Sizing Up a Swarm of Seattle City Council Candidates


With May 20 filing deadline past, voters can finally begin to glimpse what a mostly new Seattle City Council is going to look like. Only three of the seven incumbents are running this year, making certain that inexperienced newcomers – four or more — will arrive at City Hall in 2024. 

Will this new council be an activist bunch, ready to downsize and rebrand the police department? Or is it going to work on tamer issues like paving streets, building sidewalks, and planting trees? 

One veteran observer, Seattle Times’ columnist Danny Westneat, took a quick look at the 45 contenders (three incumbents and 42 challengers) and made a snap judgment. He says the new city council will be (in his words) “bland” and will revert to tradition and become “polite and boring.”

Westneat is right there’s no candidate running from Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative party — not since Matthew Mitnick in District 4 dropped out, tarred by reports about his toxic campaign. But, if there’s no second Sawant around to brand council colleagues as corporate bootlickers and vote against city budgets, that doesn’t necessarily mean the council’s going to become staid and vanilla. 

A look at responses to the Seattle Times’ questionnaire of the 45 candidates shows Westneat’s prediction is possibly premature. To start with, when the Times asked the challengers why they are running, almost all were highly critical of the present City Council. Complaints ranged from charges of “inaction” and “lack of accountability” to complaints over “ineffective government” and “not getting things done.” These folks sound stirred up and ready to act.

Asked to rank issues facing Seattle, the would-be councilmembers showed some consistency. Fifteen of the 45 picked “public safety” as the city’s “number one” issue. Other candidates scored homelessness and/or housing-affordability first, but then ranked public safety next. One oddity:  several of those concerned about public safety said no to an increase in the police budget and some answered that they “maybe” favor a decrease in cop budgets. It’s puzzling how shorting the police will result in more safety.

What’s more surprising is how candidates prioritize other city issues. The two concerns that ranked farthest down most lists are parks and cleaner streets. These core city services get ho-hum treatment. So much for the Westneatian notion the new council will plod away looking at un-sexy issues like filling potholes and keeping parks clean and accessible. 

Reading other candidate round-ups – the one at the Stranger for instance – could leave voters unsure about the direction of the new council. Take District 5 (Lake City to Carkeek Park) where Council President Debora Juarez is not running for reelection; it’s one of the largest races with ten candidates. 

Among the D-5 ten are outspoken candidates like Tye Reed, who managed Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s failed 2021 race for city attorney. (Thomas-Kennedy wanted to close jails and end prosecution of misdemeanors.) Now that it’s her turn as a candidate, Reed wants to redesign Aurora Avenue, turning it into a car-free zone. She says she’ll partner with the Transit Riders Union to pressure the mayor and SDOT director to go along. (Reed may not know Aurora doubles as State Route 99, giving the state some say-so.) 

Reed is also promising to introduce a council ordinance to decriminalize sex work, as well as providing funds for sex workers’ housing, reproductive supplies, health care, and safety. She has some backing but she hasn’t got much campaign money. Banking the most in D-5 are neighborhood activist Nilu Jenks, former King County Judge Cathy Moore, and Maple Leaf realtor Shane Macomber.

Some other council races have fewer candidates and less volatile issues. But raising issues may matter less than how much money candidates are raising. Those like Reed who so far haven’t raised much are barely worth a mention and that’s the case for over half the challengers. Most recent filings show the six top money raisers are D-7’s Andrew Lewis, $93,000; D-1’s Rob Saka, $71,000; D-2’s Tonya Woo, $93,000; D-3’s Joy Hollingsworth, $93,000; D-4’s Ken Wilson, $76,000, and D-6’s Pete Hanning, $81,000. 

What this means for the shape of the coming council is that it’s apt to be an assertive group, interested in beefing up public safety, looking favorably on a department for non-police emergencies, and doing the difficult work on homelessness and affordability. What the new council will do with the city budget will depend, as it always does, on the economy and whether there will be enough revenue for new councilmembers to keep their campaign promises.

In my view, 2024 will be a building year for the Emerald City, adjusting to pandemic scars and changing times, revitalizing downtown. It also could be a fractious year with tugs of war over where to invest scarce resources. Fortunately, when contenders were asked what led them to run for office, most said they were motivated by “a love of the city.” That love affair may have rocky moments. After all, the new council is going to be in the hands of rookies, still finding their way to the washroom. The ride ahead doesn’t look boring nor even overly polite.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at


  1. Thanks for your review of the City Council candidates. If the top money-raisers are duly elected we may indeed be reading more about potholes and less about pot.

    I imagine that most long-time local resident will welcome “The Band from Bland” if that means cleaner parks, safer streets and — yeees, wait for it — fixing the d#@$%! potholes. There’s worse things than being boring.

    I do feel sorry for Danny and readers of the Seattle Times opinion columns. We may have grown weary of the incumbents, but their antics did at least make for good copy.

