There’s no question that this year’s Seattle City Council elections have generated a lot of interest. Millions of dollars are pouring into campaigns and 55 people are vying for a chance to sit on Seattle’s top legislative body. But what is actually going to happen come Tuesday night, when we see the first primary election vote tallies come in for the seven city council seats up for grabs?
Municipal elections are notoriously hard to predict: unlike congressional or presidential races, there’s no public polling data; and with the total votes in many of these council district primaries expected to be less than 20,000, the vote margin between the second and third place finishers could be razor-thin.
Does anyone really have any idea what's up with this election and how it's going to play out? We decided to ask, reaching out to political consultants and observers to see what people supposedly in the know think about this raucous primary election and who they believe is going to come out on top when 55 candidates get winnowed down to 14.
Here's what they said:
Michael Maddux, former city council candidate and staffer for Council Member Teresa Mosqueda, current political organizer.
This election has been markedly different in its vitriol—in particular, the shady “Moms for Seattle” PAC, the Mayor’s red-baiting in District 2, and Tim Burgess’ racist and sexist hit pieces. In 2015, those of us running talked about what we were for, and so much of this year has been marked with what people are against, notably opposition to fair taxes to fund services that will actually get people out of tents and into permanent housing.
D1 – Lisa Herbold and Phil Tavel
D2 – Tammy Morales and either Mark Solomon or Ari Hoffman
D3 – Kshama Sawant and either Logan Bowers or Pat Murakami
D4 – Alex Pedersen and Emily Myers (maybe Cathy Tuttle)
D5 – Debora Juarez and John Lombard (possibly Ann Davidson-Sattler)
D6 – Heidi Wills and either Dan Strauss or Jay Fathi
D7 – Andrew Lewis and either Jim Pugel or Michael George
Christian Sinderman, consultant, Northwest Passage Consulting
An unintended consequence of the [Democracy] voucher program that is more external than internal is the loss of messaging control. Because of the very, very low $75,000 spending cap, candidates are dedicating the majority of their resources to staff and outreach, and very little for paid communications when ballots are out, and voters are actually paying attention. This gives outsized power to independent expenditures who can spend unlimited amounts of money, and of course, candidates can neither control nor coordinate on how or what messages are communicated... it is really too late, if not impossible, to 'catch up' to the amount spent on behalf of other candidates."
Heather Weiner, consultant, Strategic communications:
We’re seeing across the country that the Republicans are using urban areas as the illustration for what’s wrong with liberals, progressivism, and Democrats. Our own politicians, the mayor, or these independent expenditures are buying into that narrative. And that is dividing our Seattle... This race is crowded. It's not going to be about who's the frontrunners, it's going to be who's in second place.
D1 – Lisa Herbold
D2 – Tammy Morales
D3 – Kshama Sawant
D4 – Alex Pedersen
D5 – Debora Juarez
D6 – Heidi Wills or Jay Fathi
D7 – Jim Pugel or Andrew Lewis
Hanna Brooks Olsen, writer, campaign director, organizer
I think this year is different because it's the first substantial local election cycle after the big post-2016 push. The messaging after 2016 was focused on people getting involved and running. The local Democratic party and the legislative districts ramped up their recruitment efforts. Coupled with programs like IDF and Emerge, we have a ton of people who have been training for this for years—and now, the seats are open and they're jumping in. Just as we saw a lot of folks jumping into the race for Mayor, I think we're going to continue to see really long ballots for the next couple of years. Call it the Trump effect or whatever, but I think after 2016 a lot of folks realized that they had not been that involved in politics and they saw things going in a direction they didn't like.
The other big factor, I think, is that there's a lot of upset and frustration about the perceived lack of action in City Hall, at the County level, and in the outlying cities. Folks are seeing things they don't like—chiefly homelessness, but also housing prices, property tax increases, traffic, whatever—and that's making them want to do more than just comment on Facebook (though lord knows, there's plenty of that, too). The reasons for this discomfort, of course, are many—not enough housing to support the city's growth, a tax system that doesn't bring in enough revenue, but the revenue it does bring in comes from the lowest earners, etc—but for a lot of people watching on the outside, it looks like the City just isn't doing enough.
Honestly, it's like reading tea leaves at this point... Two people can tell you what they think matters the most, and then give you completely different answers as to what they think will solve the problem.
Alex Hudson, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition
The notable pattern in this year's primary is that there is no pattern. Candidates are abundant and a varied crew — political insiders and newcomers, single-issue folks and generalists, haters and uniters. Democracy vouchers have allowed a new group of candidates to participate, and yet it feels like heated civic dialogue makes the job harder to recruit for. We’ve got big issues like transportation, housing, and homelessness to work on and basic city services to deliver. It can sometimes feel like our city is stuck between a rock and a hard place on these things, so whoever wins is going to need a jackhammer.
As for predictions, I got out of that game on November 9th, 2016.
Rial Johnson, consultant with Prism Washington, working with candidate Tammy Morales
It definitely feels different than 2017... that was the first time people were using Democracy Vouchers and I think they still are new to people. The voucher system is great because it allows people to not just need financial capital to run, people with social capital can still raise enough money to run a valid campaign.
The thing I see different [this year] is obviously there seems to be a bit more vitriol, it seems get a little nastier because the lines are drawn more in terms of homelessness issues and with corporations throwing money in. It’s easier to see what the corporations are doing in terms of where their intentions lie.
After 2016, I hate predictions. But I’m very confident that my client Tammy Morales is going to win [in District 2].
[District 1] is obviously going to be Herbold and Tavel.
[District 3] I think it’s going to be Sawant and DeWolf.
[District 4] Shaun Scott is a good friend, I really hope he makes it through. It’s going to depend on how the ground game comes through. It’s going to be Pedersen versus either Scott or Myers.
[District 5] Juarez
[District 6] Six is so diluted I can’t make any predictions.
[District 7] It looks like it’s going to be Michael George.
David "Goldy" Goldstein, former Stranger writer, current fellow at Civic Ventures
This  is very different. It’s not that it’s negative, there’s been negative stuff before, it’s the Trumpist tone of the negative attacks. And the positive stuff, really. What people on the right are running on. And the amount of money in independent expenditures. It’s a coordinated organized campaign from the business community that has no qualms about exploiting the crazy right-wing Safe Seattle hate talkers if that works to their advantage.
And I’ve never seen this much money in a primary. The mailers that are coming, are they more dishonest than usual? There have been some dishonest ones in the past, but photoshopping tents and garbage into playgrounds—I’ve never seen that before.
The other thing that is different is Democracy Vouchers. It’s both good and bad. It has created space for all of this IE spending, because when you cap what you can give to campaigns, that money is going to go somewhere and it’s going to go to less accountable independent expenditure campaigns. Because what you’re seeing with Moms and People for Seattle is that they will go places where a campaign won’t because you can’t hold them accountable, you can’t hold him accountable for [things like] the misappropriation of [Police Chief] Carmen Best.
D1 – It's Lisa and Tavel.
D2 – Morales and Solomon
D3 – Kshama will get through, I have no idea what number two will be.
D4 – Alex Pedersen will get through. If you had asked me in May I would have said Shaun Scott would get through, but I think [the business community] helped Emily by equating her to Kshama. They give permission to the DSA voters to vote for Emily.
D5 – Juarez
D6 – Fathi is the one candidate who has business and labor support so I would think most likely it would be Fathi and Wills. If Dan gets through The Stranger['s endorsement] did it.
D7 – Boy, what terrible candidate recruitment. I think it’s Andrew Lewis and Jim Pugel.