Well, it has happened. Another primary election, and another series of post-mortem takes. Rest assured, the 17 regular readers of this blog, I had every intention of throwing together a hot take, but then I woke up Wednesday feeling less than well, and this continued through the week. Fun fact about me: I am just the worst when I’m sick. And in that state, I was unable and/or unwilling to put fingers-to-keys.
But now it is a new week, and there is better information, and I can do whatever the damned hell I want, so here we go! Here, I’ll take a look at each district, and offer a preview of the general election, complete with predictions (in August, because that makes sense). But first -
Some Overarching Themes -
On the internets, people love to talk about how mail doesn’t matter, and the adverse impacts of negative campaigning, blah blah blah. Ultimately, mail does matter, and negative campaigning is effective (no matter how much we don’t want it to be). I was actually discussing this with a consultant on primary night, and it was really quite illuminating. He didn’t necessarily care about the policy proposals from candidates. He just wants to win. At all costs. Now, this isn’t news to me, but it is a reminder: the folks who do care about policy, more specifically a policy designed to expand income inequality, to further oppression of historically neglected communities, and to do whatever it takes to avoid treating workers like people rather than widgets - i.e. the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Tim Burgess, Moms for Seattle, et al. - they want to win. At all costs. With an agenda.
In the primary, we saw that with the racist and sexist attack pieces from Tim Burgess’ group “People for Seattle,” along with the notoriously photoshopped mailers from “Moms for Seattle.” How effective were these mail pieces? That’s hard to say. Councilmember Herbold clearly did well, and Tammy Morales will likely crack (or come damn close to) 50% for an open seat. Conversely, School Board Director Zachary DeWolf came in fourth place, as did Labor leader Emily Myers, in Districts 3 and 4, respectively. How much of their showing was a result of the negative campaign, and how much a result of district-specific issues is hard to tell.
However, expect to see the same level of dirty mud-raking from the Burgess crew expanded to more districts.
There is also the question as to whether this is a referendum on the current City Council. To the extent that it was, we see a mixed bag. Incumbents are doing well, as is a Council staffer in District 6, and a former Council staffer in District 4, along with a Assistant City Attorney in 7 (and former Interim Chief of Police, also in 7). As I noted during an appearance on Q13 the week before the primary, we’re setting up for essentially no major shift in Council ideology once all of the votes are counted. And as I noted on election night, many of the complaints people have about the city - in particular the response to homelessness and increasing property crime - fall outside the purview of Council. Where the Mayor is failing to implement policy effectively (or at all), I expect most of this group of candidates to highlight what they’ll do to employer career city employees to do their jobs, and ensure meaningful oversight of this administration.
Now, to the Districts -
District 1 - Lisa Herbold v. Phil Tavel
Councilmember Lisa Herbold is well-known for her commitment to constituent services and bringing the voices (that she hears) from District 1 to City Hall. In 2015, she won with 49.75% of the vote - by 39 votes out of about 25,000 cast. So far, she has 13,243 votes in the primary, for 50.61% of the vote. That’s right - she is doing better in the primary (typically a more conservative electorate) than she did in the general four years ago. She must be doing something right.
While her opponent is a super nice guy, this will be his third campaign since he ran for King County District Court Judge in 2014, and it’s looking like it will be a third loss. Part of the uphill battle he will face moving forward will be articulating a vision that is both significantly distinct from CM Herbold, and something that residents of District 1 will embrace. While his opposition to MHA (Tavel is/was part of SCALE, the group that engaged in predatory delay tactics) is well-known, it was Herbold who whipped the votes to get some District 1 special amendments. Where her attempts for district-specific amendments have been less successful (the off-street parking regulations in 2018), Tavel would have to articulate how he would somehow be more effective. And if he wants to talk homelessness, Herbold has been at the forefront of approaches that don’t just move people around, but provide safe alternatives to camping in parks (not to mention her work on the RV remediation program). At this point, I’m going to say advantage Herbold in the general election, and probably by a (relatively) comfortable margin.
District 2 - Tammy Morales v. Mark Solomon
Tammy Morales is just shy of 50% of all ballots cast, and her closest competitor is hovering closer to 23%. This won’t be the first time I say this: historically in Seattle, candidates who come in first place in a primary come in first in a general, especially the closer to 50% they are. The most-known exception to this: 2013, when Councilmember Kshama Sawant came from behind to best Councilmember Richard Conlin. However, looking back, Conlin’s campaign wasn’t run very aggressively. That’s not going to happen here.
