Last night went pretty well, so long as you weren’t a Seattle City Council candidate who wants to use evidence-backed solutions to fix long-standing problems. The housing levy is passing, progressives are leading on the County Council and on the School Board, and there’s even a few glimmers of hope down in Tacoma and over in Spokane.
But if you were a Seattle City Council candidate with solid, realistic plans to reduce homelessness, improve public safety for all, and fight climate change, then you’re probably losing by double-digits. If you were a candidate who ran entirely based on vibes, one who fear-mongered, who benefited from Trump-donor money without blushing, and who plans to just follow the Mayor’s orders for the next few years, then you’re feeling pretty good!
What do these results *mean* for you and for the city? It’s hard to say for certain, because hundreds of thousands of votes remain to be counted, and because those later votes tend to lean progressive, and because electoral miracles have happened in the past, but we can say a few things.
Buying Seattle’s City Council is pretty cheap: Judging by last night’s results, a Council majority appears to cost a little more than a million dollars, a pittance that Trump donors, real estate moguls, and the worst people in town are all too happy to fork over. And so long as a Big Bad E-Commerce Company doesn’t drop that money all at once a couple weeks before the election–like Amazon did back in 2019–then many Seattleites won’t hear about it and/or won’t care.
Ultimately, big business might have won six of the seven seats on council. Progressives may get Tammy Morales, thank fucking God, but we’ll see how it goes.
How’d they do it? A bunch of rich ghouls with boners for incarceration created Independent Expenditure committees called “[Insert Geographic Area Here] Neighbors,” even though those demons are not your neighbors–unless you live in a gated community or along the waterfront.
We’ll start with the most egregious example. Elliot Bay Neighbors, which raised money for brainless big tech lawyer Rob Saka in District 1, spent $429,000 trying to smear tech worker and environmentalist Maren Costa. That’s more than any other IE in town. A labor IE, Workers United For Seattle, spent only $90,000 on Costa. Big business money buried Costa based on initial results, 59 to 41.
University Neighbors spent $300,000 on City insider Maritza Rivera in District 4, whereas her competition, urbanist Ron Davis, only saw chump change from labor. Still, Davis may have the best shot among the newcomers of surmounting the gap. He earned 44% of the initial drop and Rivera earned 55%. I guess that’s what happens when you canvas for 10 months straight after spending two years getting your name in everyone’s ear. Good for Davis!
Greenwood Neighbors spent $240,000 to get former judge Cathy Moore on the dais over social equity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner. Labor did not swoop in to save ObeySumner and instead put their money behind Moore. With no outside money to compete in mailers or digital ads, ObeySumer lost by the widest margin on election night—29 to 70.
Downtown Neighbors spent $160,000 on “girl dad” Bob Kettle. Lewis’s IE, a mix of business and labor, only spent $37,000 on him. He would need a Kshama-Sawant-circa-2019-level comeback to make up for his 12-point deficit.
Basically, these IEs can help buy or suppress voter turnout. Big Business played ball, and, unlike in 2019, labor didn’t. A few unions who have supported progressives in the past even helped corporate candidates in a couple of the races. In 2019, when the progressive candidates won almost the entire council, 49% of registered voters in King County turned in a ballot. As of Tuesday, King County Elections projected only 40% turnout for this election.
But money cannot so clearly explain the leads in Districts 2, District 3, and District 6. In D2, Tanya Woo’s IE spent $127,000 on her campaign, and she will probably lose to Morales in future ballot drops. Guess she just sucks? And Morales fucking rules?
In D3, IEs spent about equal amounts on Alex Hudson and Joy Hollingsworth. Still, Hudson faces one of the widest gaps in the election, trailing Hollingsworth 41% to 58% on election night. It may be the case that Hudson and Hollingsworth did not differentiate themselves enough, or that Hudson could not inspire the same turnout that Sawant did thanks to a lack of an army of red shirts standing at every intersection on Capitol Hill and stuffing people into ballot boxes.
In D6, no one spent any money on Pete Hanning and he still leads on election night—51 to 49. Of course, he will almost definitely lose to incumbent Dan Strauss as more and more votes come in. Strauss won 51% in the primary and by all accounts should do even better in the general election. The fact that Strauss did not outright beat Hanning could give hope to the other candidates trailing behind.
Seattle voters brought back the 1990s in a bad way: Based on the initial city council votes, the people of Seattle must really think they can make mass incarceration work for them. We’re dismissing any pretense that we want to address root causes of poverty, drug addiction, and gun violence, and instead we’re returning to the so-called tough-on-crime policies that locked up an entire generation of mostly Black young men.
Rob Saka, who is leading by a mile in District 1, wants cops to push homeless people around town so he doesn't have to step over them when he takes his kid to the park. Unfortunately for him, dumping more money into that strategy will only make that problem worse.
Then we have Maritza Rivera, who promised five-minute response times, a wildly unrealistic goal given the number of cops we’d need to hire for that purpose and the national shortage of cops. Then there is Cathy Moore, who clearly still has backwards ideas about how drug addiction works, considering the fact that she thinks the best way to battle the fentanyl crisis involves a “carrot and stick” approach, as if overcoming drug addiction were just a matter of will power. But thank goodness we have Joy Hollingsworth in the lead. Her idea of police reform is making cops get coffee with the community before they head off to sweep an encampment.
