Primary Analysis: City Hall Backlash? Who, Me?


The polls – if you believed them — made election outcomes seem certain. The Seattle City Council had miserable ratings, scoring only 34 percent approval and 48 percent disapproval in the Seattle Times/Suffolk poll. Incumbents, the three who decided to stay and run for reelection, were underwater in some polls.

But, despite that negativity, Tuesday’s election early returns (some half of votes counted) didn’t begin to register as a blood bath. To the contrary. The three incumbents left in the running managed to survive the primary election, all three ahead of their nearest competitor.

Councilmember Dan Strauss (D-6, Ballard) scored 51 percent, a positive sign. Meanwhile Councilmember Tammy Morales (D-2, Southeast Seattle) chalked up 48 percent, but was closely followed by challenger Tanya Woo with 46 percent. Seemingly most vulnerable of the incumbents was Councilmember Andrew Lewis who took only 41 percent of early votes in District 7 (downtown and Queen Anne).

Tuesday’s early returns indicated that in races for the four open seats, each race will likely feature a contender from the progressive lane vying with a more moderate opponent. No doubt these outcomes will shift when remaining votes are counted. A “progressive bounce” typically occurs in Seattle elections when later ballots – often cast by younger voters – are counted.

In the primary’s aftermath, several conclusions occur: endorsements from the Seattle Times and The Stranger count for a lot, as do candidates’ individual endorsements. The fact that Councilmember Strauss corralled so many endorsers – a pantheon of state politicians – factored into his above-50-percent showing, usually a sign of success.

What else the primary results revealed was how important corralling Democracy Vouchers has become in Seattle elections. A candidate’s fundraising skills are a factor, but the large percentage of democracy voucher receipts mattered more this year.

Also looming large in campaigns was the value of name familiarity. Incumbents obviously have it, having appeared more than once on the ballot. The 42 other candidates who filed this year needed to get recognized. This year that was achieved by doorbelling, sponsoring fundraisers and house parties, appearing in forums and debates, and getting attention through social media and local news outlets.

The role PAC’s spending played in the primary is up for debate. Allowed to spend independently without limits, PACs do have an effect. However, they cannot coordinate with campaigns and sometimes miss the mark. Locals recall how United Here Local 8 dropped $150,000 during Andrew Lewis’s first campaign only to depict a Ballard house not located in the 7th District where Lewis was running. More recent Independent Expenditure (IE) spending sometimes relies too heavily on warmed-over platitudes.

But even with a possible leftward trend when late ballots are counted, the outlook is that the incoming city council with a bunch of new councilmembers (at least four, maybe more) will likely resemble Seattle as it has been historically: part moderate, part progressive, ready to tackle issues. The most dramatic change is that Councilmember Kshama Sawant won’t be around to rally her Socialist Alternative brigade to cheer her bombast and hoot at any opposition. Those chaotic episodes won’t be missed.







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. Seattle City Council – “part moderate, part progressive, ready to tackle issues.” Ready to tackle issues? Really? I’ll believe it when I see it and there are less homeless tents, fentanyl zombies, crazy people just openly walking around screaming, etc, compared to all the revenue the city generates. Trend lines speak for themselves; I don’t understand how this city keeps voting against its own best interests.


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