This time last year, tenant advocate Jon Grant was recovering from a decisive loss to Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess. Grant had run to the left of Burgess, winning support from former mayor Mike McGinn, socialist Council Member Kshama Sawant, and others. But he'd been outspent more than five and a half to one—even more if you count big outside spending in support of Burgess from groups like the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.
Now, a year later, Grant believes "it's a whole new world."
Grant, 34, announced today he plans to run again next year for the same citywide council seat—the seat in which Burgess now sits. And he's hoping a new public campaign finance system will make this run more viable.
Beginning next year, Seattle's new "democracy voucher" system will provide all registered voters in the city with $100 in coupons to donate to candidates running for local office.* In order to collect those public dollars, candidates will first have to get at least 400 contributions of $10 or more. With the launch of his campaign today, Grant is asking donors to step up to help him cross that initial threshold.
In running for citywide council position 8, Grant will again challenge Burgess—assuming Burgess indeed runs for reelection. The incumbent has filed to run but has said he's waiting to talk with his family over the holidays before making a final decision. (Wondering how we're already talking about another Tim Burgess race? The council's new hybrid districts/citywide election system elected a new council last year but the citywide seats were only elected to two-year terms. After 2017, those will be four-year terms as well, elected during the same years as mayoral races.)
Grant was executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State from 2010 to 2015. In 2015, he won 45 percent of the vote in his race against Burgess. Since then, he has worked as outreach director on this year's successful campaign to raise the statewide minimum wage and require sick leave for workers across Washington.
Though he's a Democrat, Grant aligns closely with Sawant, refusing in 2015 to take donations from corporations and developers. (This time around, he'll make the same pledge, an easy one when you're an enemy of developers and corporations.) During his last race, Grant also made headlines when he was the subject of an apparent attempted shakedown by a downtown developer.
While Grant's first campaign was largely focused on an anti-Burgess message, he's spinning something more positive this time around—at least for now. In an interview, Grant said he will campaign on several priorities—affordable housing, public education, workers' rights, gender equity, climate change, and racial justice—but he will wait to make specific policy proposals.
"As we advance this campaign, we're gonna be engaging with stakeholders and community members to make sure that people's voices are heard in the creation of those policy proposals," Grant said. "And it starts with folks stepping up with us and joining the campaign to make all those things possible."
Grant is proposing one specific policy goal now: The city's new affordable housing requirements should mandate that at least a quarter of all new apartments are rent-restricted, he said. Today, as the council finalizes details of its housing affordability program, it's planning to require developers to set aside between 5 and 11 percent of units as affordable for people making 60 percent of the area median income (or about $38,000 for a single person). In exchange for those requirements, the city plans to upzone neighborhoods like the University District and South Lake Union, allowing developers to build bigger buildings in those neighborhoods.
Grant believes those affordability requirements should be at least 25 percent. Some urbanists claim affordability requirements should be kept in the single digits to avoid making new development unfeasible. Grant dismisses that as fear-mongering similar to minimum wage skeptics who claimed the economy would crash with increased wages.
Grant has pushed for the city to do more to offset displacement and has sometimes been cast by urbanists as a NIMBY sympathizer. He said he's not opposed to upzones, but "we're not getting a good enough deal" with the upzones currently proposed. "Right now," he said, "we're essentially giving away those height increases."
“We can choose the Seattle we want to live in," Grant said in an announcement of his candidacy today. "We do not have to accept Donald Trump’s policies in Seattle. We do not have to accept homelessness or skyrocketing rents... This is your campaign for an affordable city."
*In 2017, the vouchers will be available for citywide council races and the city attorney's race, but not for the mayor's race. That's so the program can accumulate more tax dollars for future mayor's races, which are generally more expensive. Beginning in 2021, mayoral candidates can participate as well.