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Thursday, May 6, 2021

Seattle Elections Update, Hogwarts Edition: Sorting Lanes and Contenders

Photo by Andrew McElroy on Unsplash

The Seattle races for City Hall positions are beginning to sort themselves into “lanes” and favorites, so it’s time for an update. My numerical evaluations (with 10 the top score) are, respectively, for likely to win the primary and likely to win the general election.

Mayor

Still on the Side of the Pool

Two likely-to-run candidates for mayor are still holding fire, apparently because each wants to be last-one-in. That’s a dubious distinction, but it likely has to do with avoiding negative attacks and also seeing if there’s enough support. These two are Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller (3/4), who would run in the center-left lane, and Art Langlie (2/3), who would run as a candidate who wants to revive Seattle’s can-do spirit  and make peace with the business community. Both would be long-shots, and both would chip away at the business support for Bruce Harrell. Each may be weighing the support Harrell is able to get.

Front-runner

Bruce Harrell (8/6), a former city council-member, lawyer, and Japanese-African American, is the leading business-friendly candidate, though he has been positioning himself as the ethnic politician he somewhat resembles. He will have lots of financial support and endorsements, but his record on the council was undistinguished. So far, he has been able to reposition himself as a woke Seattle politician deploring attacks on Asian Americans. We’ll see how long that stance will hold up as the Left attacks his business support. I expect Harrell to survive the September primary and then, depending on his opponent, to have trouble shedding the business albatross in the final election in November.

Contenders

There will be a serious race for one of the other candidates to survive the primary. In a crowded field, it only takes about 18 percent of a low-turnout primary election to make it into the finals. Some handicapping:

City Council President Lorena Gonzalez (6/8). She is the consensus candidate for the labor-left-ethnic lane, but she faces some obstacles. Running for mayor from the city council is historically tough to do, since the council is very unpopular and Gonzalez could get mired down in explaining tough votes and council blunders. It’s not clear how strong and forthright a candidate she will be. She has labor support, but some of it might be tepid due to her me-first political style. If labor puts in a lot of money in an independent-expenditure campaign, that could swing it for her. Council candidates for mayor are often the front-runners in the early stages of the race, owing to their name-familiarity, but tend to fade in the stretch to outsider candidates.

Jessyn Farrell (7/7), a former state legislator and transit advocate, is certainly an ambitious and rising talent to watch. She will try to occupy the green/transit/density lane and position herself as a young, determined, experienced make-things-happen candidate. A key for her is whether her boss, Nick Hanauer, uses his wealth for a generous independent-expenditure campaign, and if labor splits off from Gonzalez. Farrell will create some uncertainty for voters by her early retirement from the legislature, too-early race for mayor in 2017, and a sense that transit in Seattle is a mission-accomplished. 

Colleen Echohawk (7/8) is a Native American non-profit executive with a good deal of hands-on experience with working on homelessness. She is well liked and positions herself as an honest broker for Seattle’s broken politics. She is also playing the Biden card — the person everyone likes. So far, she has not shown a willingness to separate herself from the city council consensus (other than favoring the charter amendment on homelessness). The independent expenditure to watch for would come from Tribes. Her obstacles are lack of experience in government and maybe a temperament too genial to carve away votes from Gonzalez.

Andrew Grant Houston (3/4) is an unknown, radical, queer, Black, Latino architect who has raised good money via the Democracy Vouchers. He recalls Cary Moon’s appeal, she being the surprise finalist in the 2017 primary. Houston is almost a parody of modern Seattle politics: tiny homes, deep green, rent-control, and so on. He will hold down the left corner, just as Langlie might articulate the moderate counter-revolution. But I doubt the voters have much appetite for another inexperienced Mike McGinn.

Other Races

Some early handicapping:

Charter Amendment 29 on homelessness

Its debut has gone fairly well, aside from the expected digs. The Left regards it as a stealth-sweeps agenda and demands new taxes to fund the housing component. Some in the business community wonder if CA29 actually has teeth, might backfire (by making removal of encampments legally more difficult), and is a bad-precedent use of a charter amendment to tell the council and the next mayor exactly what to do (good luck with that).

CA 29 hasn’t proven much of a wedge issue in separating the homeless doves from hawks, since it’s pretty easy to equivocate by saying it’s a good idea, but only if there are new taxes. Backers hope is that voters will see that it at least does something, which the city hall crowd has not been able to do, amid a growing voter fury over encampments. (Note that progressive Austin, Texas just voted to override its city council by reinstating a ban on homeless encampments in public spaces.) Backers of CA29 will have plenty of money, but opponents will not, so it is likely to pass.

