Unpopular City Council Births a Brood of Would-be Replacements. Fun Summer to Ensue


With seven Seattle City Council seats up for grabs this year, and four seats where the incumbent is not seeking reelection, candidates face the formidable challenge of winning recognition during a summer season when voters have historically tuned out politics.

The advent of an August primary has ratcheted up the role of early fundraising. “Which candidates have (or will have) the money for voter contact in July, when primary voters will begin to focus, will likely be key in the outcome,” in words of Paul Elliott, a veteran Seattle activist who tracks donations.

The latest tracking delivers a surprise. Challengers have raised more money than two council incumbents, Tammy Morales in District 2 and Dan Strauss in District 6, who are seeking reelection. The figures bespeak the unpopularity of a council that has often appeared overmatched.

A third incumbent, Andrew Lewis, leads all comers and has raised the most money of any council candidate.  Lewis, whose district includes downtown Seattle, will need every dollar. He cast the decisive vote against letting the Seattle City Attorney prosecute drug possession and public use as a gross misdemeanor.

In District 2, challenger Tanya Woo, a business owner and organizer of resistance to an expanded homeless shelter in the International District, has raised $93,729 as of May 31 with a balance of $73,519 in cash on hand. Incumbent Morales trails with $72,995 and $35,885 in the bank as she seeks to hold onto the council’s one majority-minority district. Morales has been chief cheerleader for the council’s new, pricey $970-million housing levy.

In District 6, Pete Hanning, executive director of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce – and former longtime owner of the Red Door – has taken in $80,925 and had $58,767 banked as of the end of May. Strauss trailed with $72,965 and $50,783 as of the end of May, as he seeks to hold onto the council district in northwest Seattle.

In District 7, Incumbent Lewis has collected $93,771 and had $79,472 as of the end of May. The figure may underestimate his potential backing. Three locals of Unite Here – the culinary workers union – backed his 2019 campaign to the tune of more than $700,000 in “independent” expenditures.  Challenger Olga Sagan, owner of Piroshky Peroshky  – a vocal critic of violence and open drug dealing downtown – had raised $21,779 as of May 31. But Sagan has been in the race less than a month.

Ten candidates have filed in District 3, Central Area-Capitol Hill seat being vacated by socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant. The advantage belongs to two high-profile contenders. Business owner and community advocate Joy Hollingsworth, of a prominent African American family, has raised $93,040 with $58,667 in cash on hand. Trailing, but within range, is Transportation Choices executive director (and First Hill activist) Alex Hudson, who has taken in $65,622 but trailed with only $29,340 in cash on hand.

In District 4, stretching from Wallingford to Windermere, candidates Kenneth Wilson and Ron Davis are frontrunners in fundraising. Wilson has raised $76,380 with $50,088 cash-on-hand as of May 31. He is a civil engineer who ran a surprisingly strong citywide race against incumbent Teresa Mosqueda in 2021. Ron Davis, a high tech entrepreneur – and activist in groups ranging from Futurewise to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Assn. – had raised $69,885 with $42,347 in the bank.

In District 5, the far north end of the Emerald City, Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez opted not to seek a third term.  In the race to replace her, schools and gun safety advocate Nilu Jenks has taken in $49,472 with $26,016 in cash on hand. Trailing, at $21,741, is Cathy Moore, a former King County Superior Court judge and ex-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

Similarly, in District 1, incumbent Lisa Herbold is calling it quits after two terms. Herbold was previously a longtime council staffer whose ties to The Stranger earned her the nickname “Lisa who leaks.” The top fundraiser to succeed her is Rob Saka, an attorney with Perkins Coe who has served on the city’s Police Search Committee and the King County Council redistricting Committee. He has raised $88,505 with $57,251 cash-on-hand as of June 1.

A distant second in the West Seattle-South Park district is Maren Costa, a former Amazon technical worker, in her words “illegally fired” in 2020 after organizing Amazon Workers for Climate Justice. She reported raising $42,018 with $26,493 in cash on hand.

The redoubtable Paul Elliott, a longtime volunteer treasurer in city races, has also totaled slightly more up-to-date figures covering the city’s Democracy Voucher program, through June 7. Not all voucher income was included in the end-of-May reports.

