veers left and the state is worried about jobs and taxes, some ambitious Seattle figures may want to avoid the stigma of being Seattle mayor, which is a political albatross in the county or statewide. Brady Walkinshaw, for instance, seems mostly interested in national politics, and Lorena Gonzalez would like to be state attorney general. There are three routes for Seattle liberals to shed the curse: city attorney, or prosecuting attorney, or county executive — all of them roadblocked. 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Just learned that Greg Wong has dropped out of the Actively Mulling category and, for family and financial reasons, will not be a candidate. A name said to be joining the Mulling category is former city councilmember Bruce Harrell, retired from the council but long interested in being mayor. Another firm no comes from Tina Podlodowski, once a city councilwoman and now head of the state Democratic Party.

  2. Colleen Echohawk formally entered the mayor’s race today (1/25), sounding notes of bridging the political gulfs in the city. This article by David Kroman of Crosscut notes the continuing hesitation by Lorena Gonzalez, who would be the front runner if she opts into the mayor’s race, and some background on Andrew Grant Houston, whose candidacy I missed. Kroman describes him as “an architect and interim policy manager for Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, [who] announced his urbanist-friendly candidacy shortly after the new year.”
    https://crosscut.com/news/2021/01/colleen-echohawk-joins-race-seattle-mayor?

  3. Hello. Andrew Grant Houston announced on 1/12 and has since qualified for Democracy Vouchers, become the first campaign to unionize, and had a strong showing with grassroots fundraising. Please follow up on your article! We’d love to chat.

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