Between all the bubble-blowing and new buddhas and in-district brews—Primary Election Night 2023 was fun! But what do the results mean for the good people of Seattle?
At this point, it's kinda hard to say. King County Elections still needs to count up hundreds of thousands of votes, and though those votes likely lean left, we won't get a sense of how much they'll lean left until late Thursday afternoon. But some trends did begin to emerge, and those are worth chatting about a bit.
Good News! The Stranger Reigns Supreme 👑
Seattle proved once again that the Stranger Election Control Board’s endorsements are gospel in the primary, as they should be! We work very hard on them! The city also proved once again that the Seattle Times endorsements establish the conservative lane. All of this suggests that voters seem to turn to trusted news organizations to help make their primary election decisions, which, according to consultants from outside of town, makes us kinda unique and quirky and fun.
In District 1, city council candidate and Stranger pick Maren Costa, a techie with a knack for standing up to the boss man, won the night with a score of 29%, giving her an unassailable four-point lead over tech lawyer Rob Saka, who was endorsed by the Times. Saka's relatively weak performance of 24%—only four points ahead of Phil Tavel—suggests that the Trumpers who dumped tens of thousands of dollars into the race to support him were absolutely right to be scared shitless of a loss.
In District 3, urbanist Alex Hudson, who was also endorsed by The Stranger, rose above a crowded race of progressives all vying for a shot to take on the Mayor’s choice, Joy Hollingsworth, in November. Hudson earned 32% of the vote, blowing every other slightly left candidate out of the water. Alex Cooley, a door-knocking legend, came the closest with just 4% of the vote on night one. That’s 658 ballots. More people read Hannah Krieg’s story about his door-knocking than actually voted for him. Cool dude, though.
In District 5, social equity consultant and underdog ChrisTiana ObeySumner, who was endorsed by The Stranger, slid into second place with more than 21% of the vote. Nilu Jenks came within striking distance, winning 19% of the vote. The Stranger has already gotten an earful from Jenks fans who think we gave the seat to conservative candidate and Seattle Times endorsee, Cathy Moore, who tacked up 32% last night, by endorsing a more progressive candidate in the race. To that we say, not so kindly, shut the fuck up. That's incredibly dismissive of an extremely qualified Black, queer, nonbinary, disabled policy-wonk who boasts the most progressive platform in town, and who is more than capable of winning, as they demonstrated last night.
Phew! Just had to get that off our chests. We admit our ObeySumner bluster may be premature. Jenks is only running 300 votes behind ObeySumner right now, and with many progressive orgs backing her, she could end up inching ahead in the coming days. If that happens, then we guess we’ll be proven wrong. But if it doesn’t, then progressives will not overcome Moore unless Jenks and the other progressives in the race rally around ObeySumner and start kicking ass up north. It's going to take a village.
…But Here’s the Bad News
The progressives are behind, even if it doesn’t look like they are at first blush.
Costa had a great night. We would hate to take that away from her, but the margin of her win Tuesday indicates a tough fight ahead. Taken together, the conservative candidates won 54% of the vote. Though Costa’s lead will likely increase, and though general election electorates are more progressive, we're not sure how progressive.
Hudson could be in a better position, too. Sure, she’s splitting the vote with the four candidates to the left of Hollingsworth, but that only adds 14% to her tab. The combined score from the conservative candidates currently sits at 51% of the vote. That said, again: Hudson will benefit from the later ballots and a larger turnout in the general. For example, D3 Council Member Kshama Sawant got 32% of the first drop in the 2019 primary. Late ballots took that to almost 37% in the primary. She ultimately won the general election with 52%. That's a path for Hudson, but Sawant benefitted from a dumb Amazon dump and an army of red shirts sitting at every corner in the district for a month, so she'll need something like that.
In District 4, city council candidate and Urbanist Father™ Ron Davis won the primary with almost 41% of the vote. That sounds great, and it kind of is, but Kenneth Wilson and Maritza Rivera split the NIMBY, pro-business, conservative vote. With Wilson out, his voters may rally around Rivera, which would bring her to 58% based on the first results in the primary.
