Is the Seattle City Council on the verge of a conservative takeover or will our already progressive council swing even more to the left? This question has plagued Seattle’s political class since the repeal of the contentious head tax last year. Tuesday night’s primary election results have finally given us some concrete evidence to help answer this question.
The answer is a resounding: maybe.
The primary election winnowed 55 city council candidates down to 14 and in nearly every race November’s voters will have a choice between pro-big-business candidates (endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce) and strong progressives (endorsed by The Stranger). And while the conservative candidates did make it through to the general, many of their meager second-place finishes show that the book may be closing on a conservative takeover of the council.
The starkest choice will be in District 4, where Northeast Seattle will choose between a young, black socialist, Shaun Scott, and an Amazon-backed NIMBY, Alex Pedersen.
Three incumbents are running for reelection and all of them failed to secure a 50 percent majority in the primary. That said, Council Member Debora Juarez in North Seattle and Council Member Lisa Herbold in West Seattle are heading into the general election with over 40 percent of their districts' votes, a good sign for reelection. District 3 Council Member Kshama Sawant is going to be facing a more difficult battle against Amazon-backed Egan Orion; the socialist only earned 32.8 percent of the vote last night.
In the four incumbent-free open seats at least one appears likely to be secured by a progressive. District 2 candidate Tammy Morales is currently at nearly 45 percent of the vote despite competing against six other candidates.
The remaining three open seats appear to be ripe for a general election battle. Seattle’s powerful labor unions are likely to have an outsized pull in the general election. Will they support the big business candidates like they did with Mayor Jenny Durkan and former Mayor Ed Murray’s elections or will they support progressives willing to tax big business? We have three months to find out.
Meanwhile in the County Council world, incumbent Council Member Larry Gossett is getting swamped by challenger Girmay Zahilay, who has managed to secure 52 percent of the vote against the civil rights icon.
We would also be remiss if we failed to note that The Stranger’s endorsements appeared to have a strong pull, even within the early vote counts which tend to slant older and more conservative. Candidates endorsed by The Stranger won every single race except for District 4, where Stranger-endorsed Scott came in second. It’s also worth noting that the Chamber of Commerce’s $1.1 million dollar slush fund, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), needed to spend a lot of money just to get their candidates in second place.
We would be further remiss if we didn’t point out that the very idea of an August primary election is foolish—humans should spend the eighth month of the year hiking, dancing, sailing, reading, lounging, bicycling, playing cards, traveling, making music, and literally anything else other than working or voting. This primary should be a month later, but it isn’t, so here’s what happened.
Parks and library levies
Let’s start with our two local levies. Both the parks and the library levy passed, which means they will not be on the general election and we can all breathe a sigh of relief knowing our parks won’t get cut by 80 percent and libraries across Seattle won’t have to close. The library levy’s passage also means we will no longer have late fees.
King County Council District 2
Up until Tuesday night, King County Council Member Larry Gossett hadn’t faced a serious challenger since he was elected in 1993. Girmay Zahilay has now reversed that streak in dramatic fashion. With 52% of the vote, the first-time candidate currently leads the living civil rights legend and bazillion-year incumbent Gossett by nearly 13 points. Now the council member will have to rev up his old political engine and try to make a comeback against a fresh young voice, who ran to the left of Gossett on criminal justice issues.
City Council District 1
Incumbent Lisa Herbold currently leads attorney Phil Tavel 48 percent to 34 percent in District 1. That’s a 14-point lead that’s likely to grow as more late ballots get counted, but it also doesn’t assure Herbold an easy victory in the general election. Bad cop and Safe Seattleite Brendan Kolding is currently in third place with over 17 percent of the vote, and many of his voters are likely to switch to Amazon-backed Tavel in the general election.
Will Herbold be able to grow past her current 48 percent lead? Perhaps. She’s nearly at 50 percent in a conservative-leaning August primary, a good sign for her campaign.
City Council District 2
Everyone thought Tammy Morales was going to do well in this primary—she came within a few hundred votes of knocking out District 2 Council Member Bruce Harrell in 2015—and she has exceeded expectations, earning 44.69 percent of the vote. Getting that close to 50 percent, and late returns very well may push her to 50, in a crowded eight-person primary is a strong electoral feat, especially considering Morales isn’t an incumbent.
