One way to analyze elections is to consider the dog that doesn’t bark. This seems particularly true in the Seattle City Council elections this past week.
The first dog that merely whimpered was labor. Particularly SEIU 775 and Unite Here Local 8 were very active in recent city council elections, winning heavily in 2019. Mysteriously, these potent unions barely showed their fangs this time. Real estate interests and other business groups outspent labor by 6:1, which goes a long way to explain why the more left-leaning, pro-labor candidates did poorly.
One wonders why. (Efforts to reach these unions for comment were unavailing.) One theory is that labor didn’t want to reward its more wayward councilmembers. A related explanation is that the unions realized there was such a tide running against the Seattle City Council that union donations would be wasted. Another is that labor has shifted to new areas for electing sympathetic folks, notably the Port of Seattle and King County Council. A fourth explanation is that labor wants to shift the focus from electing friendly folks to applying pressure once in office, including threats to un-elect waffling members. A final theory is that unions are back trying to unionize companies rather than the practice in the last decade of getting the city council to pass laws that enact union goals (scheduling, minimum wage) for the non-union citizenry.
The other dog that didn’t bark was the Sawant Machine. In the past, Councilmember Kshama Sawant revved up excitement and many young doorbellers, but this time she chose not to run, and her machine was idling. That’s another serious blow for the candidates replacing Sawant, especially Alex Hudson, as well as mobilizing the youth vote in other races. The result: low turnout, low intensity, low media narrative, and few reasons to vote and talk up the issues.
As a result, the left part of these seven contests did poorly. It’s not so much that the moderates triumphed as that the armies of the Left avoided the battle.
Does this mean that the Left has died in Seattle? Certainly there will be a new center of gravity in the city council. But a decade of progressivism and new population has converted the city hall bureaucracy, the media, the arts, and the nonprofits into a Seattle shade of deep blue. Labor may have other fish to fry, and Sawant is moving out of town. But the leftward momentum has many more troops to deploy and youth energies and issues to tap.