Voters have less than a week to turn in their ballots for the 2023 local elections, but you might not know it walking through the swing precincts surrounding Ravenna. Only a few homes in the bungalow-dominated neighborhood display signs in support of District 4 city council candidates Maritza Rivera and Ron Davis.
Since City insider Rivera and urbanist techie Davis split the neighborhood’s votes in the August primary, they’ll need to scoop up swing voters to win. But those precincts could be especially contentious—Rivera and Davis live across from one another on either side of Ravenna Park, so it’s all home turf for them.
Neighbors who dared to disturb their grass with a yard sign, despite what awkward half-smiles the declaration could bring to their dog walks, told The Stranger what compelled them to vote and advocate for their candidate of choice.
Let Me Catch You Up
In D4’s recent electoral history, conservative candidates tend to find support on the district’s eastern side in waterfront neighborhoods such as Laurelhurst, Windermere, and Sand Point. More progressive candidates tend to find support on the district’s west side in denser neighborhoods such as the University District and Roosevelt.
That trend held true in this year’s primary election. Business-backed Rivera, who promotes a more punitive approach to public safety, easily won the literal right side of D4, and Stranger-endorsed Davis, known for his aggressive urbanist agenda, saw huge majorities on the literal left side of the district. It seems only appropriate that the voters in the geographic middle, the neighborhoods surrounding Ravenna, sit more in the political middle, too.
In the primary, Davis won his home precinct, scoring 58% of his neighbors' support. He also wooed Rivera’s home precinct, earning almost 45% of her neighbors’ votes. She collected about 40% of her precinct, and spoiler conservative candidate Ken Wilson earned 13%.
While politicos may expect Rivera to pick up Wilson’s primary supporters because of their similar conservative platforms, neighbors who live in the swingiest precincts seem to base their decision less on policy and more on civility politics.
The Naysayer Next Door
Walking along Rivera’s street, you won’t see too many signs for the coming election. It's mostly flags for Ring security and RainWise rebate posters, though around the corner I did spot a two-year-old campaign sign for Nikkita Oliver. Rivera and a few of her neighbors put signs up, but I got curious about a lone Davis sign in a yard that shares a fence with Rivera’s astroturf lawn.
Rivera’s next-door neighbors, Dan and Betsy, told The Stranger they thought long and hard before they stuck a Davis sign in their yard. They still wanted to be friendly neighbors, but they felt strongly enough about their support for Davis that they risked offending Rivera with her opponent's sign.
For Dan, a candidate’s character means a lot. As a school bus driver, Dan got to know Davis while he waited alongside his elementary-schooler at the bus stop every morning–in keeping with his Urbanist Father™ values. Once the primary caretaker of his children, Dan admired Davis’s good-humored and affectionate “dad-ing.”
Dan admitted he had some personal issues with Rivera, but overall Dan likes Davis’s policies better. Dan said Rivera operated from a place of fear, peddling “Seattle Is Dying” messaging from TV news and arguing that more police makes for a safer city. But cops often do not increase safety for homeless people or for people with substance use disorders, he argued. For him, Davis offers a more evidence-based and holistic approach to safety, one that would see people in homes and in treatment facilities rather than in handcuffs or in jail cells.
Rivera’s other next-door neighbor posted her sign outside their house, but they didn’t answer when I knocked.
“Like, Come On, Maritza”
Down the street, a woman wearing a pumpkin hat told The Stranger she planned to vote for Davis. She said she loves Rivera as a person and as a neighbor, but she found Rivera’s negative campaigning off-putting.
Both campaigns have thrown petty jabs at each other. Rivera’s team celebrated when the Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee hit Davis’s campaign with a $1,000 fine. Davis supporters clapped back, filing a complaint that alleged Rivera did not fully disclose her and her husband's finances in accordance with the law. But their neighbors felt more turned off by the “fear-mongering” and “dog whistling” in the candidates’ actual campaign messaging.
In particular, pumpkin-hat woman recalled Rivera attacking Davis for promoting a less carceral solution to street dealing. Rivera’s messaging around that issue amounted to “fear-mongering” about crime, homelessness, and substance use disorder, pumpkin-hat woman said. “Like, come on, Maritza,” she scoffed.
Davis, on the other hand, presents “positive” and “detailed” policy solutions, she argued. She appreciated his strong advocacy for density to solve homelessness and his more treatment-focused approach to substance use disorder.
Yes More Mr. Nice Guy
Conversely, a neighbor who displays two Rivera signs in her yard told The Stranger that Davis campaigned too negatively against Rivera. The two-sign supporter said his negativity breeds sexism and unkindness. For example, she recalled her friend, a Davis supporter, calling Rivera a “bitch” in a conversation about Rivera’s donors.
Davis’s campaign sent voters two letters over the summer that particularly bugged the two-sign supporter. In the letters, Davis called out Rivera for attracting “an outside group of MAGA Republican mega-donors.” The usual big business suspects formed an Independent Expenditure (IE) committee called “University Neighbors” to support Rivera’s campaign earlier this year. Donors to University Neighbors include Trumper real estate moguls John Goodman, George Petrie, and Martin Selig. As The Stranger reported, University Neighbors raised more than $80,000 for Rivera before the primary, and as of Oct 31 the IE has raised more than $285,000.
The two-sign supporter said the comment amounted to “dog whistling” because Rivera herself is not a MAGA Republican, even if she attracts their money.
Policy-wise, the candidates seem similar enough to her—“this isn’t Ron DeSantis versus Obama,” she said. But, for her, Davis’s messaging suggests a more combative council member. That approach combined with his very specific policy proposals may make him unsuccessful in striking deals with his colleagues, she argued.
“We don’t always need the smartest guy in the room,” the two-sign supporter said. “Sometimes we just need the one who can get along with others.”
After taking a short walk to Davis’s neighborhood on the other side of the park, I found a voter who expressed the opposite sentiment.
Davis’s neighbor, who was bundled up in a Patagonia jacket, liked the letter that peeved the Rivera supporter. She appreciated Davis’s letters for laying out his platform in detail and committing to fighting for the revenue the City needs to fund his ideas.
In the eyes of the Patagonia neighbor, Rivera did not provide clear plans–or really any plans at all. Though the Patagonia neighbor trusts that Rivera wants to make Seattle a better place, the kinds of donors she garnered makes her wonder who she’ll make Seattle a better place for.
Unlike on Rivera’s street, none of Davis’s immediate neighbors displayed his rival’s campaign signs, and no one outside their homes at the time said they would vote for her.
The closest Rivera sign to Davis’s house sat in Olga Park, a small public park that basically amounts to an oversized median along Ravenna Boulevard. Seattle Municipal Code prohibits candidates and supporters from planting campaign signs on public property, which includes medians, parks, and greenbelts, among other places.
Still, I asked the guy hanging out in Olga Park who he planned to vote for. He told me to fuck off. Retired homeowners seem much more inclined to chit chat about city elections.