While the Mayor’s political consultant (who also did some consulting for the Burgess PAC) Sandeep Kaushik referred to Tammy dismissively as a “leftist activist,” and the Mayor herself engaged in red-baiting about Tammy while endorsing Mark, Tammy has made a compelling case: Southeast Seattle needs representation that will fight for self-determination as a part of growth for communities that are being displaced at the highest rates. Southeast Seattle needs representation that will work with community on innovative strategies to address food deserts. Southeast Seattle residents deserve to feel safe in their communities. If that’s being a “leftist activist,” then I’d hate to see what Sandeep, Tim, and Jenny would prefer to happen in Southeast Seattle. End of the day, I’m going to say advantage Morales in the general election, and probably by a decent margin.
District 3 - Kshama Sawant v. Egan Orion
Councilmember Sawant is the only incumbent to do worse this primary than they did in 2015. That said, she is in a good position for the general election with Egan Orion as her opponent (as an aside: I’m not sure any of the candidates running could have been successful in November).
Looking through their respective websites, where Councilmember Sawant’s has what she wants to do and how she would pay for it, Orion’s not only lacks realistic funding options, or any funding options at all in most cases, but also a lack of “how” he would get things done. Orion seems like a decent fella, but his campaign is effectively embracing the Reagan-era approach to government, with the suggestion that it’s failing and bad and taxes aren’t being well-spent and we can solve all of our problems with greater efficiency. That may work when you get to pick who your “customer” is, but government doesn’t have that option.
I expect this race to be very expensive on both sides, and to get very nasty very quick. However, I also expect Kshama Sawant to go into the general election with an edge.
District 4 - Alex Pedersen v. Shaun Scott
Back in 2015, District 4 was a bit of a shocker: the two candidates seen as the most “urbanist” (me and Rob Johnson) took a combined 57.48% of the primary vote, while the two who ran on a more slow-growth message nabbed 33.81% (and the remaining going to now-interim-Councilmember Abel Pacheco, for 8.43%). For a district seen as least likely to be friendly to urbanism, this was good news. This time around, the campaigns that ran more on “urbanism” (Shaun Scott, Emily Myers, Cathy Tuttle, Sasha Anderson, and Joshua Newman) took a combined 51.19%.
Looking at these numbers, it’s no wonder that there is now an effort afoot suggesting that folks look past prior perceived or real transgressions to support Scott because of a belief that Alex Pedersen is going to be the worst. I am admittedly one of the people who has some of this reported “beef” with Scott - regular readers of this blog may recall the Slog piece that Scott wrote, attacking me and the #Hashtag, apparently for embracing things like data and the Constitution. Or you may have read his piece for Seattle DSA wherein he lambasted Councilmember Mosqueda for embracing a governing approach that identifies common-ground in order to advance public policy. As someone with a lifetime of burning and/or lightly charring bridges under my belt, I can attest that it makes being successful more challenging.
As noted above, it is rare for a candidate in first place in a primary to end up in second place during a general election. Scott’s ground game is impressive, and looking at where he won compared to where Pedersen won, for him to be successful in November, that ground game is going to have to be extra-active. While I think he has the potential to do that, I also expect that Pedersen will be out at the doors every day between now and November. Again, looking at where Pedersen “won” precincts compared to were Scott “won,” I expect that Alex Pedersen will take this seat in November.
District 5 - Debora Juarez (DJD5) v. Ann Davidson-Sattler
North Seattle is in for an interesting campaign. In my experience, there is no fiercer advocate for District 5 on the Council than Debora Juarez. And I’m not just talking about her (often successful) efforts to get dollars invested in North Seattle. She’s also known for looking at appointments to boards and commissions, and working to ensure that these volunteer groups have representation from District 5. She’s also one of the most prepared members, and don’t ever come without being prepared to defend your weak points, because she’ll find them in her briefing materials. She’s also seen as one of the Mayor’s closest allies on the floor, and the only one to run for re-election.
