Every District 1 Seattle City Council candidate likes progressive front-runner Maren Costa more than they like big business darling Rob Saka.
In a rare move, serial conservative council candidate and district court judge Phil Tavel united the other failed candidates–Preston Anderson, Stephen Brown, Lucy Barefoot, and Mia Jacobeson–to sign an open letter to their supporters that called out Saka for his “consultancy speak,” opaqueness, and apparent lack of principles. Despite some major political differences, her former opponents asked voters to pick Costa because “what you see is what you get” with her.
NEW: Former District 1 City Council candidates want their supporters to vote for progressive Maren Costa in November even though some of these candidates definitely align more with her competitor, business-backed Rob Saka. pic.twitter.com/JwV6z6xk1r— Hannah Krieg (@hannahkrieg) August 14, 2023
“It was a no-brainer,” Tavel told The Stranger in a phone interview. “[Costa] clearly cares and she's genuine. Her desire to help is first and foremost. And we didn't get the same feeling from [Saka]. Voters see he’s too prepackaged, he hasn’t grown over the course of the race, and we haven’t got a sense of what he believes or what he really wants to do other than win the position.”
Some assumed that Saka could overcome Costa’s lead by picking up votes from supporters of Tavel, the more conservative, third-place finisher who scored 20% of the vote in the primary. But Tavel told The Stranger he will send the open letter to his supporters and do whatever it takes to keep Saka out of City Hall and to get Costa elected. He even came out as a Costa supporter to his trivia friends last week, Tavel said. Very brave.
If all the people who voted for non-Saka candidates, including Jean Iannelli Craciun, who endorsed Costa in an Instagram post on election night, voted instead for Costa, then she would have won the primary handedly with more than 75% of the vote.
Costa told The Stranger she was pleasantly surprised by the support from the other candidates.
When asked if she thought Tavel’s support would delegitimize her in the eyes of progressives, she said she wasn't sure. After all, Tavel wants to hire 1,400 cops, prosecute public drug use, and he said he “maybe” supports sweeps. Plus, in his 2019 campaign against sitting Council Member Lisa Herbold, Tavel's campaign benefited from a big cash infusion from Amazon, the company that illegally fired Costa when she attempted to organize workers during the pandemic.
But Tavel told The Stranger he wasn't not so bad—he voted for Bernie Sanders. Besides, he trusts Costa to listen to constituents, and he worries Saka will be beholden to the corporate lobbyists and Trumpers who are currently trying to buy his seat. That must lack of confidence must feel like a brutal blow for a candidate who says little more than he plans to “listen to community.”
In a press release, Saka's campaign said he expressed “deep shock and dismay” when he saw the letter. He noted that Craciun had not signed the letter and argued that she was the one who was “most committed to ensuring equity” in the race. Despite what Saka’s team is clearly trying to imply, Craciun does not support him. She supports Costa.
Still, Craciun called the letter “weird” and said she did not sign it because she saw it as Brown’s “sad play for attention.” Brown had texted her asking for her signature, but Craciun said she would have felt the same way if Tavel had been the one lobbying her.
In his statement, Saka went on to say he believes his former competitors more closely align with his positions than they do with those of Costa, who, he claimed, supports defunding the police budget by 50%. Over the phone, Costa said she expected her opponent to paint her as a defunder because she has been more vocal about the “problematic” aspects of policing and more realistic about the City’s limited ability to hire more cops.
Given Saka’s attempts to make her seem too radical for D1, Costa said she sees Tavel and the rest of the candidates' support as a net positive. She understands her district votes more conservatively than any of the other six in the city, and the endorsements may prove to voters that she’s able to “build bridges,” she said.
Costa’s potential success would mark a significant failure for big business and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s political machine. Harrell seemingly hand-picked Saka and other conservative candidates to shift the council rightward and claw back what small wins the current council managed with their (potentially) short-lived progressive majority, one that was almost immediately interrupted by a pandemic and hamstrung by a recalcitrant, corporate mayor.
If candidates in other races also rally around the more progressive of the top two candidates, they could upset the assumption that council is destined to become much more conservative. Such a strategy could go especially far in District 3, where urbanist Alex Hudson tied the more conservative frontrunner, Joy Hollingsworth, in the primary. The same could be said in District 5, where underdog progressive ChrisTiana ObeySumner beat high-fundraiser Nilu Jenks to the loud disappointment of the chattering class.
I asked the former candidates in D3 and D5 if they planned to make public endorsements. D3 candidate Efrain Hudnell already sent an email endorsing Hudson, who shares his urbanist vision. I will update if any others respond.