The votes are now (almost) all counted from last week’s primary election, and the general election field in each of the seven district City Council races is now set. With the results in, there are few things we can deduce from the results.
First, the outcomes of the primary races mostly played out as expected. The basic pattern of Seattle municipal politics has held: each race advanced one finalist rooted more in the left lane, and the other in the more moderate lane. The one minor upset is that in District 5 up north (Lake City) diversity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner, with 24.4 percent of the vote, will comfortably finish second over progressive establishment and organized labor fave Nilu Jenks. Moderate lane candidate Cathy Moore, a former judge and City Council legislative aide, will finish solidly in first (at 30.7 percent).
Credit The Stranger for ObeySumner’s primary success. The Stranger Election Control Board upended the D5 race by, surprisingly, throwing their support to ObeySumner – whom they approvingly cited, at the launch of OberySumner’s candidacy, as “a Black, queer, nonbinary, neurodivergent, multi-disabled person who has experienced homelessness” – over Jenks, who (aside from losing The Stranger) ran by far the strongest primary campaign in the crowded D5 field.
ObeySumner may check a lot of intersectional identity boxes, but they (ObeySumner uses they/them pronouns) ran a relatively weak primary campaign (as did Moore). Still, that Stranger backing was more than enough to catapult them through to the general, where it’ll be interesting to see how they fare against Moore in this moderate-leaning district.
Otherwise the outcomes are as expected: attorney Rob Saka vs. climate activist Maren Costa in D1, incumbent Tammy Morales vs. C/ID community leader Tanya Woo in D2, former Transportation Choices Coalition Executive Director Alex Hudson vs. Joy Hollingsworth, whose family owns a marijuana producer/processor business and who works on food insecurity issues, in D3 [disclosure: I am consulting for Hudson in this race], Deputy Director of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture Maritza Rivera vs. tech entrepreneur Ron Davis in D4, incumbent Dan Strauss vs, Fremont Chamber head Pete Hanning in D6, and incumbent Andrew Lewis vs, former naval intelligence officer Bob Kettle in D7. As is typical, every single one of these candidates (including Moore and ObeySumner) was endorsed by either the Seattle Times or The Stranger.
Second, with the City Council’s overall favorability ratings mired in the high 20s or low 30s (depending on the poll), and with twice as many Seattle voters saying the city is on the wrong track as say it is on the right track, the conventional wisdom for much of this cycle has been that we are in the midst of a moderate backlash against the excesses of a too-left Council. In other words, a reprise of the central dynamic in the 2021 races that elected Bruce Harrell mayor, Sara Nelson at-large to the Council, and Ann Davison as City Attorney.
That conventional wisdom appears to be wrong. There is no indication from the primary results that this is a moderate wave election. Two of the three incumbents running for re-election, Tammy Morales in District 2 (SE Seattle) and Dan Strauss in District 6 (Wallingford, Ballard, Phinney), finished above 50 percent in the primary, which is a rough rule of thumb indication that they’re in decent shape heading into the general. Primary turnout overall is barely above 35 percent, which is on the low side, another indication that this year there’s no surge of angry, pitchfork-wielding moderate voters seeking to reel in the excesses of a too radical Council.
The third incumbent running, Andrew Lewis in District 7 (Downtown, Queen Anne), clearly hurt himself politically with his recent high profile, surprise swing vote against the misdemeanor drug possession/public drug use ordinance that failed 5-4. Lewis received about 43.5 percent of the primary vote, which certainly puts him in the electoral danger zone, and his moderate lane opponent Kettle is likely to hammer Lewis hard as being too far left, particularly on public safety. But the drug possession law will be voted on again before the general election, and Lewis has indicated he intends to support it this time, so he will have an opportunity to make amends with his constituents.
Charging toward the center may work. Incumbent Dan Strauss in District 6 had a surprisingly strong showing in the primary, after aggressively repositioning himself in his campaign messaging as a pro-cop, pro-public safety, anti-defund moderate, stampeding away from the radical defund/abolition positions he had (perhaps somewhat reluctantly) embraced in 2020. Expect Andrew Lewis to do the same over the next few months – this video he released right before the primary, in which he touts himself as a champion of public safety downtown, is probably a pretty good indication of what’s to come.
Strauss’ and Lewis’ rush to the center on public safety is the other important takeaway from this primary. This may not be a moderate wave election this year, but the flip side of that coin is that we are witnessing, in real time, the final death rattles of the left activist abolition/defund/stop the sweeps pipe dreams of 2020, which not so long ago had been performatively championed by so much of Seattle’s political ruling class (including both Strauss and Lewis).
Those dreams had already been badly wounded by the ’21 backlash, but now, watching how the successful left lane candidates message this year, it’s clear there is little appetite anymore for radical left disemboweling of municipal institutions like the police and courts. That ship has sailed – or more accurately, sunk, as crime, public use of hard drugs, and street disorder have grown as public concerns in the post-pandemic era (the clearest exception among the left lane candidates is ObeySumner, who is running on a somewhat muted version of the 2020-style left activist agenda; even Morales, by far the farthest left incumbent seeking re-election, mentions zippo about cutting police funding or stopping sweeps on her campaign issues page).
You know the Overton window has shifted towards the center when left lane candidates like Ron Davis in District 4 are sending out late mailers touting their support for five minute police response times – something that would require adding hundreds of additional officers – in an obvious effort to blur the contrast on policing and public safety that his moderate opponent, Maritza Rivera, has been staking out.
So what to expect in the general? With no apparent backlash wave building, each of these seven races will be fought out district by district, matchup by matchup, campaign by campaign. Homelessness, public safety, and affordability will remain top issues. Also expect increased conversation about taxation and potential budget cuts, as the City’s “Revenue Stabilization Task Force” issues its recommendations for potential tax increases this week, and the Council begins what may turn into hotly contested budget deliberations in September.
Many of the general election races are likely to be close, and could go either way. That said, I would say the moderate lane candidates in D1 (Saka), D4 (Rivera) and D5 (Moore) have an edge, given the demographics and ideological composition of those districts. In Districts 2 and 3, where the electorate is significantly younger and renter-heavy, the more progressive candidates (Morales in D2, Alex Hudson in D3) have the advantage, for the same reason. But this is Seattle, where our divides are deep and the margins are small, so none of these outcomes are certain.