Shortly after the first round of primary election results were posted, Mayor Jenny Durkan offered a hot take. The three incumbent council members running for re-election were in trouble, Durkan told Crosscut, because all three of them had failed to secure a 50 percent majority.
None of the three politicians—Lisa Herbold (D1), Kshama Sawant (D3), and Debora Juarez (D5)—could “count on winning in November” Durkan said the night of the August 6 primary.
But then, as always happens with mail-in voting, the counting continued.
After all the votes were tallied, Sawant remained underwater with only about 37 percent of the vote. But Durkan’s analysis on the Herbold race unraveled, with later ballot returns boosting Herbold’s vote share to 50.6 percent. And the mayor’s dire predictions for Juarez (who, it's worth noting, received Durkan’s endorsement) also appear to be aging poorly, with even one of Juarez’s main opponents agreeing she has a good chance of winning reelection.
There's no getting around the fact that with only 45 percent of the primary vote, the majority of people who cast ballots in North Seattle's District 5 had decided, at least as of August 6, that they were done with Juarez.
But the primary's second-place finisher, Ann Davison Sattler, received only 26.7 percent of the vote and is a conservative far to the right of Juarez. November’s election is likely to draw more voters, as well as a higher percentage of voters who are more liberal, meaning that Juarez will likely increase her vote share when she faces off head-to-head against Sattler's clear conservatism.
And Juarez has probably already won over some of the 55 percent of primary voters who originally voted against her, at least according to one of her opponents. John Lombard came in third place in the District 5 primary, winning 13 percent of the votes, and he thinks that some of his supporters will inevitably vote for Juarez in the general election.
“In the overall political spectrum, Juarez and I were in similar places," Lombard told The Stranger. Therefore, he said, "a lot of my supporters are reluctantly leaning towards Juarez."
Lombard said these voters are probably shifting to Juarez even though he has not endorsed her and has no plans to.
“At this point, I’m still not expecting to make an endorsement between Juarez and Sattler,” Lombard said. “[Juarez] just really isn’t and hasn’t been responsive to a wide array of constituent contacts that she’s had.”
Lombard said that Juarez is also likely to pick up the supporters of Mark Mendez, the city employee who ran on a campaign that included bringing more housing density to District 5. Mendez received over 6 percent of the primary vote.
“If you throw in Mark’s votes and a significant portion of my votes she is not only above 50 percent, but above Herbold’s [vote share] in District 1,” Lombard said.
Juarez doesn’t seem to be trying to convince Lombard to lend his support to her reelection campaign. Lombard said Juarez has yet to reach out to him after the election, whereas Sattler called him the morning after the primary.
“[Sattler] reached out to me the morning after the election,” Lombard said. “While she was seeking my endorsement and I said I wasn’t prepared to offer it, I’ve already introduced her to some people who I think could be helpful to her. And she is following up on that so I respect that.”
A representative of Juarez’s campaign said the council member was traveling and not immediately able to comment for this story.
The conventional political wisdom is that more people vote in general elections than in primaries, and those general election voters will be more liberal. But how big that bump will be in 2019 remains unclear. In 2015, the last year council elections were held in District 5, the district's voter turnout increased over 50 percent between the primary and the general, with 17,224 voters in the primary and 26,301 voters in the general.
But turnout in this year's primary was especially high, at 40 percent of registered voters, while 2015's primary saw only 29 percent turnout. With so many people already engaged, turnout may not increase as substantially in the 2019 general election as it did in 2015—but an increase is still likely, and if the conventional wisdom holds, that increase will probably support Juarez.
Juarez has been able to earn a strong set of endorsements. In addition to the mayor’s endorsement, she also has the support of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Stranger Election Control Board (SECB). She’s the only candidate to get both The Stranger and the Chamber’s support and she’s currently leading the fundraising race, with $86,600 in donations to Sattler’s $47,937. Lombard was able to raise $55,830 before losing in the primary.
Sattler’s biggest endorsement is from the Seattle Times Editorial Board, which wrote that Sattler can “rebuild relationships with neighborhoods and constituents” and focus more on city issues like public safety. Public safety, which is often a dog whistle in Seattle’s conservative communities for being tough on homeless people, is likely to factor in the general election. Sattler promised in her candidate statement to work on the “rectification of Seattle’s criminal justice system” by getting tough on individuals with “scores of charges.”
That will likely win Sattler votes from people who supported Tayla Mahoney, another District 5 candidate, in the primary. Mahoney, a relatively unknown candidate, was able to receive over 1,700 votes, or about seven percent, by promising to get tough on petty crimes. Mahoney’s candidate statement reads like the script of the now-infamous “Seattle Is Dying” TV documentary.
We can reduce lawlessness and addiction in our city by increasing prosecution of property crimes and illegal drugs. In our well-intentioned efforts to show compassion we have gone to the point of leniency and enabling.
Lombard doesn’t share these pro-criminalization policy positions and his supporters aren't likely to either. The SECB may have said he “seems like someone who would call the cops on his neighbors for growing weed,” but the longtime community organizer has been a proponent of safe injection sites and he reiterated to me over the phone today that he would not, in fact, call the cops on someone growing weed next door.
Lombard’s positions on zoning also run counter to Sattler's. Much to the disappointment of the SECB, Lombard did not support legalizing duplexes and triplexes in all single-family zones, but he does support bringing other types of density to District 5’s residential areas. Sattler, on the other hand, described the city’s modest expansion of backyard cottages as opening the "floodgates to mindless up-zoning development."
Juarez has spent her time on the council voting for increasing density that has brought upzones throughout District 5, so voters are going to have a clear choice in November. If they continue with the same patterns they displayed in the primary, Juarez may easily win another four years on the council.