Lisa Herbold Stands Down, but the Battle to Control City Council Goes on


City Councilwoman Lisa Herbold, who has represented District 1 (West Seattle) since 2015, has announced she will not seek a new term in 2023, thus ending a 26-year stint at City Hall. (She helped elect Nick Licata in 1997 and then served as his powerful chief aide.)

Herbold is thus the most experienced member of the City Council. She has been a strong advocate for renters, for the homeless, and for social-justice causes. Like Licata, she has been a thorn in the side of business. This has put her at odds with the her largely moderate (and somewhat idiosyncratic) district, but she has always tended to district business diligently.

That said, she barely was elected (by 39 votes) over Shannon Braddock in 2015, and those who have seen recent polls report that Herbold (along with Kshama Sawant) has a wide negative margin with her district voters. Herbold’s favorable rating among district voters is reported to be under 30 percent in approval, always a very an ominous sign for an incumbent.

Herbold, a native of New York and a resident of Highland Park, is 57, and so is likely to remain active in Seattle politics. She has always done her homework on issues, as did Licata. Herbold is also something of a media darling, still living down the sobriquet of “Lisa Who Leaks,” after years of feeding the left media and skewering the business establishment. 

Herbold’s departure, along with the just-announced 2023 retirement of Debora Juarez in District 5 (far north Seattle) will mean the city council will is assured of getting several new faces. All seven district seats are on the ballot next year, and there will surely be a donnybrook election for many of them. That will certainly include Herbold’s now open seat, with moderate candidates trying to replace the progressive activist voting record of Herbold, who had a largely adversarial relationship with the business community, and on the other side progressives fighting to replace Herbold with either a like-minded progressive warrior or someone even farther left.

In effect, the balance of power for the Council, now split between center-left (Nelson, Juarez, Pedersen), and true-left (Herbold, Sawant, Mosqueda, Morales) blocs – with Lewis and Strauss somewhere in between – will very much be on the ballot next year.

Another wild card is whether Sawant will seek or gain reelection in 2023. There are persistent rumors she’s not going to run, but the sourcing behind those is sketchy and efforts to reach Sawant or her office proved fruitless. Even if Sawant does run, like Herbold, polling shows Sawant is wounded politically, with well over half of her constituents viewing her unfavorably, so she is sure to have a fight on her hands.

That said, Sawant’s Capitol Hill/Central District renter-heavy district tilts strongly left, and it is pretty sure, even if Sawant is ejected, that her replacement would likely be to elect a strong progressive.

It’s possible that, after the dust settles after next year’s races, a more moderate Council will accelerate a strategic retreat that began with Sara Nelson’s victory last year over Nikkita Oliver for the at-large seat previous held by Lorena Gonzalez, the left’s defeated standard bearer in the mayoral race.

But that shift to the middle is far from a sure thing at this early point. West Seattle is something of a suburb to Seattle, formerly the domain of Boeing workers and still a land of bungalows. Such suburbs, also true in Juarez’s north-end district, are anxious about crime and homelessness in the central city, and still wary of urbanist density agendas, spreading apartments, and the call to eliminate single-family zoning. On the other hand, West Seattle has become a refuge for inner-city Seattleites seeking affordable housing. To some observers, the core of West Seattle is now “Capitol Hill West.”  

Politically, Seattle is deeply divided these days, which makes nothing certain or easy to predict, except the prospect of further political warfare. As Herbold’s decision to stand down makes clear, that remains true for next year’s Council elections.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. This will be the first election with a degraded downtown, and its prospects are dimming. Voters see disreputable characters on the sidewalks, boarded up storefronts & bars & restaurants, and longtime institutions (SAM, Benaroya Hall, the courthouse) surrounded by a mountain range of mostly-empty office towers. Downtown just ain’t what it used to be – it lacks vibrant bustle and appears dirty and uncared for. The incumbents on the city council seem strangely unconcerned about these changes stemming from hybrid work patterns. I hope candidates next year challenge that indifference, and suggest some paths forward.

