If politics is a game of money, then this game is over before it starts. Altogether, the 14 people running for Seattle City Council this year have raised $1,186,609. Yes, the five incumbents are made of wax, but they have collectively raised $972,509 (or 82 percent of the total money). Meanwhile, their challengers have raised only $214,100 (or 18 percent of the total money).
In other words: On average, the incumbents have outraised their challengers nearly five to one.
Fortunately, politics isn't just a game of money. Council Member Mike O'Brien was outspent by $70,000 in 2009, but he won by virtue of smarts and momentum. Future former mayor Mike McGinn was outspent three to one. And the revolutionaries beat the Brits! David slayed Goliath! The rebels exploded the Empire! Can these candidates do the same?
Jean Godden, incumbent
Jean Godden, 79, wants to remind you that she's an old, old, old woman and that's reason enough keep her kicking around City Hall for another four years (God and hips willing). Godden, who's raised $149,278, currently faces four male challengers for her seat, a fact she bemoans in a recent e-mail to supporters. Of course, Godden herself challenged and ousted fellow female and feminist Judy Nicastro in 2003—by running on a platform that said Godden was the right pick because she was old, old, old. "I'm older," Methuselah said in 2003. She wanted "a grown-up city council." And she sticks by that trademark. "I was and am the most mature candidate," she says this year.
Her old, old, oldness unquestioned, Godden's tactic this election cycle is to bang the drum hard on her lady parts. She cites common womanly fears of aggressive panhandling and cuts to education funding. To her credit, Godden has worked respectably for women while on the council—last year, as chair of the council's budget committee, she restored funding cut by the mayor's office for domestic violence services, social services, and health clinics, which predominantly support women.
Maurice Classen, challenger
When it comes to the big policy debates, Maurice Classen is similar to Godden—he's pro-tunnel, believes in paid sick days for workers, and thinks Seattle needs a higher parking tax to pay for light rail and bike and pedestrian street improvements. And he's popular with the ladies, too: Classen is a domestic violence prosecutor for King County.
Still, Classen can distinguish himself as the challenger with the best shot of taking down an incumbent this year. Part of his edge is cash—Classen has raised $86,424, which is $50,000 more than any other challenger. Another advantage may be innovation. Classen wants to shelter medical marijuana dispensaries from being busted by zoning collective gardens to operate in industrial areas. He'd also push to pilot later bar hours in Seattle—a proposal that future former mayor McGinn has been flirting with, but failing to act on, for the past year. Granted, Classen is a bit vague on how to get the liquor control board to approve the plan, saying only: "I think there's a way. We just need to go to the public and use the bully pulpit." (As a co-owner of two bars, Queen Anne's Nabob and Fremont's Traveler, he also has a dog in that fight.) Classen also wants to reform how the city investigates police shootings, calling for an "independent, multi-jurisdictional panel to handle our police-related shootings."
If elected, 33-year-old Classen would be the youngest member of the city council. Although Godden may try ageist attacks against young Classen like she did against Nicastro in 2003, we like his unspoken pledge not to die on the dais at City Hall.
Bobby Forch, challenger
Bobby Forch is a bootstrap candidate: "I worked my way up from being a parking-meter installer to a city manager with the Seattle Department of Transportation." And that, Forch says, qualifies him to run Seattle. Maybe he's right. After all, Godden won seven years ago by distinguishing herself as nothing more than a septuagenarian Seattle Times gossip columnist.
To his advantage: Forch is sweeping Democratic endorsements—a vital indicator of a candidate's viability in the primary—with the blessings of the 34th District Democrats, the 37th District Democrats, and the King County Democrats. But his platform is rickety. Even his best ideas—reconfirming the police chief and speeding up the discipline process for Seattle police officers—don't include implementation strategies.
Michael Taylor-Judd, challenger
A community activist and transit advocate from West Seattle, Michael Taylor-Judd used to serve on the Seattle Monorail Project's board and now loathes the deep-bore tunnel. He's also gayer than a Lillian Vernon catalog (he took his partner's last name, Judd). But his grassroots strategy is fizzling: Despite being a member and former officer of the influential 34th District Democrats, the group co-endorsed his opponents Jean Godden and Bobby Forch last week. Ouch.
