When long-sitting state Senator Reuven Carlyle announced his retirement earlier this year, it sent a ripple effect down the 36th legislative district’s Democratic chain of command. While the district’s two representatives decided amongst themselves that Representative Noel Frame would run to replace Carlyle, they didn’t leave such a clear heir to the seat Frame would vacate. Now, three of the area’s party insiders struggle to prove they’re next in line, while two others try to crack into the 36th legislative district’s exclusive bubble.

The 36th legislative district includes Ballard, Magnolia, and Queen Anne: the land of street cafés, horrific transit, and the Space Needle. As far as politics goes, think a well-kept lawn with an “In This House We Believe” sign outside of a single-family home. On the west side of the district, these types voted strongly for Mayor Bruce Harrell in 2021, with a few precincts to the eastern edge favoring his more progressive rival. This time around, the voters in the 36th will not have such a clear choice. So far, the candidates tend to agree on most issues, with no clear progressive-versus-conservative distinction. The topic of single-family zoning, however, separated the NIMBYs from the density-heads. 

Meet the candidates

Nicole Gomez is the former chair of the 36th District Democrats. Gomez studied political science and communications at the University of Washington and public administration at Seattle University. She co-founded the Alliance for a Healthy Washington, and Governor Inslee appointed her as a consumer representative to the permanent Universal Health Care Commission. She’s interested in health care (duh), housing affordability, and tax fairness. During the Stranger Election Control Board endorsement meeting, Gomez didn’t miss a beat. She supports lifting the ban on rent control, decriminalizing simple possession of all drugs, and all the other issues the board cares about.

Julia Reed is the 36th District Democrats’ resident policy wonk. She’s worked in every level of government, and said she’s seen the system at its most "dysfunctional" (after all, she did work for the Durkan administration). In the Stranger Election Control Board endorsement meeting with the five candidates, Reed was the most outspoken about progressive policies and the only one to ride a bike instead of drive to The Stranger’s office in Chinatown International District. 

Unfortunately, she said she will soon become a small landlord when she moves in with her boyfriend and rents out her condo. Reed assured the board that she is only charging enough to pay her mortgage: $3,000 for the 700 square-foot two-bedroom she bought for $500,000 two years ago. All that said, her first priority according to her website is “housing affordability and inclusionary zoning,” so maybe she’s not as bad as the “small housing providers” who plague Seattle City Council’s public comment. 

Jeff Manson chaired the 36th District Democrats before Gomez. He describes himself as a labor Democrat; he even organized his own workplace. He’s an administrative law judge for the state, so it’s not quite as blue-collar or inspiring as efforts at Amazon or Starbucks, but still!

Manson supported most of the progressive policies of his Democrat insider counterparts, but he did trip up on the question of eliminating single-family zoning.

While Reed and Gomez easily agreed that the state should ban exclusionary planning, Manson said he would not support banning single-family zoning outright. In a follow-up email, Manson clarified that leaving density up to municipalities has failed, so the state should step in with policies like the middle housing bill, not eliminate single-family zoning altogether.

Tyler Crone, a self-employed “Global Health, Gender Equity, and Human Rights Expert” who studied at Brown, Columbia, and Yale, also stumbled over that very low hurdle.

Crone, who described herself as the only outsider in the race, holds many of the same progressive beliefs as the other candidates, with special interest in reproductive rights and trans equality. When the question of eliminating zoning came up, Crone hesitated. She eventually gave a soft yes, after saying that we should not “disrupt the fabric of our neighborhoods.”

The wild-card candidate, Waylon Robert, gave a curt “no” to eliminating single-family zoning and insisted on a “holistic approach.” Robert is the youngest candidate in the race, and he’s also the most unique. In some ways, he’s more left-leaning: He was the only one of the five to vote for Senator Bernie Sanders instead of the already-withdrawn Senator Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 presidential primary. In other ways, he’s more conservative: He wouldn’t decriminalize simple possession of all drugs until he sees how it plays out in Oregon, he voiced (misplaced) concerns that ending qualified immunity would legally impact collective bargaining for police, and he supported cops’ ability to engage in vehicular pursuit.

Though the least mainstream, Robert has already earned many high-profile endorsements, from former King County Councilmember Larry Gossett, State Senator Bob Hasegawa, and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.

Besides Robert, the other four candidates gave the exact same answer on almost every single question that wasn’t about single-family zoning. So far, the clearest distinction in the race appears to be funding. As of June 16, Reed has the most money, at just over $100,000. She’s got a bit of a lead over Robert and Manson, who have collected about $83,000 and $74,000, respectively. Crone has raised a little over half as much as Reed, with $55,000. Even further behind, Gomez has only raised about $15,000, which is less than the amount Frame’s now-defunct campaign for the seat had reported to the Public Disclosure Commission.