As of June 7, 2023, $34,125 had been distributed to Costa and $$62,950 to Saka in District 1. Woo ($76,625) and Morales ($64,750) have both relied on vouchers in District 2. Likewise for District 4 contenders Davis ($73,250) and Wilson ($63,175). By contrast, Jenks ($40,625) is far ahead of District 5 competitors on the voucher front.

Hanning ($62,175) has almost matched incumbent Strauss ($64,675) in District 6. Lewis has accepted $43,000 in District 7, while his competitors have yet to report voucher income. The same holds true for Jenks’ competitors in District 5. By contrast, six candidates in District 3 have received voucher money, led by Hollingsworth ($64,640) and Hudson ($39,825).

The turnover at City Hall will have consequences, given the current council’s unpopularity and left-leaning ideological bent. A recent poll, done for the Downtown Seattle Assn., asked 500 likely voters to grade the City Council. Two-thirds of those surveyed gave the Council a D or F.

The potential role of independent expenditures is not yet apparent. Recent elections have witnessed key players burning up money and getting burned. Amazon spent $1.4 million to influence council races in 2019, only to experience a backlash against candidates it was supporting. Sawant managed to squeak through, turning a race that initially seemed a referendum on Sawant into one that was a referendum on Amazon. In 2021, labor unions poured resources into the mayoral campaign of Lorena Gonzalez, only to see her decisively defeated by Bruce Harrell.

It makes for an interesting summer campaign, if voters tune in.

Joel Connelly
Joel Connelly
I worked for Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 1973 until it ceased print publication in 2009, and SeattlePI.com from 2009 to 6/30/2020. During that time, I wrote about 9 presidential races, 11 Canadian and British Columbia elections‎, four doomed WPPSS nuclear plants, six Washington wilderness battles, creation of two national Monuments (Hanford Reach and San Juan Islands), a 104 million acre Alaska Lands Act, plus the Columbia Gorge National Scenic Area.


  1. Amazon’s ham handed attempt to buy a better council probably would have encountered some automatic opposition regardless, but it didn’t have to be as bad as it was. I don’t know much about how to spend campaign money, but it seems to me Palumbo didn’t either. I remember seeing ads for Alex Pedersen splattered all over the online Seattle Times – so many it seemed weird. We’re used to ads trying to manipulate us, but when it becomes a deluge, you become more conscious of it. So clumsy it almost could have been deliberate.

    Anyway … instead of a lot of financial info and little else, “let’s see some reporting on who might rehabilitate a City Council that has lost its credibility with the voters.”

  2. The financial aspect does shine some light on the problem, though. Consider District 5, where the candidate that has it sewn up, is going to replace the occasionally sensible Juarez with a social justice cartoon more like the departed Gonzalez.

    This is not what the voters who gave the council Ds and Fs want, but it’s what they will get – if they let special interests dominate the campaigning. Maybe Mr. Kaushik could come forward and explain how the early funding comes to certain candidates, and whose interests are really in this way represented in our elections. It isn’t the poor and underprivileged, I’m pretty sure about that. Public service unions? Community organizations with contracts that depend on the council? Real estate developers and their urbanist boosters? Transit project industry represented by TCC?

    People who care about where Seattle is going, need to organize and develop a sensible and explainable vision of what we need in city hall. Somehow holding the “Seattle Is Dying” crowd at bay and honestly recognizing the problems Seattle really has that are getting these social justice champions elected, but leaning towards a responsible, results oriented set of candidates that aren’t beholden to special interests. Read about CHECC for some ideas.

    • Some candidates start with strong bases of support, that they can draw upon for early fundraising. And yes, there are well organized constellations of interest groups, advocates and stakeholders who tend to be active donors to candidates they support in the early going (whether it is donating vouchers or hard $). Sometimes having relatively narrow — but deep — appeal is better for fundraising than having a broader but more shallow base of support.

      But in the end, fundraising is only a rough metric of how strong any individual campaign actually is. Outside the money race, what you say and do — and the coalition of support that you build — matters a lot too. Case in point: there are three serious City Council candidates who have all done relatively well on the fundraising front but who have taken positions or said things that render them very unlikely to win a Seattle municipal general election, if they make it through the primary:

      In D1, Maren Costa, running in the left lane, answered “No” when asked “Do you believe it was a mistake for the Seattle City Council to pledge to defund the Seattle Police Department by 50%?” This is in line with her left activist bona fides, but in that district (West Seattle) her support for defunding the police is all but disqualifying — incumbent Lisa Herbold’s favorable numbers with her constituents tanked after she pledged to defund in 2020. I expect to West Seattle residents are going to hear a lot about Costa’s continuing support for defunding if she gets through the primary.