These progressives will need a strong ground game, a few flashy mailers, and big money from an independent expenditure committee to win. God knows Saka, Rivera, and Hollingsworth will have all of that.
Seattle's Incumbents Exceed Expectations
For the last four years, conservative media and TV news have done their best to blame all of America's woes on Seattle's "progressive" city council, and they've been quite effective. As of June of this year, the Seattle City Council's approval rating sat at 34%. Last night, though, every single Seattle City Council member who ran beat that number and led their race. Not bad for members of a body who take the blame for the dumb shit the mayors do.
"Ballard Dan" Strauss, the more conservative of the three incumbents, was the only one to crack 50% of the vote on election night. He's leading Fremont Chamber of Commerce dude Pete Hanning by a mile, 51% to 30%, and with The Stranger's endorsement, that lead will likely grow.
District 2 Council Member Tammy Morales is leading her race against Chinatown-International District advocate Tanya Woo, 48% to 45%. In 2019, Morales jumped up six points between election night and the final tally, so her lead might look more impressive come Friday, too.
Bringing in the rear is perhaps the most embattled incumbent, District 7's Andrew Lewis. With only 41% of the pie, nearly 60% of his district wanted someone other than him on election night. And with 33% of the vote, Queen Anne Community Council Member Bob Kettle might be able to pull together a coalition of Olga Sagan chaos voters and police hard-liners. That said, in 2019, similarly-situated incumbent Council Member Debora Juarez only brought in 42% of the vote on election night, beating out Republican Ann Davison (our current City Attorney) and four other more conservative candidates. Now she's the Council President.
In all, the 2020 backlash looks a hell of a lot weaker than right-wing media and TV news make it out to be.
King County on Track to Elect First Latina and first Latino Council Members
Even though people who identify as hispanic or Latino make up 10.5% of King County's population, they've never been represented on the county council. But if last night's primary election results hold steady, then there's a good chance that might change.
In King County Council District 4, which represents northwest Seattle, longtime Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Director Jorge Barón led Assistant Attorney General Sarah Reyneveld 48% to 31%. With endorsements from The Stranger and the Seattle Times, his lead will only grow from there. Meanwhile, in King County Council District 8—which represents downtown, West Seattle, White Center and Burien—Seattle City Council Member Teresa Mosqueda clocked in with 55% of the vote share, 15 points ahead of Burien Mayor Sophia Aragon.
If Barón and Mosqueda hold on through the general, they'll bring some long-overdue Latinx representation to an extremely white institution, along with more progressive stances on criminal justice, the environment, and transit—which is great, because that's pretty much all the county does.
All Hail Fred Felleman
Even though the Port has a $1 billion budget and its tentacles in everything, nobody pays attention to the Port Commission races—but we do. And last night, our man Fred Felleman cleaned up the way he cleans up the Puget Sound. The two-term Port Commissioner looks secure heading into the general election with 53% of people voting in his favor on primary night. Plus, both the Seattle Times and the SECB endorsed him. Silver medal goes to pro-business Jesse Tam with 28%,
No Seattle School Board Shake-up
None of the candidates calling for a shake-up of the Seattle Public Schools Board of Directors had a good showing Tuesday night. Incumbent District 1 Director Liza Rankin, who earned The Stranger's endorsement, took 59% of the vote share, dominating challenger Debbie Carlsen, who trailed Rankin with 24%, and suggesting that people are generally comfortable with her leadership.
Likewise, in the District 3 race, which featured no incumbent, a definitive call for a need to cull the current school board did not emerge. Candidate Evan Briggs (our pick) led the race with 37% despite both the Seattle Times and the SECB clearly identifying her as the preferred choice of School Board president Brandon Hersey. Ben Gitenstein, who the Seattle Times endorsed based on its perception of his ability to change the dynamics of the school board, came in second with 34%, which doesn’t support the argument by the Times (and some pouty people on Twitter) that all unhappy parents within Seattle Public Schools blame the school board for the district’s recent struggles.
With 28% of the vote, District 3 candidate Christie Robertson, who represented a call for a change at the school board but with a more progressive pedigree, might edge out Gitenstein, but it’ll be tough. Would be cool, though, because then it’d be a general election battle between two people who actually know what they’re talking about!