Amazon and Durkan-backed candidate Mark Solomon is currently at only 24.6 percent of the vote, despite having almost $80,000 in help from CASE. Solomon is likely to pick up many of the 13.5 percent of voters that went for Ari Hoffman, a bouncy castle tycoon who likes to rev his Dodge to hurt nature, but Morales is likely to pick up many of the 11.4 percent of voters who went for Phyllis Porter and Chris Peguero.
City Council District 3
Here’s the good news for District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant: So far, she has the opponent she wants in chamber-backed Egan Orion, and that doesn’t look like it’s going to change. Bad news for Sawant: Given a choice, 66 percent of the voters wanted somebody else.
In the 2015 primary, Sawant took 52 percent of the vote with 11,675 votes. This time she’s currently only at 33 percent with 6,270 of the votes. Labor has a choice here: They can either partner with big business as they did during Jenny Durkan's election, or they can ally with Sawant and prevent the Council from leaping to the right.
Sawant will now be relying on the general election’s voters slanting more to the left and hoping that some of her progressive opponents’ voters will swing to her race instead of Orion’s. Her campaign will need to win over Zachary DeWolf and Ami Nguyen voters, who together are currently pulling 22.4 percent of voters. Pat Murakami’s 14.2 percent are likely to jump to Orion, while Logan Bowers’s 7 percent are more of a mystery.
City Council District 4
Northeast Seattle is going to have a stark choice in November after Shaun Scott pulled a stunning primary finish to get himself into second place. That means voters will likely be deciding between Alex Pedersen, a NIMBY who campaigned against Sound Transit 3, and Scott, a socialist who is proposing an entire slate of radical policies. Pedersen is currently sitting with a formidable 45.4 percent of the vote. Scott has only 19.4 percent, but if he is able to pick up voters from labor-backed Emily Myers (11.5 percent) and urbanist Cathy Tuttle (12.7 percent), that gets him to 43.5 percent of the voters. Combine that with a boost of lefty UW students in November’s election and that’s a race, people.
This is another district where labor has a choice—do they support the comfortable chamber-backed conservative or do they jump on board the campaign of a socialist who they have a lot of policy alignment with? We’ll see.
Incumbent Seattle City Council Member Debora Juarez leads a pack of North Seattle NIMBYs with 42% of the vote. Her general election opponent is likely to be attorney Ann Davison Sattler, who was endorsed by the Seattle Times. Sattler currently sits at 28 percent, far behind Juarez, but Sattler is likely to pick up some of John Lombard’s voters, which currently stand at 13.8 percent. That means Juarez doesn’t have a guaranteed November win.
“Ballard’s paperboy” Dan Strauss managed to surge past 13 other contenders to take first place in District 6, currently holding 30.9 percent of the vote. He will be facing the Chamber-backed former Council Member Heidi Wills, infamous for Strippergate (google it), in the general, who currently has 22.7 percent of the vote.
Is Strauss’s win thanks in large part to the endorsement from this paper? We think so, and even Crosscut seems to agree. (Thanks for reading, Seattle!)
As surprising as Strauss’s win is, even more surprising is the fourth-place finish of Jay Fathi, who had the support of the Seattle Times and the chamber but managed to only grab 13.6 percent of the votes so far. Hot cop Sergio Garcia is even beating Fathi with 14.6 percent of the vote. With many of the hot cop and Fathi’s voters likely headed to Wills, Strauss will have his general election fight cut out for him.
In the race between the weird dadbots and that woman who wants to put homeless people in shipping containers, reformist cop Jim Pugel trails assistant Seattle City Attorney Andrew Lewis by two points. It’s neck and neck, with late returns likely to slant toward Lewis.
Lewis had the help of The Stranger’s endorsement, as well as the largest ad buy in primary history thanks to an independent expenditure committee organized by a union, but beating Pugel appears to be an uphill battle, with Lipscomb-Eng’s voters and at least some of George’s voters likely to support Pugel. At the end of the day, Sally Bagshaw will either be replaced by a prosecutor or a cop who doesn’t like upzones.
All the rest
King County Council District 8 candidate Joe McDermott is at a comfortable 82.5 percent of the vote; Sam Cho is currently in the lead with 28.3 percent for Port Commissioner Position No. 2; Fred Felleman is killing it with 69.9 percent of the vote for Port Commissioner No. 5; Seattle School Board Position 1 is neck and neck with Liza Rankin at 36.6 percent and Eric Blumhagen at 39.9 percent; School Board Position 3 candidate Chandra Hampson is at a comfortable 55.4 percent; and School Board Position 6 incumbent Leslie Harris is looking strong with 53.4 percent of the vote.