Seattle is going through an exodus phase — Amazon, downtown workers, parents of school-age children, mobile residents. Add to that list the Seattle City Council, where four (Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Alex Pedersen, Kshama Sawant) of the nine members are opting out of re-election this year, and Teresa Mosqueda (an at-large member not facing election until 2025) is migrating to the less-pressure county council. Talk about a broom!
What gives? One simple explanation is that some of these candidates would not get re-elected. Herbold, D-1 (West Seattle) has apparently run out of her district’s support, and one poll, I am told, found her approval/disapproval gap at 26 points. Sawant has been battered by a recall election and faces two strong candidates. Both Juarez and Pedersen poll well, but each would face strong challengers from their left and urbanist flanks. Dan Strauss, D-6 (Ballard) is a young (37) first-termer who has not yet announced his plans and will face a tough race. Andrew Lewis, D-7 (Magnolia, Queen Anne, and Downtown), is also a first-termer (age 34) and will seek re-election. Lewis will have a lot of ‘splaining to do about the city’s downward course. Tammy Morales, D-2 (Southeast Seattle), will likely cruise to a second term.
In the case of Mosqueda — the new leader, as Sawant and Lorena Gonzalez depart the Strong Left faction — it’s widely thought that she was eyeing a race for the 9th Congressional District seat, where Adam Smith is the incumbent. The county council seat occupied by Joe McDermott will be an open seat as McDermott is not seeking re-election. That Congressional race might still happen though Mosqueda’s new county council seat lies westward of the 8th congressional district.
The county council pays a bit better than the city ($135,525 versus $129,686), but it offers a modest workload and assured re-election. And if Mosqueda is serious about running for a higher state or federal office, as her labor backers hope, it makes sense for her to shed the Seattle City Council baggage.
The winners in the city hall exodus will be Sara Nelson, leader of the Soft Left caucus, and Mayor Bruce Harrell, who can, if he rouses himself, push through an agenda without effective council opposition. The problem would be an inexperienced and chaotic council that can’t find the cohesion to stay the course in a retrenchment agenda.
Seattle before 1967 had a sleepy, unambitious council, electing local pharmacists and small-business folk who kept taxes and regulations and new programs low. The Legislature shifted budget authority from the musty council to the mayor, which prompted Wes Uhlman to get elected in 1969. Also in 1967, Choose an Effective City Council (CHECC) elected the first reform councilmembers (Tim Hill and Phyllis Lamphere), along with Sam Smith, and by 1973 CHECC candidates and agendas had transformed and modernized the council.
There ensued a string of effective, multi-term mayors (Uhlman, Charles Royer, Norm Rice) who worked well with the council and a “Liberal Establishment” of lawyers, developers, and business leaders. Since that time, four of the last five mayors (Paul Schell, Mike McGinn, Ed Murray, and Jenny Durkan) only lasted one term, and the council radicalized and lost public confidence.
The roster of effective city council members over that span is impressive: Phyllis Lamphere, John Miller, Tim Hill, Bruce Chapman, Randy Revelle, Paul Kraabel, Jim Street, Sam Smith, Norm Rice, Jane Noland, Jan Drago, Jeanette Williams, Sue Donaldson, Jan Drago, Richard Conlin, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, Richard McIver. They were recruited and supported by strong civic organizations, including the Municipal League, Allied Arts, and the League of Women Voters — all now defunct or diminished.
Whether the city can grow or mature a new crop of civic leaders is an open question. It will certainly help to have Sawant out of the council, as she and her chamber-packing shouters have loomed over the shoulders of councilmembers — much as Donald Trump stampeded the Republican Party. Mayor Harrell has re-established diplomatic and transactional relations with the council. Possibly the exoduses may shock the system into better performance.
That will take more than the current election, where I expect many promising candidates will join the rush to the civic exits.