    • Actually, 2021 was the first election with a degraded downtown, and the results show that voters wanted to clean things up. Sara Nelson defeated Leftist Nikkita Oliver for City Council Position 9; Nikkita then left town. Former 3-term City Councilmember Bruce Harrell crushed Leftist Lorena Gonzalez in the mayoral contest; Lorena has reportedly moved out of town. And Ann Davison soundly defeated abolitionist Nicole Thomas Kennedy for City Attorney. Had Kenneth Wilson actually hired campaign professionals rather than use his high school daughter and wife as his managers, he could have defeated Leftist Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8; after all, he was only 5 points behind after the first ballot count.

      Bringing back sanity, and more adults, to the Seattle City Council will go a long way toward restoring downtown, along with once-safe and now-unsafe neighborhoods such as Ballard (Dan Stauss’s district) and North Aurora (Debora Juarez’s district). Being more responsive to constituents in the CID (split between Andrew Lewis and Tammy Morales’ districts) and Southeast Seattle (Morales) will require new representatives.

      • Election victory over candidates like Oliver and Thomas-Kennedy isn’t much of a triumph, nor is a fantasy where Mosqueda loses. Next election is going to be an opportunity for candidates to show they have more to offer than just some “return to the middle” nonsense. Just like “leftist Lorena Gonzales” doesn’t offer a shred of insight into what she was up to, there isn’t anything of substance to be found in “the middle.”

      • How can anyone object to a candidate for Seattle City Attorney (snort) who taunted policemen injured in a riot, told them to “go to college and get a real job” and then claimed she was only being satirical. (An elitist retort if ever I heard one.) Or a sitting City Councilmember who led protestors to the mayor’s private residence.

  2. It will be interesting to see if Bruce Harrell does anything to try and influence who gets on the council. Doing so has definite risks, but all mayors want a council that seek to fix things.

    • Casey: Seattle mayors know to do such things, but they leave no footprints in helping elect friendly city councilmembers. Weak mayors let the chips fall where they may, which suggests a power vacuum at city hall, one that the council is happy to fill.

  3. The defund the police group seems to be leaving one by one. The gerrymandering of Magnolia, giving Lewis the apartments, makes him safer. The single family homes went to Strauss, making his re-election more risky. The disaster coming to the City budget which may acquire a downward adjustment next year, will make the races even more interesting.

  4. I lived most of my four Seattle decades in West Seattle. It was always nicely separate from the downtown in terms of identity and overall ambiance. Sadly, since I left Seattle in 2011, even this once-safe little slice of Pleasantville (at least the north end of West Seattle) has gone downhill. Gangs and shootings at Alki, graffiti everywhere, homeless “encampments” crowding the streets. And a Council representative more concerned about kicking business in the a$$ than trying to fix the real problems. Since moving I’ve become a landlord in a small eastern Washington town. We’ve purchased five utterly run-down (almost uninhabitable) properties and totally renovated them, inside and out. We have very happy tenants and we’ve made an impact on the entire look of the town. Why? Because we’re not hounded by an anti-landlord anti-business city council. The more that Seattle makes it almost impossible to be a good landlord, the more junk rentals there will be. From my distant perspective Seattle’s anti-landlord regulations are about as effective as was defunding the police.

    • Sympathies with the West Seattle situation, Paul Gregutt — unfortunately, the anti ‘homeowner’ sentiment (I refuse to use the term ‘landlord) has spread to the suburbs, which are busy enacting their own , ludicrous laws.

      The causes of high rents and homelessness are many; why are the ‘solutions’ bundled on the backs of homeowners, many of whom who rent out their home apartments for their own economic rescue? Yes, rents are high. There is a reason: risk. When it became impossible to evict anyone for non payment of rent, thanks to the Seattle City Council, it was impossible situation for an individual homeowner to get compensation reimbursement. That created unbelievable hardships for homeowners.

      Now the worst the days of the pandemic are behind us, but the Council hasn’t stopped meting out punishment. It’s ludicrous to expect a Seattle homeowner to give six months’ notice of a lease end or rent increase…How can one project accurately six months into the future? And when the mayor proposed an exemption for individual homeowners, guess which councilmember objected, calling it a ‘loophole’? “Dear Ms. Sawant,” I wrote to her months ago, “I am not a loophole” and I am still waiting for a reply. Of course, I’m not going to rent out my place in the desirable U.District again, I’ll just sell it. Another affordable rental gone.


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