Mayor Jenny Durkan's name won't be on the ballot this year, but it may as well be. How Seattle votes this November—when seven out of nine city council seats are up for reelection—may determine the success of the second half of Durkan's first term, and whether she can win a second one.
Will voters elect a city council that continues to antagonize the mayor with veto overrides and ambitious progressive policies that threaten Durkan's big-business supporters? Or will Seattle elect an Amazon-approved council that is ready to support Durkan's priorities?
Durkan has grown increasingly active as November's election nears. But while she busies herself electioneering—endorsing some candidates, smearing one candidate as "another socialist," and lambasting sitting council members for what she described as poor primary-election performance—she isn't too interested in talking about it. At least not with Seattle's largest free newspaper.
Durkan has given election-related interviews to the Seattle Times, KUOW, and the nonprofit news website Crosscut, but her staff declined repeated interview requests from The Stranger. Durkan's staff cited a law that blocks city employees from engaging in election activities. But the city's own ethics watchdog disagreed with that interpretation, telling The Stranger that city staff are free to pass on requests as long as the staff member doesn't directly coordinate interviews.
After more than a week of declined requests, The Stranger confronted the mayor at a press conference. We were cut off less than 45 seconds later and told to not ask election-related questions. The mayor then said she would give The Stranger a full interview, but she failed to return any of our calls or e-mails.
The mayor clearly doesn't want to explain her election strategy to us, so we'll just have to read between the lines. So far, it's not hard to see what she's up to.
Durkan had the support of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce during her election bid in 2017—the chamber's super PAC, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), spent $611,000 supporting her—and it appears she's returning the favor by supporting the chamber's preferred candidates in 2019.
In July, Durkan made her first election endorsement, supporting chamber-backed District 2 candidate Mark Solomon in an e-mail that criticized his opponent, Tammy Morales, by calling her a divisive socialist. Durkan's attack on Morales didn't stop the community organizer from coming in first in the primary with more than 50 percent of the vote. Solomon came in second with 23 percent.
Durkan's only other public endorsement so far has been for District 5 council member Debora Juarez, the only candidate to get an endorsement from both the chamber and The Stranger.
What about the five other city council races? Will Durkan continue to support the chamber's preferred candidates? During our 45-second-long press-conference moment with her, she said she was "waiting to see how things develop and to talk to different candidates." But don't expect Durkan to support socialists like District 3 council member Kshama Sawant or District 4 candidate Shaun Scott.
Her policy positions this election cycle remain an open question as well. Does Durkan support a new proposal to limit super PAC donations and block multinational corporations like Amazon from paying for elections? We'd love to know.
Perhaps an even more important question for the sake of our local democracy is whether Durkan is working with the numerous super PACs that have already raised a record-breaking $2.1 million to spend in local elections. During our brief encounter with the mayor, she said she wasn't working directly with CASE, or with other conservative committees like People for Seattle and Moms for Seattle, but she also didn't deny that she has met with at least some of their leaders, telling us: "I talk with a lot of people all the time."
That might be the least surprising election news of the year. It appears you're more likely to get our mayor's ear if you're running a super PAC with a million dollars than if you're asking questions on behalf of a free newspaper.