Zachary DeWolf, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lorena González celebrating their respective elections to the Seattle School Board and Seattle City Council in 2017.
Zachary DeWolf, Teresa Mosqueda, and Lorena González, celebrating their respective elections to the Seattle School Board, the Seattle City Council, and the Seattle City Council in 2017. RS

There are a lot of reasons to pay attention to who Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez are supporting in this year’s city council elections. Mosqueda and Gonzalez, who hold Seattle’s two citywide council seats, are the only two politicians who are guaranteed to have a seat on the council in 2020. They're also rising stars in the local progressive and labor movements.

So that’s why it sent a particularly strong signal when School Board member Zachary DeWolf launched his bid for council this spring and was immediately armed with both Mosqueda and Gonzalez’s endorsements.

DeWolf is running to unseat Council Member Kshama Sawant, thus Mosqueda and Gonzalez’s double endorsement is as much an endorsement of DeWolf as it is a rejection of Sawant. So, what do the two politicians have against Seattle’s most famous socialist?

I recently wrote a double profile of the two politicians for The Stranger's recent Women in Power issue, and in reporting out the piece I asked the two council members why they coordinated their double endorsement. They both heaped praise on DeWolf, saying he'd done positive work in the community and as a school board member. Gonzalez cited DeWolf’s “commitment to strong progressive values while also being willing to come to the table,” as well as his work on 2018’s School Levy and the city’s new renter’s commission.

“The reason we have the renters’ commission is because of Zachary DeWolf, and I think he has been a good ally to me as a council member who chairs the education policy committee,” Gonzalez said.

But both Gonzalez and Mosqueda spent more time in our conversations talking about Sawant than DeWolf, saying they do not have a productive working relationship with Sawant on the council.

“I think I agree a lot with many of her policies," Gonzalez told me, "but unfortunately I have found that there is almost a non-existing working relationship between her and myself and, frankly, anyone else on the floor."

Sawant is usually described as a "divisive" by Seattle's anti-tax, pro-Amazon conservatives. That's certainly how Tim Burgess, a former council member who is now coordinating a no-limit PAC’s expensive attacks on Sawant, describes candidates he's opposing: “We support candidates who are not going to grab the bullhorn and be screaming all the time,” he told KUOW last week. (Wonder who he was referring to...)

But both Gonzalez and Mosqueda said their attacks weren’t based on Sawant’s rhetorical style. Mosqueda said sometimes you need “different tactics in various situations,” and Gonzalez agreed.

“It’s not about style,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not about divisiveness. I came from a movement-building world. I understand that we all play in the political system. I think there are ways to push more. I think that’s an important role for people to play but I think it’s not an effective strategy if you can’t collaboratively work on the council.”

Mosqueda may have a particular reason to have bad blood with Sawant: Sawant endorsed Jon Grant over Mosqueda when Mosqueda was fighting in a heated 2017 primary battle for her seat. But Mosqueda said “this is not personal.”

Sawant has also fallen out of favor with Seattle’s powerful labor community, and Mosqueda has worked as a labor organizer (and is currently in a union). She declined to comment on whether union support affected her decision to support Sawant.

“I have no comment on that," Mosqueda said. "I mean, labor's diverse and you have diverse opinions."

The two citywide council members reiterated throughout our conversations that they are in alignment on most policies with Sawant, but that isn’t entirely true when it comes to their voting records. Sawant is the most consistent progressive voter on the council, which sometimes puts her at odds with the rest of the council.

Sawant was the only council member to vote against approving Seattle’s recent police union contract. The police reform community was essentially begging the council to not support the contract—and a federal judge ultimately agreed with Sawant and the police reformers, saying the contract seriously weakened police accountability in the city. After that ruling, Mosqueda and Gonzalez essentially walked back over to Sawant’s side, saying the city needed to renegotiate the contract.

Sawant also broke with Gonzalez when she refused to support repealing the head tax (or the “Amazon tax,” in Sawant-speak). Mosqueda, on the other hand, was the only other council member to join Sawant in voting against the head tax repeal.

Sawant’s unbending commitment to progressive causes also helps move the dial to the left against pro-big business forces like Mayor Jenny Durkan or Burgess. For example, during the budget negotiations in 2016, former Stranger writer Heidi Groove described how a strident (and ultimately failed) demand from Sawant contributed to a new funding plan for a controversial police station:

The story behind how Herbold's proposal became reality is a familiar one by now. First, Council Member Kshama Sawant staked out a far-left position. She said the city should cancel its plans for a controversial new police station in North Seattle and spend that money on affordable housing instead. Then the mayor's office and many on the council balked. They said the new precinct is necessary, and some disputed whether Sawant's plan, which involved swapping out several different sources of funding, was even possible. But Sawant and her supporters kept up the pressure to do something. Then Herbold offered a viable alternative.

Where Sawant's plan would have redirected $160 million away from the police precinct and toward affordable housing, Herbold pitched a plan that doesn't require killing the North Precinct and instead sells city bonds to raise $29 million for affordable housing. (The specifics of how that debt in Herbold's plan will be paid back have not yet been finalized, but she hopes to use property taxes from new construction.)

The mayor and Council Member Tim Burgess, who chairs the budget and affordable housing committees, opposed both the Sawant and Herbold proposals. But Herbold won over six of her colleagues while Sawant's proposal failed because she was able to gather support only from herself and Mike O'Brien.

We will soon see, after the primary votes are counted on Tuesday, whether Mosqueda and Gonzalez were successful in choosing a candidate who can actually challenge Sawant—or if their preferred candidate for pushing out Seattle’s most famous socialist falls short.