The New York City mayor’s race had a clarifying moment, when the likely winner, ex-cop Eric Adams, staked out a complex position on policing and firmly placed the needs of minorities for preventing crime into that equation.
The closest we’ve come in the Seattle mayor’s race has been City Council President Lorena Gonzalez’s stiffing the Downtown Seattle Association’s request for answers to its questionnaire, saying that the DSA ignored the need for jobs elsewhere in the city and was a tool of corporations. That clarified Gonzalez’s claim to be the pro-labor, most-progressive candidate. Might any of the other candidates lay distinct claim to being the leading moderate? Not so far, though former city councilman Bruce Harrell gives some hints and likely has the moderate lane and support tied up.
So far, Harrell is running a shrewd campaign trying to show he is not a lackey of business. In the general election, however, Harrell is likely to heed the lessons from New York and combine older ethnic votes, working class appeal, and a reform-and-fund approach to policing. That should attract votes from business (at rope’s end over homelessness) and middle class moderates.
As things now stand, unless a stronger center-left candidate such as Echohawk, Farrell, or Sixkiller survives the August 3 primary, the top two will be Harrell and Gonzalez, with Harrell likely the winner in November. (Gonzalez will find it hard to drift back to the center, given her voting record and coalition, and she faces the unpopularity of the Gonzalez-led city council.) In short, we’re likely to achieve the same impasse we have now — a moderate mayor (Jenny Durkan) and a very progressive council to stalemate the mayor. Plus ca change!
One indicator is money raised. Both Colleen Echohawk (an expert on homelessness) and Andrew Grant Houston (running on the left fringe) have maxxed out at $399,000, the maximum they can raise for the primary under the Democracy Vouchers cap. Gonzalez and Harrell are close behind, $310,000 and $318,000 respectively. Former state Sen. Jessyn Farrell lags at $137,000. Businessman Art Langlie has raised $105,000, and Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller reports $46,000; both were late starters. Neither Langlie nor Sixkiller appears able to pry off significant votes from Harrell, though Sixkiller (had he started earlier to overcome his unfamiliarity) might have been able to do so. Some local experts think the moderate vote, as in New York, is there for the taking, but a candidate would have to send strong, credible signals to stand out. The storm of progressive attacks would underscore such a candidate’s boldness under fire.
The other key indicators are endorsements, with The Stranger able to pick and turn out votes for a progressive and The Seattle Times likely in the Harrell camp. Then there is the independent-expenditure wild card, with Harrell likely to have a business-enriched PAC, Gonzalez one from labor. Echohawk and Sixkiller may get tribal money, and Farrell also has the potential to benefit from a PAC.
With the mayor’s race heading down a familiar path (pro-business moderate versus pro-labor progressive), the real interest may shift to the open City Council seat that Gonzalez is vacating to run for mayor. It’s a three-way race for this citywide seat. One of the candidates, Brianna Thomas (Gonzalez’s chief of staff), appears not to be getting traction and lags in fundraising ($93,000 to date). That could produce a high-stakes, dramatic showdown in the general. Nikkita Oliver, a passionate progressive who came in third in the 2017 mayor’s race, has raised $187,000. Her likely foe will be Sara Nelson, a North End businesswoman and former aide to Councilmember Richard Conlin; Nelson has raised $155,000.
The contrast will be stark, and much is at stake on the council. If Oliver wins, she will consolidate the progressive block (Kshama Sawant, Teresa Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, Lisa Herbold) into a solid 5-vote majority (the council has 9 members.) If Nelson prevails, the council will be three moderates (Nelson, Alex Pedersen, Debora Juarez), four progressives (Sawant, Mosqueda, Morales, Herbold), and two swing votes (newcomers Andrew Lewis and Dan Strauss). Those swing votes lean left, and Herbold can be unpredictable given the purple West Seattle district she represents. Then there is the wild card of the Sawant recall effort, still a medium long-shot.
All this leaves a new mayor lots to work with. A 3-4-2 council would have more maneuvering room than the current 5-2-2 pro-progressive balance. Any real change will wait for 2023, when seven district-tied councilmembers are running. But this election will say a lot about Seattle’s political wind direction.