      In D4, Ken Wilson, at a 36th District Dems forum, indicated he voted for Republican Tiffany Smiley over Patty Murray in last year’s US Senate race. He also contributed $500 to Smiley’s campaign, PubliCola recently reported. In a blue city like Seattle, this too is disqualifying. If he gets through the primary, voters are going to hear A LOT about his Republican lean, and even if he raises all the money in the world he is now unlikely to win that race.

      Similarly, in D7, Piroshky Piroshky owner Olga Saga, in her Stranger ed board a few days ago, refused to answer the simple question: did you vote for Trump? Instead she offered a series of highly unconvincing evasions (i.e., it’s pretty clear she voted for Trump in the 2020 general election). This, in Seattle, is totally disqualifying — really, Trump? — and if Sagan gets through the primary with incumbent Andrew Lewis, his campaign will make sure voters know she is a closet Trump supporter, which should be more than sufficient to torpedo her candidacy.

      So yeah, money matters, but it’s hardly the be all and end all when it comes to which campaigns and candidates are likely to be successful with the voters.

      • What do you think about the Nilu Jenks in District 5? The candidate I referred to that the D & F voters certainly don’t want. They’re going to get her, aren’t they? What special interest would spend any campaign money on Cathy Moore, when they can get everything they want from Jenks, so that’s how the funding reported above goes by a factor of 2. That’s city hall, isn’t it?

        Earlier I meant to mention Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, a different and much more recent institution than CHECC. I don’t know if there’s any chance it could come back, but its leadership is still around and I’m sure full of insight into how this kind of citizen involvement can be fostered in Seattle.

      • A Russian who supports Trump. Who woulda thunk it?
        DO NOT VOTE FOR OLGA SAGAN no matter how much you despise Andrew Lewis. At least Andrew is trainable.

  3. It would be beneficial if discussion could focus on policies and not funding levels or party. It should not be a partisan issue to support public safety or the health of business, large and small. What Seattle deals with on a policy level day to day has virtually nothing to do with Donald Trump. If a candidate voted for him it is irrelevant. Meanwhile: my vote goes to Aaron Marshall for District 7. I liked his answers to every candidate question. A bona fide police officer with lived experience of the streets might give us a prayer of restoring the police force in my lifetime.

    On the issues:

    In five words or less, what is the top issue facing Seattle?

    Public safety, addiction, chronic homelessness.

    Please rank the following issues from most to least important:

    1) Public Safety

    2) Homelessness

    3) Affordability / cost of living

    4) Economic development

    5) Cleaner streets

    6) Transportation/walkability

    7) Parks and public spaces

    Q: Do you support Mayor Bruce Harrell’s plan to increase Seattle Police staffing to 1,400 officers?
    A: Yes

    Q: Should Seattle prosecute individuals for public drug use?
    A: Yes

    Q: Should Seattle create a new department for non-police emergency response?
    A: No

    Q: Should Seattle reduce the police department’s budget?
    A: No

    Q: Should Seattle increase the police department’s budget?
    A: Yes

    Q: Do you support rent control in Seattle?
    A: No

    Q: Should more of Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods be zoned to allow denser housing/apartment buildings?
    A: No

    Q: Do you support Seattle’s current enforcement of unsheltered homelessness through RV towing and encampment clearings?
    A: Yes

    Q: Do you support recent proposals to fund substance abuse treatment for people in public housing?
    A: Yes

    Q: Is Seattle investing the right amount into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority?
    A: No

    Q: Should Seattle seek additional revenue to address projected shortfalls in upcoming budgets?
    A: No

    Q: Do you support increasing the rate of JumpStart or any other existing tax to address those shortfalls?
    A: No

    Q: Should the city provide tax breaks for downtown businesses to help with post-pandemic recovery?
    A: Yes

    Q: Do you support a recent proposal that would exempt businesses from JumpStart for three years?
    A: Yes

    Q: Should Seattle convert unused office space downtown into housing?
    A: Maybe


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