"I only know there's an election because I got a ballot in the mail," a voter with a septum piercing told The Stranger while walking alongside their posse of hot young people in Cal Anderson. "But no, I haven't seen anyone campaigning."
Despite 10 candidates vying for their votes earlier this year, the three young Capitol Hill residents said they totally missed the primary ("What primary? In August?? This year???"). According to their observations, the top two candidates did not market themselves much better leading up to the general. They haven't seen any signs, come across any canvassers, or even heard the District 3 candidates' names—Alex Hudson and Joy Hollingsworth.
The run-up to the city council election feels different this year in D3, a political boundary that includes Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Madison Park. In the past, the weeks leading up to the election felt sort of like Christmas. It didn’t matter if you considered yourself a practicing voter or even a believer, you saw the election everywhere you went. Outgoing Council Member Kshama Sawant would sic her dedicated socialist party onto renter-dense neighborhoods, particularly Capitol Hill, to defend her coveted seat. D3 residents could expect to see red-shirted volunteers hawking fliers at a dozen street corners at all times of day, Sawant’s face plastered on every lamp post, and ballot printing stations set up so they could vote on a whim.
After a photo-finish primary in August, the fate of the open seat in the neck-and-neck race rests on renter turnout. Without Sawant’s in-your-face approach from Hudson, this election could see wealthy homeowners overrepresented at the polls—as they are in almost every other district in the city.
As of Nov 2, at almost 16%, D3 boasts the highest turnout of any district in the city. According to the King County Election dashboard, most of that action comes from precincts that typically vote more conservatively. As the more progressive of the two candidates, Hudson needs to work even harder to get her base of typically lower propensity voters to cast a ballot.
As the rain poured down late Wednesday afternoon, Hudson wrapped herself up in a yellow rain jacket, jumped on her bike, and knocked on some doors. She showed The Stranger a super top-secret map of the district with color-coded markings illustrating her field strategy. In the week before the election, her campaign focused its energy on getting out the vote in the precincts they won in the primary—basically any area without a clear view of Lake Washington. Hudson said her team has knocked more than 15,000 doors.
Knocking doors gives you insight into the homeowner psyche, which, again, is usually more conservative. At the doors, Hudson said she heard a lot of voters express frustration with the council’s perceived inability to collaborate. (I say “perceived” because the council passes most of its bills unanimously.)
Regardless, Hudson said she hopes that the next council won’t have to pay for the “sins” of the past one. Media and voters often ask her “time-machine” questions about how she would have voted on past bills. “It’s like asking if I would kill baby Hitler–well, it's a little different. But I just think questions about the future matter more than questions about the past,” she said.
The Trouble with Renters
Renters may also compare Hudson to their past representative. For a decade, a socialist represented D3. Though Hudson took the left lane in this race, she lands more center-left on the political spectrum. This positioning allows Hudson to pick off voters in battleground precincts that would not have supported Sawant, but Hudson will still need to rely on the same people who kept Sawant on the dais.
Like Hudson, those voters mostly live in apartments without the street-accessible entrances that make canvassing single-family homes possible. Sawant’s team would sometimes infiltrate apartment buildings to canvas until someone kicked them out, or they would give a resident some campaign literature to share with their neighbors. Hudson is not doing that.
Instead, Hudson hosts text-banking parties. Her volunteers come to her apartment in First Hill, she buys pizza, and they send texts to a list of numbers.
In the limited time (or word-count) Hudson’s campaign gets with voters, they make sure to mention their endorsements, the info voters look at the most on her website. Endorsements communicate a candidate’s values in shorthand, particularly for voters who do not follow local politics. Believe it or not, not everyone feels passionate about implementing a local capital gains tax.
Hudson said she tries to be strategic about which endorsements she flaunts. To one voter, a young woman in a townhome with a toddler hiding behind her legs, Hudson made sure to mention her Planned Parenthood endorsement. She might know a thing or two about family planning. If Hudson catches a whiff of granola vibes from a voter—maybe they keep a Ridwell on their porch or display a RainWise sign in the lawn—she might mention her Sierra Club endorsement. The editor of The Stranger got a text from her campaign bragging about her Stranger endorsement—excellent targeting. [Eds note: The campaign literally texted me while I edited this, asking me to remind five people in D3 to vote. I feel as if I’ve done my duty.]
On the Other Side
The Stranger tried to go door-knocking with the Hollingsworth campaign, but she did not respond to my request. So I don’t know how many doors she’s knocked or what her campaign's strategy looks like for the remainder of the election.
But it looks like Hollingsworth boasts a more robust mail campaign than Hudson. According to the PDC, Hudson’s campaign paid for one round of mailers, whereas Hollingsworth’s campaign paid for five. An Independent Expenditure (IEs) created to support Hollingsworth, Seattle Neighbors Committee, spent another $11,000 on printing mailers.
If Hollingsworth wins, it will end an era of renter-rule in D3 for the first time since the City established districts. But if renters turn out and get Hudson elected, then they will show the city yet again that D3 council members answer to them.