The Money Primary: Tracking Seattle City Council Races


We’ve been digging around in the finances of Seattle’s 20 best-heeled candidates for City Council. Of the seven council races on the ballot this year, four have no incumbent, so the August primary and the November general election figure to significantly reshape the governance of Washington’s largest city.  Who’s paying for what matters. Here’s what we found: 

The basics: the candidates with the most money – there are only three with more than $90,000 – are Joy Hollingsworth in District 3 with $98k, incumbent Andrew Lewis in District 7 with $94k, and Tanya Woo for District 2 with $94k. Hollingsworth is one of the leading candidates to take over D3 from outgoing socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant. Lewis figures to be the most endangered incumbent. Woo is coming after progressive Tammy Morales in the district that sprawls from the Chinatown/International District to the city’s southeastern boundary. 

According to the Ethics and Elections Commission, all three candidates have raised the maximum amount allowed via democracy vouchers ahead of the primary. Rob Saka in District 1 has also received max vouchers on the way to $87k total). Saka is the best-funded of the crowd of candidates running to replace incumbent Lisa Herbold in West Seattle-centered District 1. For context, Councilmember Sara Nelson raised nearly $600K for her race in 2021.

Much of the money in Seattle city politics comes from the democracy voucher program, under which every registered voter gets four $25 vouchers that can be given as cash to candidates for city offices. As we’ve noted in the past, this occasionally has some weird consequences.  

We also looked at the finances of the candidates themselves, which they have to disclose via the F1 form: Take, for example, Maritza Rivera in District 4, who earns a comfortable salary as deputy director of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture. It’s another item on her disclosure that jumps out, however: Rivera’s spouse is noted political ad maker Dan Kully, who has been making bank for years getting Democrats elected in some Democrat-hostile territory. She might need the family expertise.

District 4 looks competitive: Rivera’s opponents include engineer Ken Wilson, who has raised $82k following his surprisingly strong showing against Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda in the citywide race in 2021, and progressive Ron Davis with $76k. Interestingly, Rivera has spent less than a quarter of what her opponents have shelled out so far, which indicates some expert advice to the effect of “nobody will be paying attention until late July.” 

Nilu Jenks in  District 5 makes this list in a similar manner: Her spouse makes more than $1 million a year as software manager at Tanium. But she looks unlikely to need the family resources ahead of the primary to replace outgoing Councilmember Debra Juarez. Her campaign has raised $52k, compared to competitors Shane Macomber and Cathy Moore at $20k and $15k respectively. 

Third on our list is Olga Sagan, who’s challenging Lewis in District 7. Sagan is the owner of Piroshky Piroshky in the Pike Place Market and affiliated businesses. Judging by the F1, the piroshky business is good. (There’s lots of money in the bank, an impressive stock portfolio, and a swank house on Capitol Hill.) Sagan’s campaign has only reached $29k so far, but the source of that money makes her look like the choice of the business community, which has little love for Lewis. Figure there’s more where that comes from.

Sagan is not the only candidate whose alliances impact their campaign money. A few candidates with noteworthy affiliations include Alex Hudson, Preston Anderson, and Kenneth Wilson.

Alex Hudson, the Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, which advocates for transit and other non-car modes of transportation, is running in District 3. Much of her early cash has been from people in the transportation industry. Her transportation-focused campaign figures to appeal to many transit employees, developers, and commuters in Seattle, so expect further money from those folks in the future. 

Preston Anderson’s bid for District 1 (West Seattle) is an interesting one: he’s up against two well-financed competitors in a crowded race. His money shows significant contributions from folks in veterans’ organizations, which isn’t something you see in Seattle politics all that often. 

Ken Wilson’s bid for District 4 has amassed considerable cash, mainly through donors in the real estate industry. His focus on transportation, roadways, and greenspaces may cement him as a favorite of Seattle’s real estate and development sector – and in a city with considerable real estate wealth, it’s likely Wilson can find more money where that came from.

With less than two months before the primary, we’ll be keeping an eye both on where council candidates’ money is coming from and how they spend it, along with any big independent campaigns that come out to play in these races. The next round of disclosures is due in July.

This story originally appeared in the author’s website on politics, The Washington Observer. Intern Luna Schindler-Payne helped report this story.

Paul Queary
Paul Queary
Paul Queary, a veteran AP reporter and editor, is founder of The Washington Observer, an independent newsletter on politics, government and the influence thereof in Washington State.


  1. What’s missing from this list is the money collected by the candidates who are running to oust the incompetent Dan Straus.

  2. Interesting article, especially since the landscape for Council-related news is so barren since that City Council blog packed it in a couple years ago (?).

    Being familiar with Ken Wilson and his campaign though, I think your conclusion that he is a ‘favorite of Seattle’s real estate and development sector’ is weak on facts, strong on innuendo, and a swipe at his integrity.
    Being ‘in the business’ of construction (like me, an architect) he has a deeper understanding of development than just ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ that is popular in the general news.
    I would encourage you to contact Ken and perhaps schedule an interview. Your writing is an important piece of our City’s pulse, and I would ask that you make it as accurate as you can. Thank you!

  3. I too was surprised to hear that Wilson would be a favorite of real estate developers.

    In a September 3, 2021 article on this site, Steve Murch asked a bunch of candidates at the time about eliminating single family housing. Wilson was alone in a clear “no” to that one, laying out the benefits to the city of the current system as well as I’ve seen anyone do. That’s one industry deregulation that’s apparently water under the bridge now, but he’s the one candidate I’d think the industry would not trust to deliver more.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.