A day on Alex Cooley’s campaign to represent District 3 on the Seattle City Council starts at 8 am in the sauna. He’s not just loosening up for a long day of door-knocking, he’s canvassing the other gymgoers. Cooley said it’s really not that weird. He wears shorts—most of the time.
There’s not a moment to spare for the Cooley campaign—not even those sweaty, intimate ones in the sauna. After losing the two most influential endorsements in the city, the odds are stacked against him.
Political consultants have long said that there’s only two parties in town, the Seattle Times and The Stranger. As a rule, the endorsements from those two papers determine which candidates make it through the primary. Cooley and District 5 candidate Nilu Jenks, two high-fundraising candidates with plenty of community support, did not make the cut for either the conservative Times or the more left-leaning editorial board at The Stranger. While some candidates bow out after the two papers choose other champions, Cooley and Jenks are full steam ahead, convinced they can pull off a rare upset that could call into question whether the papers are really all-powerful.
Mosqueda’s Secret Sauce
It's not impossible to win without an endorsement from the two big papers, but it is very, very, VERY uncommon. Council Member Teresa Mosqueda is one of the few candidates in recent history–if not the only one–who made it through the primary without the blessing from either outlet. In fact, she won the 2017 primary, beating The Stranger’s pick by nearly five percentage points in August and then by almost 20 percentage points in the November general election.
Mosqueda’s 2017 campaign manager, Aretha Basu, credited Mosqueda’s deep connections with labor, politicians at the State Capitol, and communities of color for her historic victory. Basu said they made use of those connections with weekly themes for canvases, which encouraged her endorsing groups to come out for the specific issues they cared about. Environmental groups came out on environmental justice week, unions came out for workers’ rights week, etc.
Plus, labor dumped big money into her campaign. An Independent Expenditure committee, which can spend unlimited money on a candidate, spent more than $200,000 in support of her. She raised another $455,000, blowing her competition out of the water.
Basu said there’s definitely a path forward for candidates who fail to earn endorsements from either paper, but it takes the right hustle, strong convictions, and, in Mosqueda’s case, a strong base cultivated over years of work in the State Legislature, including well-resourced unions.
Undisputed King of Hustle
Cooley’s a little more on the outside, but he’s not counting himself out.
Cooley, a substitute teacher and drug legalization advocate, already established a strong presence in the months leading up to next week’s primary. Everywhere you look in his district — Montlake, Capitol Hill, Judkins Park, Leschi—there’s Cooley’s name over top of his iconic teal on wheat-paste posters, stickers, and window signs. And if you miss the ads, he’ll come to you.
On Tuesday, Cooley told The Stranger that he’s on his second round of door-knocking. He doesn’t “cut turf” as the campaign world calls it. It does not matter if voting data says a Republican or an irregular voter lives behind a door, so long as you have not already thrown that envelope in the drop box, Cooley’s paying you a follow-up visit before Tuesday.
Cooley’s a one-man show out in the field. He can knock out up to 250 doors a day by himself, usually sweating through two or three T-shirts in the process.
He speculates that he’s dealing with margins of hundreds of votes to make it out of the primary, so he’s not just hitting the easy doors. With the help of supporters on the inside, he's weaseling his way into apartments and knocking doors of renters and condo owners who typically see fewer canvassers than people with easily accessible, private entries.
He’s been kicked out, locked in stairwells, assaulted, and told to suck a 78-year-old woman’s dick. But the one-on-one interaction with voters is worth the effort, he said.
“Hi, I’m Alex Cooley, I’m running for City Council,” he says at every door. “I’m just saying hi to neighbors and wondering if there’s anything important to you for this election?”
Usually voters come up short on that question, and Cooley directs them to a QR code on his campaign leaflet if they think of something later. HE said it's not that voters don’t care about what’s going on at City Hall, it's just that no one’s asked them.
One voter, a young man in an apartment building off Rainier Avenue, had plenty of questions, ranging from the path toward free transit to the basics of the legislative process. After a few minutes of back and forth, the young man dipped back into his unit and returned with his ballot. He tore it open right there.
“They made it easy for you. My name’s the first one on the ballot–and the first in your heart,” Cooley joked.
The voter continued to inspect the ballot and asked, “Who is your biggest competition?”
“Joy Hollingsworth,” Cooley said.