Bruce Harrell, incumbent
Bruce Harrell defends his under-the-radar, erratic-office-hours, rarely-returns-phone-calls approach to governing as totally deliberate and totally working. For example: "There were 23,000 [street] lights out when I was elected," says Harrell, who chairs the council's Energy, Technology & Civil Rights Committee. "Now there are only 1,000." Harrell also boasts that his leadership on the City Light review panel has "revolutionized how City Light does business," resulting in "rates that are lower now than they were in 2004."
The only nonwhite member of the council, Harrell has broad support among Seattle's minority communities. Harrell cites the work he's done championing police body cameras to increase police accountability, advancing legislation to bring internet to low-income students, and getting the council to pass a "social justice tool kit," which helps guide everything from hiring decisions and the city's contract decisions to where police officers are deployed.
Add to that a $196,934 war chest to fund his reelection campaign, and you've got a city council member who will be nearly impossible to beat.
Brad Meacham, challenger
A former financial journalist and two-time Municipal League chairman, Brad Meacham is one of the few challengers outright opposed to the deep-bore tunnel. More notably, he's the only challenger to acknowledge that he's got a hooker's shot in Singapore at ousting Harrell, who's currently outfundraising him roughly five to one.
"This system is bogus," Meacham says. "We have to make it easier to get elected." Meacham says he would draft legislation to turn council races from citywide positions to district positions (making it easier for incumbents and challengers to doorbell and fundraise). He'd also spearhead public financing legislation for council races. "The incumbents have war chests; we have piggy banks," Meacham says.
Other points of interest: Meacham supports four- to six-story density development around light rail hubs and robust housing replacement for low-income housing projects like Yesler Terrace. He hates the tunnel, he says, because it doesn't contribute to an equitable, viable transportation system.
Tom Rasmussen, incumbent
Tom Rasmussen has raised literally 13 times more money than his newcomer opponent, Sandy Cioffi. With $263,730 reported to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (in June), he's got more dough than anyone else running for city office this year. Why would he need so much—and why are funders pouring cash into his coffers? It's impossible to be certain. But he has been chair of the council's transportation committee, which has expedited the $4.2 billion deep-bore tunnel, the darling project of the city's wealthiest interests (downtown business, construction, real estate). Also in Rasmussen's arsenal: fundraising jock Colby Underwood and Rasmussen's own partner, Clayton, an investment banker.
Dale Pusey, challenger
Nobody had ever heard of Dale Pusey until he filed on the last possible day to run for office. He will lose, to be sure. But by filing as a third candidate in this race, he forces Rasmussen to appear on the primary ballot in August (when only two candidates file, they skip the primary and appear only on the general election ballot). That is, Rasmussen must now campaign in the same election in which Seattle will vote on the deep-bore tunnel referendum. As the council member most responsible for the tunnel, Rasmussen will have to fend off attacks about the underfunded, massively expensive project that won't improve traffic.
(Since Cioffi has dropped out, Rasmussen and Pusey will skip the primary and appear only on the general-election ballot.)