City Attorney

When the current city attorney Pete Holmes (8/6), who has served since 2009, announced for a fourth term, you could hear one hand clapping. The custom is for a rising star on the city attorney’s staff to step up, or someone to emerge with demonstrated rapport with police and prosecutors and city departments (which Holmes lacks). Efforts to find such a candidate, while extensive, proved fruitless, despite a growing national backlash against soft-on-crime prosecutors.

Instead, an unknown Microsoft attorney, Steve Fortney (5/5), got into the race. Holmes has a lock on progressive constituencies and will be very difficult to topple. Fortney, 43, raised in Bellevue and with considerable legal experience but a novice in politics, will try to stake out firmer positions on criminal prosecution and homelessness than Holmes’ catch-and-release policies, without getting branded as too conservative. He sorta-favors the charter amendment, despite the fact that if he becomes city attorney he might have to defend it. Missing the chance to bounce Holmes to effect a “climate change” at city hall, and to launch a political career (previous city attorneys Doug Jewett and Mark Sidran both ran for mayor) adds up to another big whiff or missed opportunity for Seattle politics.

City Council

The open, at-large city council seat, since Gonzalez is vacating it to run for mayor, took an odd twist this past week. A leading candidate, Brianna Thomas (6/8), was outed as being an officer for Working Washington, a labor-led group that lobbies the city, including Thomas, chief of staff for Gonzalez. This cosy arrangement will likely cost both Thomas and her boss, and it demonstrates how much the Left has captured city hall. Thomas, who is Black and an effective advocate for Gonzalez’s progressive positions, is in a three-way race for Gonzalez’s seat. The likely beneficiary of the Thomas story is Nikkita Oliver (6/6), an outspoken radical with a passionate following, our AOC. If Oliver survives the primary, she may face Sarah Nelson (7/7), a moderate businesswoman and civic nerd who could easily claim the center and prevail in November over Oliver. The other open seat will be a walk for Teresa Mosqueda (9/9), whose solid labor backing has scared off any real opponents for this city-wide position.

Recall Sawant

Both sides have raised a ton of money on the recall effort (a combined $972,000), which may or may not be on the November ballot (only District 3 voters get to sign the recall petition and vote on the recall). Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant is such a magnet for media attention that the recall may overshadow other civic races, drowning out their issues. In addition, the spotlight on Sawant’s dominating role on the city council might serve to discredit Gonzalez and Thomas, and other members of the near-majority Sawant Squad. That could help Sarah Nelson, as well as the “outsider” candidates for mayor. It’s still a wild card: Voters may be tired of the endless relitigating of the Sawant election (and Sawant’s tedious rhetoric), and that disgust in turn might produce a “broom” election. Or it might serve to rally the progressive legions for other candidates.

County Executive

The semi-surprise here is the challenge to Dow Constantine (8/8), cruising to a fourth term, from fellow Democrat, state Sen. Joe Nguyen (4/4) of BurienThis might be interesting — an ambitious Vietnamese American challenging from the left an entrenched white dude. But Constantine’s vulnerability is to his right, where a challenger could make the case that Dow has been seduced by the siren songs of the Seattle progressives. If the Republicans had any good candidates, they might attack Dow’s flank if he is wounded by the primary or driven farther left to fend off Nguyen. Constantine still enjoys plenty of business support, which has been impressed by his effective staff and managerial smarts. And he is busy building up mailing lists and non-Seattle support for a future run for governor, when he would have to modify his pro-Seattle politics. 

David Brewster
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.

Post Alley welcomes comments to our articles. Our guidelines: no personal attacks, stay on topic, add something of value to the discussion. Our editors will edit comments for clarity and to conform with our guidelines. We encourage writers to use their full names.

7 COMMENTS

  1. The article looks at mayor’s race through prism if interest groups. Endorsements and independent expenditures. Another possibility: One candidate is clear and forthright, appealing on issues and in person, and simply catches on with voters. O.K., Bruce Harrell campaigns in his UW Husky sweatshirt (and Rolex watch) and a bunch of Labor unions are for Lorena, but actual campaigning involves voters and not simply “lanes.”

  2. As evidence to support my point, this headline from The Weekly in 1977: “Charley’s Angels: The Royer campaign and how it grew” by David Brewster.

  3. Kate Martin could rise to the occasion by exposing labor lobbyist, police defender and homeless industrial complex supporter mosqueda for the shill that she is

  4. “Gonzalez could get mired down in explaining tough votes and council blunders.”

    Also true for Harrell, as former and very recent council president. The council was considered a circus under his leadership by many.

  5. I just don’t see a lot of Labor falling for Lorena. Sure, she may get the real lefty Labor orgs and those with lots of Latinx members, such as UNITE HERE Local 8, but the reasons Labor frequently go with existing Councilmembers is if those people will remain in office. Bruce Harrell, who is a former Teamsters union member and son of a IBEW union member, had captured a ton of Labor endorsements in his previous runs.

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