“What’s her deal?” The voter asked, looking at her name on the ballot
Hollingsworth, a cannabis-grower and third generation Central District resident, won the Seattle Times endorsement and fundraised the fastest. Cooley described Hollingsworth as someone who will do whatever power-brokers at the City tell her to do, even though she claims to listen to “community.” The voter tsked, shaking his head.
“Who of your competition are you most aligned with?” He asked.
“Probably Alex Hudson,” Cooley said, praising The Stranger’s pick for her expertise of all things transit. But he worried that Hudson would similarly be in the pocket of those in power rather than being responsive to the people of D3.
The anti-establishment messaging seemed to do its job with this voter.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” he said. “It’ll be my first time voting.”
The two exchanged some sort of celebratory bro-y handshake before the voter closed his door.
Cooley probably could have fished for Democracy Vouchers–$100 of public funding every Seattle resident gets to donate to campaigns in order to offset the influence of big money–but he’s already maxed out on donations for now anyway. He’s raised just as much money as his institutionally backed competitors, Hollingsworth and Hudson, though Cooley argues his fundraising better represents how many people will vote for him because all of his money comes from the Democracy Voucher program.
But if he knocks Hudson into third place in the primary, Cooley’s grassroots convictions may not be competitive with money-raising machine Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth hit the fundraising cap much earlier and is bursting at the seams to raise more money. Plus, since she’s endorsed by the Mayor, the business interests, the mega-landlords, and the Trump donors who bankrolled his campaign will probably spend a fortune supporting Hollingsworth and smearing her competition. The usual conservative suspects have already started putting big money behind City Council candidates Rob Saka in District 1 and Maritza Rivera in District 4.
Cooley said he does not plan to accept support from an IE, though candidates and IEs are not allowed to coordinate. He would rather continue running on public funding alone. It has served him well so far.
“The Stranger Hates Me”
Nilu Jenks’s campaign manager, Kaiden Cook, said when the team saw The Stranger’s endorsements, they sort of just said “okay” and got right back to knocking doors. If they wanted to win, they could not afford to dwell.
Jenks can hit more than 500 doors a day with the help of her husband, she said. Unlike Cooley, Jenks has a whole army of precinct officer volunteers canvassing for her. That army has almost run her out of campaign literature, and she can’t buy any more because she’s hit the fundraising cap. In the last week before the election, she started skipping houses with “No Soliciting” signs to conserve what’s left of her leaflets.
Jenks and her campaign aren’t sure how much their competitors are canvassing. Most people she interacts with say they haven’t had a door-knocker since Darya Farivar ran for State Legislature in 2022 or since Bob Ferguson, canvassing legend, ran for County Council. Jenks gave her spiel to a dog-walker Wednesday afternoon who said it was the first time a candidate had ever talked to her.
Jenks usually hops right into her talking points after introducing herself: Right to shelter, convenient transportation, climate justice, and police alternatives. She gets the most pushback on the cop stuff, she said.
She usually wraps up her pitch by listing some endorsements, such as the King County Democrats, The Urbanist, and the Progressive Voter guide, which is the guide she trusts for her own decisions on the ballot. “No offense,” she said to the very polite reporter shadowing her for The Stranger.
One voter asked Jenks if she got The Stranger endorsement. She said, “The Stranger hates me.” It really seems like she is not dwelling! She is over it, guys!
“The Stranger is concerned about my views on progressive taxes,” she explained. “I am not concerned about my views on progressive taxes.”
Yes, The Stranger is concerned about Jenks’s views on progressive taxes, because while she claims empathetically to “like” taxes, she said she wouldn’t raise taxes on big business if economists thought there might be an incoming recession, or if the businesses could show the tax would hurt their bottom lines. But you can count her in for supporting a capital gains tax, which is nice.
But that brief comment about The Stranger only happened at one door, and the voter brought it up first! Jenks is not marketing herself as the anti-establishment candidate that Cooley is, though she seems similarly motivated to pull off an upset.
“I have a lot of people who know me and have put their faith in me. [The Stranger] doesn’t know me,” Jenks said. “But the people who do, they deserve my best effort to win.”
Jenks could be in a similar situation as Mosqueda in 2017. She’s raised $90,000 while The Stranger’s pick, social equity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner, sits at about half that amount. The Seattle Times’ endorsee, former King County judge Cathy Moore, has raised $36,000 and is in $10,000 of debt.
Jenks has also racked up just about every other important endorsement and more volunteers than she can keep track of.
If anyone could prove candidates should not roll over and accept the newspapers’ endorsements it would be Jenks. And Cooley. Can’t forget Cooley.