In a special meeting on Friday afternoon, the brand-spanking-new Seattle City Council selected its finalists to fill the seat left vacant by former citywide Council Member Teresa Mosqueda. 

Each council member picked one champion out of the 72 applicants. The finalists, which include failed council candidate Tanya Woo, Civic Hotel owner Neha Nariya, the Seattle Human Service Department’s Mari Sugiyama, Bloodwork Northwest’s Juan Cotto, soft cop Mark Solomon, School Board Director Vivian Song, former congressional staffer Linh Thai, and the Seattle Police Department’s Steven Strand, will all face questions at a community forum Thursday. 

The community vetting appears to be little more than theater, though. At the Friday meeting, half of the council signaled support for Woo. And then on Sunday, Mayor Bruce Harrell’s right-hand man, consultant Tim Ceis, sent around an email to his corporate PAC buddies, instructing them to back Woo for fear of a last-minute, labor-backed campaign for Song. 

These events present the council with a choice. Will the new members shake their early reputation as corporate stooges and pick someone who will better embody Mosqueda’s politics, such as Sugiyama or Song? Or will they bow to corporate overlords and let the city know who’s really in charge? 

Democracy Schmemocracy

In the special meeting on Friday, Council President Sara Nelson allowed each of her colleagues to nominate one of the 72 people who applied to fill Mosqueda’s empty seat. 

First up, Council Member Bob Kettle nominated Woo, a favorite among the public commenters who argued that Asian Americans needed more representation in City Hall. At least four other nominees—Nariya, Sugiyama, Song, and Thai—are also Asian American. 

Kettle said he valued Woo’s past civic involvement. That civic involvement includes, most notably, fighting alongside the King County Republicans to block the expansion of a homeless shelter while thousands of people sleep on the streets every night. After that, Woo ran for City Council against Council Member Tammy Morales in 2023, despite having only voted in two local elections in her decades of voter eligibility in Seattle. 

Some argue that it's almost undemocratic for the council members to give their friend and slate-mate, Woo, a free push up the ladder after she lost her election, even if she only lost by about 400 votes. Plus, Woo’s appointment could set up an awkward work environment—Morales and Woo were not exactly making friendship bracelets together during the campaign. Kettle did not respond to my request for comment. 

But Kettle’s in good company supporting Woo. Council Members Cathy Moore and Martiza Rivera both said they wanted to nominate Woo, but they nominated Nariya and Cotto, respectively, since Kettle had already picked her. Council Member Rob Saka also shouted Woo out before nominating Solomon, another former competitor of Morales’s. Council Member Joy Hollingsworth said someone already proposed her top choice before she deferred to Thai, which suggests she may support Woo, too. Nelson initially said she wouldn’t nominate anyone, as she was happy with the choices, but then in her rambling she convinced herself to nominate Strand. 

Ceis, a consultant to the Mayor and the architect of the failed anti-homeless initiative Compassion Seattle, seems to have counted this as six votes for Woo, according to an email he sent to conservative donors last weekend asking them to rally around her. 

Ceis said big business had “earned the right” to tell the council who to pick because they paid for their seats with more than $1 million in outside spending. 

Who Is Business Afraid Of? 

While the email caused a stir online, at least one nominee should be flattered. Song, rumored to have had her eye on the position for several months, seems to have scared Ceis enough to inspire his bat signal to the business community.

Ceis warned that labor, specifically the building trades and the MLK Labor Council, want to elect Song, who got nominated by Council Member Dan Strauss. MLK Labor did not endorse Song until Wednesday, days after Ceis sounded the alarm on Song. 

Ceis said Song can blend in with the moderates, but he’s not convinced her loyalties lie with big business, since she endorsed Mosqueda and District 4 candidate Ron Davis in 2023. Though she’s a force when it comes to raising progressive revenue, Mosqueda is not some fringe leftist. She won her seat in 2021 by almost 20 points while conservatives demolished progressives in the other races, and in 2023 Harrell endorsed her for the King County Council over the more conservative Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon. Does that make your buddy Bruce too lefty to lead, Ceis? 

Song’s totally mild application makes Ceis’s red scare attempt look ridiculous. Song marketed herself as an economist who will responsibly steward public dollars and restore business to its former, pre-pandemic glory. She also kept cordial with the cops, writing that she believes Seattle needs a police force “scaled to the size and needs of a growing city.” Plus, she’s a big supporter of development. She should be a fucking hit with the big boys downtown! 

What’s Left for the Left? 

Progressives, who are not as aligned on Song as Ceis may believe, have also signaled support for Sugiyama.

Morales nominated Sugiyama because she has experience working at the City and, in her role at the Human Services Department, demonstrates expertise on homelessness, one of Seattle’s most pressing issues. 

Not only that, but the fourth-generation Japanese American and daughter of activists would bring much-desired representation for Asian Americans in Seattle. Civil rights leader and former King County Council Member Larry Gossett, Velma Veloria (the first Asian American woman elected to the Washington Legislature), and labor activist Michael Woo sang Sugiyama’s praises in an op-ed published by the South Seattle Emerald.

Her application didn’t make her sound like a raging leftist by any stretch, but the public will understand more about each of the eight nominees after the community forum on Thursday.

Nelson expects the council to vote on the appointment next Tuesday. The appointee will sit in the citywide seat until the voters choose for themselves in the next general election. However, Nelson said that she wants to appoint someone who will run to retain the seat for sake of continuity. So, if the council picks one of two literal cops or Woo, then progressives will have to mount a challenge against that person later this year.