(L-R) Kent Mayoral hopeful Dawn Bennet, state Sen. Mona Das, and Kent city council candidate Cliff Cawthon hit the doors.
(L-R) Kent mayoral hopeful Dawn Bennett, state Sen. Mona Das, and Kent city council candidate Cliff Cawthon hitting the doors. Courtesy of Cliff Cawthon Campaign

As it turns out cities outside of Seattle exist, and today those cities will also hold elections that could dramatically shift power across the county.

Though municipal seats are technically "nonpartisan," the politicians who sit in them tend to be conservatives who live only to attract the largest corporations imaginable without building the housing necessary to accommodate their workers, without making the necessary investments to mitigate climate impacts, and without protecting tenants. Majority-minority SeaTac still has a Trumpian Mayor in 2021, for the love of god.

This year progressive and/or Democratic candidates — many of them backed by the WA Working Families Party — aim to hold onto a narrow majority in Burien and to win majorities in Bellevue, SeaTac, Kent and elsewhere. In general, they're all running to build more affordable housing, protect workers, and reform the police, while the conservatives they face equivocate on homelessness/housing and paint their opponents as radical abolitionists.

Somewhere over there is a school board candidate who quoted Charles Murray.
Somewhere over there is a school board candidate who quoted Charles Murray. PHILAUGUSTAVO / GETTY

Bellevue for sale

Right now centrist "weak" mayor Lynne Robinson runs the city along with an even split of conservatives and liberals on the Bellevue City Council. But if Ruth Lipscomb knocks out Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis and if Dexter Borbe beats ancient incumbent Conrad Lee, then the Bellevue City Council might end up turning the city into something other than a mall parking lot for the wealthy. A naturopathic "physician" who thinks the COVID mandates have gone "too far" challenged Robinson, so Robinson should be fine, but the other races are interesting. I'll do them out of order.

City of Bellevue, Council Position No. 4

Earlier this month, the realtors, Amazon, the two developers who run Bellevue (Kemper Freeman Jr. and Kevin Wallace), and others dumped more than $193,000 into the Eastside Business Alliance PAC, which then turned around and spent the vast majority of that cash on Jared Nieuwenhuis's council campaign. According to a review of independent expenditures going back to 2009, that's the most money an IE has ever dropped on a Bellevue council race.

In his one term on the council, Nieuwenhuis sported a conservative track record, a history of donating mostly to Republicans (he's given to a couple conservative Democrats, but he pays the GOP regularly), and a palpably erotic thirst to bend over backward for corporations. The local police union backed Nieuwenhuis, and he produced this ~ spooooky ~ ad saying that his opponent Ruth Lipscomb wanted to "defund the police" because she stood up during public comment in July of 2020, criticized the militarized department's opaque budget, and had the gall to suggest the city consider "reallocating a portion of the police funding to areas of the budget that more equitably support the well-being of all fellow citizens."

The truth is Lipscomb is a software engineer with early Microsoft money that she spends on Democrats, and that scares the shit out of these people. She also wants to let homeowners build backyard cottages to very lightly increase density in town, which is about the least Bellevue could do to make room for the 20,000 technology brothers Amazon plans to install over there in the next few years.

City of Bellevue, Council Position No. 2

Conrad Lee is an old Republican who gave cash money to totally batshit King County Republican chair Joshua Freed and Loren Culp, the Trump clone who falsely blames shenanigans for his humiliating loss to Governor Jay Inslee last year. His opponent Dexter Borbe owns an in-home health care staffing company called Interim Healthcare of Bellevue, and his business-friendly policy platform (wider roads AND spending on transit) place him nearer to conservative Democrats on the political spectrum, which attracted the attention of the Seattle Times Editorial Board. But he sounds better than the 24-year incumbent who voted against a homeless shelter that took forever to build. Lee beat Borbe 57 to 28 in the primary, but maybe Borbe's endorsements will get him there.

A couple bonkers school board races

Not to dwell any longer in Bellevue than we absolutely have to, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a few updates regarding the two school board races that lit up private Facebook groups all summer.

The showdown in District 3 involves Joyce Shui vs Faye Yang, and in District 5 Gregg Smith faces off against Jane Aras.

When we last touched base with Yang, she was dismissing that one time in 2018 when she cited the racist pseudoscience of Charles Murray in her criticism of the "rollout" of the school district's equity policy. Since then activists dug up some September 2020 emails showing Yang calling Black Lives Matter a "terrorist organization" and warning of the upcoming "Reverse Jim Crow days" in response to a couple "Black Lives Matter at School" posters hung in a school.

Over the phone, though she didn't mention this critique in her email, Yang said "that sign in the elementary school was a fist above a heart with blood vessels, which caused the elementary school children to have nightmares — regardless of the political issues, the sign itself is not appropriate for elementary school students because it was too bloody-looking." She wouldn't weigh in on whether skeletons in science class would be appropriate for school children.

As for calling BLM a terrorist organization: she said she believed that foreign countries infiltrated BLM in order to overthrow the government, and so she only thinks that part of the movement is a terrorist organization. When I told her she just repeated a conspiracy theory, she claimed the conspiracy theory wasn't a conspiracy theory.

Meanwhile, Smith apparently buys into the Trumpian anti-Critical Race Theory crusade, has suggested he believes reverse racism is real but not systemic racism, and he also displayed his ignorance of the BLM movement in emails and on social media. Even the Seattle Times Editorial Board said Smith "has made comments in a private Facebook group that have amplified misunderstanding of the district’s equity initiatives rather than brought clarity."

