In early January, city council candidate Jon Grant sat down with his most formidable opponent, Teresa Mosqueda, and told her he was reconsidering his own run.
When Grant announced his campaign in November, he did so seeking to unseat Tim Burgess, "the oldest, whitest guy on the city council." But Burgess said he will be retiring after this term, and several other candidates—including women of color and a candidate vying to be the first transgender council member—jumped in the race. Grant, a cis white man, felt uneasy. "I had to ask myself, is this the time and place for me to take a step back?" Grant says. "It was a concern I took very seriously."
Mosqueda doesn't remember talking about much policy when she met for coffee with Grant several months ago. But Grant says he used the meeting with Mosqueda (as well as other campaign events) to make a policy calculus: Was there another candidate who shared his policy positions and could win?
"What I determined from those conversations," Grant says, "was there was not going to be a viable candidate in the race who would be able to push hard on affordable housing and police reform."
So he stayed in the race. That decision has allowed him to realize a viable and energetic campaign that has now raised nearly $200,000—about 90 percent of which came from the city's first-of-its-kind public campaign financing system. His run has also attracted criticism.
After Council Member Kshama Sawant and her party, Socialist Alternative, endorsed Grant in May, the executive secretary treasurer of the King County Labor Council, Nicole Grant (no relation), issued a scathing response. The labor group endorsed Mosqueda, and Nicole Grant accused Jon Grant of "taking up space, stealing credit, posing."
Mosqueda treads more lightly with her words. Is Jon Grant "taking up space" he shouldn't? "That's for him to think about," Mosqueda says.
Still, Mosqueda argues her lived experience, along with her résumé, make her the candidate most likely to analyze city policy in an intersectional way.
"It is a lens you cannot bring by saying, 'Don't worry, I will speak for you,'" Mosqueda says. "I'm tired of people speaking for me and my community. I want someone who comes from the community and speaks with the community."
Both Grant and Mosqueda say their political ideologies formed early. Mosqueda grew up in Olympia, where her Mexican American father, now a professor at Evergreen State College, once sued the Olympia police for pepper-spraying him.
During Mosqueda's childhood, her parents hosted house meetings for organizing in support of sanctuary for immigrants and against the Gulf War. Mosqueda remembers sitting near the front door with a coffee can she decorated, collecting donations. "A lot of our family photos were taken at protests," she says.
With degrees from the University of Washington and Evergreen, Mosqueda worked on public health policy for the Washington State Department of Health and the Children's Alliance. In the years after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, she sat on the Health Benefit Exchange Board. She was the sole holdout against granting the CEO of the insurance exchange a 13 percent raise. Later, she helped write and campaign for the state minimum wage after Republicans in the state legislature blocked efforts to raise the wage through legislation.
"I have a bullhorn with me in the car all the time," Mosqueda says. "That doesn't mean that's the only way to push policy change."
Grant grew up on Bainbridge Island, the son of a teacher and a lawyer. As a teenager, Grant made a zine called Section 8 filled with punk-show reviews and anti-capitalist messages. He remembers coming into Seattle and seeing homelessness as a "huge crisis."
"It cemented in my mind what I viewed as our generation's challenge to overcome," he says. "It intersects class, race, and gender."
Grant went to the Johnston Center for Integrative Studies at the University of Redlands, a program similar to Evergreen. After moving to Seattle, he worked at the housing nonprofit Solid Ground, and eventually the Tenants Union of Washington State, where he became executive director.
Grant is widely credited with helping bring the Tenant's Union back from the brink of financial collapse before he left in 2015 to run his first campaign for city council. (He lost to Burgess with 45 percent of the vote.) But the Tenant's Union has also had its share of dysfunction, which entangled Grant even after he left. Shortly after Grant's departure, three Tenant's Union employees wrote a letter to the organization's board asking for pay raises, anti-oppression training, and other changes. "The toxic environment bred by an executive director who lacked leadership and accountability and by staff who refused to acknowledge their white privilege has made for a traumatic work experience," the employees wrote.
One of those employees was later demoted. She filed a complaint with the city's Office for Civil Rights alleging retaliation and later settled with the Tenant's Union for $2,000. That case was filed after Grant left the organization, and he was not named as a party in the complaint. But documents associated with the case and obtained through a public records request show some dissatisfaction with Grant's leadership.
In e-mails, board members accused Grant of disrespecting the board's authority and asking for campaign contributions for his 2015 campaign during a staff meeting. (Grant denies this.) One employee described Grant missing meetings as "microaggressions," though another said Grant never treated her differently based on her race. In two performance evaluations provided by Grant, the board praised Grant's work and said he helped create a "productive and amiable office culture."
Former employees and board members contacted by The Stranger either declined to comment or did not respond. In a statement, Grant says he worked as executive director to "empower my staff," but took their concerns seriously. "I want to take responsibility for that as a person with both white privilege and positional authority," he said.
Several other candidates in the race—including Seattle King County NAACP vice president Sheley Secrest, doctor Hisam Goueli, and Mac McGregor, who would be the first transgender council member—are gaining some traction. Secrest has called for more city funding for jobs programs and alternatives to incarceration. She has emphasized police reform and gentrification, calling for stronger civilian oversight of the police department and slowing development until the city gets more feedback from "the people who are impacted the most."
"I want to bring in voices from the faces of the bottom of the well—folks who are normally marginalized," Secrest said in an endorsement interview with The Stranger.
Sara Nelson, co-owner of Fremont Brewing, earned the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce's endorsement and has emerged as the pro-business candidate.
But Grant and Mosqueda have raised significantly more money than anyone else in the race. At the same time, they represent two sides of Seattle's modern left. Grant argues he's willing to be bolder; Mosqueda argues she can be more effective.
"At the end of day, we cannot have the status quo remain at city hall," Grant says, "where the voices of developers and the police union are just so overwhelming."
Grant says developers who build in recently up-zoned areas should be required to set aside a quarter of new buildings as affordable housing. He supports taxing large corporations to pay for public housing and believes parts of the city's negotiations with police unions should be open to the public.
Mosqueda argues 25 percent affordability requirements are unrealistic and could delay development. She'd rather bond against existing tax dollars for housing than charge new taxes on business. And she opposes opening police union negotiations, worried doing so could over-politicize the process and stall negotiations.
Grant touts endorsements from two socialist organizations, the founder of Real Change, Lakota activist Matt Remle, and populist Seattle City Council members Lisa Herbold and Kshama Sawant. One of Grant's supporters, immigrant rights activist and DACA recipient Kamau Chege, says Grant has "proven himself as someone who will reach out and find solutions from communities and craft policies based on their experiences."
Mosqueda has backing from US representative Pramila Jayapal, state attorney general Bob Ferguson, the Sierra Club, more than 30 labor unions, and Seattle City Council members Lorena González, Sally Bagshaw, and Rob Johnson.
When the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America endorsed Grant in May, the group cited his housing positions and the fact that he had, one week earlier, been arrested for helping shut down a Chase Bank branch to protest the bank's financing of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. When González talks about her support for Mosqueda, she praises her experience working across the state and calls Grant's positions "pie in the sky." She says, "To me, it's a matter of who can actually get things done."
Like nearly every candidate in the eight-person race, both Grant and Mosqueda support a city income tax, private sector paid family leave, and increased protections for tenants. Both promise to fight for workers' rights.
"If somehow a 36-year-old Latina woman from the labor movement is the establishment," Mosqueda says, "we've really come a long way in Seattle."