Of course, we saw all of this coming. Canvassers at Lewis’s party said they kept hearing from people angry about his initial vote against a bill to adopt the state's new ban on drug possession and public use. Even after canvassers pointed out that Lewis later voted for the drug ordinance, people at the doors continued to rail against the council member for daring to say, “Maybe we should be thoughtful about how we approach drug addiction.” No. We need knee-jerk reactions only here, people! Excited to watch us pour millions into our failed criminal justice system. Welcome to the darkest timeline.
Tacoma could be the revolution: Seattle progressives may have been reaching for tissues in their windbreaker pockets at election parties last night, but in Tacoma the left should be popping champagne!
First of all, City Council candidate Jamika Scott leads her race, 52% to 48%. If elected, Scott would be the first Democratic Socialist to serve on the council in Tacoma history. And the victory would feel especially sweet since she would beat some dorky lawyer white guy who so clearly represents Tacoma’s institutional players.
Scott’s win would show that Tacomans want to try something new as their housing affordability crisis worsens. In City Hall, elected officials keep it pretty nice, almost always voting in consensus. Scott could switch up that culture, force important conversations, and help the City come to better, more thoughtful answers to its most pressing issues.
The left should also celebrate Olgy Diaz’s close race. She’s slightly behind, but as the most progressive member on the current council, Diaz could serve as an important ally to Scott.
Furthermore, Tacoma for All, an initiative to establish a renter’s bill of rights, could very likely pass. Per the initial drop, 48% of Tacomans voted in favor of their bill of rights and 51% voted against it. The initiative would make up for years of lagging behind Seattle’s renters protections, which seem increasingly in higher demand as the rental market gets more and more exclusive.
If Tacoma sees a progressive swing from late voters, then all three of these races could go the left’s way. And even if they lose, the results so far show Tacoma for what it is: rich soil for working-class victories to come.
The King County Council begins to look more like the people they represent: With Seattle City Council Member Teresa Mosqueda leading by a point against Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon, and with former Northwest Immigrant Rights Project Executive Director Jorge Barón 13 points ahead of Assistant Attorney General Sarah Reyveneld, King County is well on its way to electing its first Latina and its first Latino to the the Council.
Both candidates ran strong campaigns against strong challengers, so why is Barón leading by so much compared to Mosqueda right now? Well, Barón had something Mosqueda didn’t have: an endorsement from the backdoor virgins in sensible shoes who run the Seattle Times Editorial Board. Judging by this race, it looks like their endorsement will net you 10-12 points.
The Stranger has a lot of pull down-ballot, and/or people want a functioning school board: All of the Stranger-endorsed school board choices currently lead their races, giving us further proof that we determine who runs these schools. 🎸🤘 It also probably means that people recognized that blowing up the current school board for some less-competent replacements wouldn’t provide the leadership that Seattle Public Schools needs as the district navigates its way through an enrollment crisis.
In order of biggest blowout to tightest race, we’ve got King County Executive Dow Constantine’s former policy advisor and chief legal counsel Gina Topp leading against Maryanne Wood by 74%, which is basically an impossible margin to overcome. Next up, for Director District No. 2, voters appear to have backed current school board member Lisa Rivera Smith (68%) over former Whitman Middle School principal Christina Posten (32%). Voters also remain happy with the leadership of school board vice president Liza Rankin, who maintains a 22-point lead over challenger Debbie Carlsen. Only one race remains close, with school board president Brandon Hersey’s favorite, Evan Briggs, sitting at 51% against guy-who-sends-a-kid-to-private-school Ben Gitenstein, who’s at 49%.
But even if Gitenstein pulls ahead, voters just chose a competent and bright board to lead the district through a number of tough challenges without backsliding on important issues. Topp has a wealth of experience from her time in Constantine’s office, and she promised to keep cops out of schools (seriously, we love this, Topp, stay strong). Rankin remains steadfastly dedicated to improving academic outcomes for Black boys in Seattle schools. Plus, both Rivera Smith and Rankin supported the board’s new governance model, which is meant to make the directors more effective and efficient. Posten and Carlsen seemed determined to try to reverse the governance model, setting the board back after almost two years of work just to get some basic standard operating procedures in place.
Bottom line: Voters are on track to assembling a knowledgeable board of school directors this election, and htey have proved resilient against hysterical claims about an imagined mass of impending school closures.
Seattle stands ready to do the bare minimum on affordable housing: The good news is that the thing that absolutely needed to happen appears to be happening: Proposition No. 1, the housing levy renewal, is passing 66% to 34%, a lead that will only grow.
As it turns out, Seattle will vote for a major increase in property taxes–one that triples the previous levy but builds about the same number of affordable housing units–so long as no serious opposition rises to poison the airwaves, and so long as both the Seattle Times and The Stranger endorse the move.
Sounds great! But. The comfortable leading margin will affirm the tack taken by the powers that be–namely the Mayor’s Office and the affordable housing developers who helped shape the levy. Even as the homeless crisis turns eight years old this month, we’ll still just keep chippin’ away at the issue instead of solving it outright with sufficient funds. Unless, maybe, um–anybody want to do another one next year?