Meanwhile, the only sin Shui and Aras ever committed was earning support from the teachers union. Shui took 50% in the primary and Aras took 49%, so these races could be weirdly close.

Burien holding on

South of town liberals hold a slim and newly won majority over conservatives, but a bunch of reactionaries spreading fears about crime and running on peoples' antipathy for the homeless want to win back control.

Mayor Jimmy Matta, who only took 47% in the primary, will try to keep his seat away from Mark Dorsey, who says Burien is "littered with trash and unscrupulous individuals," and who stands against the idea of even talking about how much we pay for cops.

To replace current city council member Pedro Olguin, city council candidate Hugo Garcia, an economic development manager at King County, faces off against Martin Barrett, an evangelical business owner who seems to believe that god's vision for local government is to serve big business at all costs. Garcia trailed Barrett 46.5 to 51, so here's hoping the general leans liberal. If you're looking for more background information on Garcia, political consultant Crystal Fincher conducted a good interview with Garcia on her Hacks & Wonks podcast.

ACLU Burien People Power cofounder Sarah Moore is running for a council seat against Alex Simkus, who inherited a gas station from his grandpa, and who sees homeless shelters as threats to "neighborhood safety." Moore wants more affordable housing and wants to lead on climate initiatives. She only took 46% in the three-way primary, and the other conservative in the race backed Simkus.

Progressive champion and Burien deputy mayor Krystal Marx hopes to hold onto her seat against Stephanie Mora, a homemaker and sales associate whose opposition to the council-approved 95-unit affordable housing project propelled her to run. Like the other conservatives, the idea of actually housing homeless people in town is icky-wicky-crime-bad to her. Marx only pulled in 33% of the vote in a crowded primary, and so she's facing an uphill battle.

Need two to flip SeaTac

A mostly white, conservative majority led by Trump fan Erin Sitterley has run this majority-minority airport town with a healthy immigrant population for far too long, and three city council candidates hope to flip that script.

In Council Position No. 2, labor organizer and cook Jake Simpson will try to unseat Stan Tombs, a “white-collar criminal defense” lawyer who also worked “in large scale commercial real estate development." Simpson is running on affordable housing, keeping streetlights on, and helping small businesses thrive. He won 42% of the vote to Tombs's 32%. In the primary, EL'ona Kearney picked up 21% — she basically dismissed the concerns of the group of small business owners hoping to save the SeaTac Center from a housing development, so her votes will probably go to Tombs.

In Council Position No. 4, longtime social worker Mohamed Egal has returned to take on longtime conservative Clyde (Fuzz) Hill, and more power to him.

And in Position No. 6, school social worker Iris Guzmán hopes to take out incumbent Pam Fernald, who is famous in my mind for arguing that the residents of a mobile home park called Firs didn't pay taxes, seemingly alluding to the fact that many of them were immigrants. Immigrants, of course, pay all kinds of sales and property taxes. The Working Families Party, the Democrats, and some unions support Guzmán, so hopefully she'll be able to improve on the 44% she took in the three-way primary.

Kent could elect its first Black woman Mayor and its youngest City Council Member

A progressive majority in Kent city government hinges on Dawn M. Bennett beating incumbent mayor Dana Ralph and Cliff Cawthon beating council president Toni Troutner.

Multicultural Education Rights Alliance director Dawn Bennett is running on COVID-19 recovery, elevating the voices of elders in the city's conversation around health care, increasing affordable housing, and changing up the kinds of calls the city responds to with a gun and a badge. Progressive lawmakers and MLK Labor support her, while establishment figures and Republicans support Ralph. If she wins, Bennett would be the first Black woman mayor in Kent, a city with a BIPOC majority.

In Council Position No. 4, Cliff Cawthon, a part-time Bellevue College professor and Sightline pro-housing coalition strategy manager challenged the more conservative incumbent Toni Troutner. Troutner opposed hazard pay for grocery workers, takes a "compassion and accountability" approach to the homelessness crisis, and wants to hire more cops. Amazon, the police union, and a few conservative unions back her campaign, which allowed her to put out mailers that misrepresent Cathwon's stance on police reform.

He did not in fact promise to abolish the police.
He did not exactly promise to abolish the police.

Over the phone, Cathwon said he supports a housing-first approach to the homelessness crisis and wants to create a 24-hour homeless shelter in town that could also be "a one-stop shop to get people into permanent supportive housing." He also wants to adopt King County's just cause tenant protections in the city to keep more people housed, and also to invest in "non-force alternatives to address mental health concerns and other calls that don't require a force-forward police response."

Troutner's mailer argued that Cawthon wants to abolish the police, and she pointed to a clip from a long interview he did, wherein he promised to pass policies "rooted in abolition."

Cawthon said he took that question to be about his support for abolitionist values, which involve investing in housing and social services to reduce poverty and therefore crime while also increasing investments in police alternatives.

"One thing I've seen with candidates of color throughout these races is this dog-whistling around defunding and abolishing the police. There are so many people who have called for more accountability and reallocation of resources from policing to community, and that's seen as getting rid of the police," Cawthon said, arguing that these conservative candidates use abolition as a scare tactic rather than a legitimate and nuanced policy position.

Though both Bennett and Cawthon also face uphill battles, Cawthon said he remains "nervous but optimistic" about the election results. "We worked our butts off, and we've changed the conversation," he said.

Other races to check in on include Josh Binda's run for council in Lynnwood and Carmen Rivera's race for council in Renton. If you know of some other races where progressives or liberals hope to unseat more conservative members, please feel free to yell 'em out in the comments.