While the Seattle Times has endorsed Ann Davidson-Sattler, I believe there is consensus that she’s a poor fit for the Council and the District. Notably, her affiliation with local anti-homelessness group Safe Seattle has made her toxic, and it appears that Labor, the Chamber, and basically everyone else, are supporting CM Juarez. While I don’t expect she’ll get the same general election numbers she did in 2015, I do expect Debora Juarez to win with a comfortable margin come November.
District 6 - Dan Strauss v. Heidi Wills
There were a lot of folks who expected that this race would be Heidi Wills v. Jay Fathi. I figured Jay would come in 3rd, maybe 2nd, but given his long history in the district, and his resume, I wasn’t surprised to see Dan Strauss get through the primary. I was surprised that he took first, and such a large chunk of the vote.
District 6 will give us a race that may get ugly. If the Burgess PAC and Moms for Seattle think they can win, I expect them to go all-in against Strauss to boost Wills. Of course, Wills has a legislative history from her last stint on Council, and the counter-attack pieces essentially write themselves. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to ground game and turnout, and who presents a vision for the District, and does so consistently. As a result, I expect Dan Strauss to be successful in November, and by a decent margin.
District 7 - Andrew Lewis v. Jim Pugel
Both candidates in District 7 support replacement of the Magnolia Bridge. A 2017 study found that the bridge has traffic volume of about 17,000 vehicles per-day. The most recent ridership estimates for the Center City Connector - which both candidates oppose - is nearly 19,000 riders-per-day in year five. One serves primarily cars to a primarily single-family neighborhood of primarily white people, most of whom are doing quite fine economically. The other will complete a streetcar network connecting multiple neighborhoods, while also acting as an economic boost for the Chinatown/International District - especially if tourists follow patterns, and be more likely to take the surface-street streetcar from hotels to the CID than they are to go underground for light-rail or take a bus. The Magnolia Bridge is estimated to cost upwards of $420 million to build (plus maintenance thereafter). The Center City Connector is expected to cost a total of $252.4 million (including utility work), plus operations subsidy. Of course, both candidates will also tout their environmentalism bona fides and embrace of racial and social equity.
I bring that up only to show that District 7 brings some of the least contrast for the general election. A former cop and a current prosecutor, both opposed to the CCC, both supportive of a Magnolia Bridge rebuild, both support renewing the most regressive tax in Seattle (the flat-fee plus sales tax Transportation Benefit District). On the Employee Hours Tax, Lewis is strongly against it, with Pugel it’s less clear. (take a look at those questionnaires - they’re excessive in length, but provide some of the differences between the two). Personally, I lean Lewis - I know he’s someone that will work with folks in areas of disagreement to find a common-ground path forward. Plus he’s good on worker rights. Where the district lands is hard to say. If not only because I’m sticking with the “in first place has an advantage” mantra, I’m going to say advantage Andrew Lewis. But given the makeup of the district, and boatloads of money that outside groups have to support these candidates, it’s hard to say with more certainty.
So, there you have it - we’re going to have a new City Council, and it’s going to look (ideologically) similar to the old City Council. Think about it:
P8: Teresa Mosqueda
P9: Lorena González
D1: Lisa Herbold
D2: Tammy Morales
D3: Kshama Sawant (outside chance Egan Orion)
D4: Alex Pedersen (outside chance Shaun Scott)
D5: Debora Juarez
D6: Dan Strauss
D7: Andrew Lewis (outside chance Jim Pugel)
This compared with the current Council:
P8: Teresa Mosqueda
P9: Lorena González
D1: Lisa Herbold
D2: Bruce Harrell
D3: Kshama Sawant
D4: Abel Pacheco
D5: Debora Juarez
D6: Mike O’Brien
D7: Sally Bagshaw
Suffice it to say, we’re not in for a sea change on the second floor. What will be interesting to see is how committees shake out with this new council, and the extent at which campaign promises of “accountability” will translate into meaningful oversight work, and further how that impacts communities being served by local government.
It’s probably going to be a pretty ugly few months ahead (fueled in large part by the Tim Burgess PAC). But all of that negativity - and all of the money - will be wasted. Watch for the onus to be placed on the new Council to bring back “civility” lost during this election cycle thanks to the heinous efforts of Tim Burgess and his ilk. At the same time, I’ll be most interested in who will push forward with legislation that will get folks into housing, and then hold the executive branch accountable when the fail to implement those policies.