  2. I’m looking forward to some deeper reporting, not on the wingier-nuts, but on those serious contenders. Especially those challenging the three incumbents.

  3. From the bus up Aurora this week I counted 27 sex workers on the west side of the street between 97th and 135th. It’s hard to see how Reed’s proposal for a car-free Aurora Ave is compatible with her desire to help sex workers.

  4. Talk about outspoken candidates in District 5 and no mention of Rebecca Williamson, railyard switchman? “All politics are class politics. The crisis we face comes from what the bosses’ class does to solve the crisis of their system on the backs of workers and farmers.”

    In general, sure, it’s pretty ho hum. After all the ineptitude of recent years, the best we can hope for is apparently for the council to scale back its ambitions – do less harm, by the simple expedient of doing less.

    The problem isn’t as much about ideology as people make it out to be. Only a couple years before their infamous and short-lived promises to defund SPD, practically the same council signed the SPD (SPOG) contract when they shouldn’t have. We need council members who know what’s up and can think things through. Maybe we need a whole new political ecosystem, that would provide us with the kind of people that formed CHECC a half century ago.

    • Thanks for saying we need City Council members who’ll ‘think things through.’ That seems to have been in short supply recently — in Council members and, likely, in their staff members. Slogans and speeches may be easier, but they don’t get the things done that need getting done. I hope the next City Council will listen carefully to their constituents and to each other as part of ‘thinking things through.’

  5. Virtually all candidates answered “yes” to “ Q: Should more of Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods be zoned to allow denser housing/apartment buildings?” This AFTER recent statewide upzoning obliterating single family zoning in Seattle + the new tree “protection” ordinance promising 85% hardscape coverage for development.

    Somebody needs to make every candidate clarify their position on this question, and justify it. Based on these answers they are all in favor of a city that has no privately owned garden or green space and is wall-to wall apartments. After 20 years of development on steroids in which we have addd 30% of our total housing stock the cost of housing has tripled. If there is no provable relationship between density and lower prices in high wage cities like Seattle then why is this even greater level of density their vision? How does it square with all this other posturing about being “green” if there is no green left outside of the parks?

    • It would be interesting to see how Alex Pedersen would fill out the form, just pretending that he’s back in the race for District 4. He being the one council member who has kind of bucked the real estate development industry deregulation fervor. I wouldn’t be shocked if he put himself down for “maybe.”

      I don’t know really what he thinks, but I don’t expect him to “die on that hill”, trying be the leadership that brings some realism to this discussion and restore some awareness of the things of value that we’ve been losing on Seattle’s landscape. He has other areas where he could accomplish more, and the visceral hatred of the true believers for that one politician who dared question the benefits to developers didn’t help him the first time around.

      The candidates for state legislature were also fairly open about their readiness to take municipal planning into their own hands statewide. When all the rezoning is done and it has had its decades to make a real difference, I am not positive anyone will understand even then how pointless it was.

      Also note how many said “Yes” to office building residential refits. Why not? Just because 10 minutes reading up on it will turn up a whole lot of bad news on whether this makes any sense? Voters don’t expect or reward that kind of thinking.

    • I think people are conflating many parts of the housing market when we talk about “affordability.” Most new 4-6plexes coming on to market are not rentals, but for ownership. I think most urgently (or at least in tandem) we need to understand what is going on in our rental market. My stock question for candidates this year is what do we know about how recently passed landlord/tenant laws have impacted the rental market? Are you willing to champion analysis of our rental market and revise as necessary to increase supply/proper function of the rental market?

  6. Only one candidate discussed in article, a wacko-bird who would shut down Aurora Avenue. Far more substantive, seasoned people are running.
    Our Madrona neighborhood breakfast has already heard from Joy Hollingsworth and Alex Hudson, running to succeed the Trotskyite in District 3. After a dozen years of being snubbed, we’ll get a welcome choice of the greater of goods.
    Instead of regurgitating Seattle Times columns, let’s see some reporting on who might rehabilitate a City Council that has lost its credibility with the voters.

  7. We have a climate crisis that threatens our children’s futures. The city of Seattle has a goal to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, which is in line with what climate scientists are advising. Yet, we are not on target to achieve that goal. I am one of seven who reviewed the websites of Seattle City Council candidates and then interviewed those who were most promising as climate champions. Here is my take on the group’s efforts:

    • Interesting articles, thanks, James. I hope that we can also begin to address the lack of A.D.A-accessible housing when we speak to low-income housing. Simple expedients such as installing wider doorways, lower cabinets, and grab bars will not detract from a unit’s desirability. And will make a big difference to wheelchair-dependent tenants, older tenants, or other special-needs groups. Some units that are labeled as ADA-accessible are bafflingly unaccessible. Or, they charge a special surcharge for bringing their units into compliance.
      Other than that issue (which not a single council member ever will address) I liked a lot of the ideas offered here.


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