Sandy Cioffi, challenger
Sandy Cioffi brought a knife to a gunfight. Or a musket to WWII. Or $20,000 to run against Tom "I've Raised a Fucking Quarter Million Dollars" Rasmussen. But she's got conviction in the only 'mo-versus-'mo fight on the council this year. "I'm going to raise more money, and I know that I can beat him if I have even close to half his money," says Cioffi. An independent filmmaker and professor at Seattle Central Community College, Cioffi chastises Rasmussen for his fecklessness, accusing him of procrastinating on critical decisions that required urgent leadership while, conversely, ramming through legislation that was never properly vetted. He will "sometimes dillydally and sometimes dither," she says. Cioffi describes Rasmussen's politics as either reactionary (he assisted a regional effort to fund Metro buses years after the crisis should have been averted) or nonexistent. For instance, the state's dangerously dilapidated 520 bridge is $2 billion short on funding, yet Rasmussen has scantly mentioned the project in his seven years on the council. Which part lacks funding? The part of the project where the extra traffic will unload into the Montlake neighborhood. That is, the part affecting Seattle. "I mean, that's a disaster," Cioffi says. On the deep-bore tunnel—which data shows does little to nothing to help traffic—Rasmussen has been an ardent backer. "There should be consequences for the council and for Tom, he should lose his job," she says. Rasmussen has swept Democratic district endorsements, while Cioffi didn't even have a member of the 37th District Democrats in the audience to nominate her. Lacking funding, support, or the strategic ground game to get ahead, Cioffi may seem like a quixotic progressive. "Local government is the last line of defense against a full right-wing attack," says Cioffi. Systematic state budget cuts, serving a conservative agenda even Democrats have embraced, will lead to further cuts to schools, health care, libraries, and transit, she says. Even Cioffi's teaching job at Seattle Central was cut after lawmakers in Olympia slashed higher education spending this year. "It's being dismantled in a real way in terms of infrastructure," Cioffi says. "I don't want mediocre at the table when they come for us."
(Cioffi has dropped out of the race since this was published.)
Sally J. Clark, incumbent
Sally J. Clark is a milquetoast incumbent on the city council, petrified of voting against more than three of her colleagues at one time and beholden to any yokel who sends a nasty e-mail.
Dian Ferguson, challenger
Dian Ferguson's campaign began at her house in Tukwila and then held its first official strategy meeting in Renton. At her campaign kickoff in June, Ferguson began onstage by saying, "Everyone is represented here. I have my people from Tacoma." Unfortunately for her, people in Tukwila, Renton, and Tacoma are still banned from voting in Seattle races. But, she does have roots here: Ferguson is a former director of public access station SCAN-TV, and used to work in the city's Strategic Planning Office in the Paul Schell mayoral administration.
Most recently at City Hall—that is Seattle's City Hall—Ferguson attempted to harness the frustration with Seattle's procrastination on important decisions. "We are bogged down in the Seattle process," she said. "The bottom line is that it costs us money." She points to incumbent Sally Clark, chair of the council's slothlike land-use committee, as a prime example of dithering politicians.
But Ferguson hasn't taken positions much different from Clark's. While Clark is, to be sure, the antithesis of boldness, innovation, or independence, Clark and Ferguson share common ground on the big issues of the day. For instance, Ferguson supports the controversial deep-bore tunnel (Clark voted for it without hesitation). Ferguson wants police accountability (Clark joined two colleagues in sending an 11-point list of accountability recommendations to SPD this spring). Where they do differ: Ferguson criticizes Clark for supporting an education levy on this year's ballot that would buffer the school district budget without requiring more benchmarks, reviews, and accountability. But wanting more benchmarks, reviews, and accountability sounds a lot like the same sort of process-heavy administration she's fond of criticizing. Ferguson may be a welcome firebrand, but she'll have to back up her populist rhetoric with concrete policy distinctions from her opponent.
Fathi Karshie, challenger
Fathi Karshie hasn't raised a cent. Asked if he has any plans for fundraising, Karshie says, "I don't."
Tim Burgess, incumbent
Tim Burgess looks like an eagle. Don't you think? We didn't run a photo of him in this issue, but check it out on the Google. RIGHT? Eagle.
Burgess wants to be the mayor of Seattle. But he must be reelected to the council to stay in the game until 2013 and woo liberal voters. Burgess made the embarrassing blunder in 2010 of sponsoring a draconian bill to penalize aggressive panhandling (the city had a similar law on the books already) to appease the lobbying demands of the Downtown Seattle Association. Found to be a violation of human rights by the city's human rights commission, the bill failed by veto. Burgess has come back with a thoughtful bill to combat wage theft, and he's supported an opt-out registry for phone books. Plus, he's an eagle.
David Schraer, challenger
"It seems very unlikely that I could win against Tim Burgess," David Schraer admits. Plus: "I can't think of any particular issue" in which he and Burgess disagree about anything. Well, okay then!
This article has been updated since its original publication.