Y’all, I’ve been traipsing all over Europe on my trust fund for the last few weeks (note: A JOKE) and I came back just in time to see Seattle elect our first female mayor in nearly a century, Jenny Durkan, and the first 6-3 female majority on the city council since the 1990s. Meanwhile, King County voters may have elected their second-ever female sheriff, if early returns hold and Mitzi Johanknecht defeats incumbent John Urquhart for that position. Pundits elsewhere were dubbing last night a “great night for women,” and it was, but let’s get a few more female mayors, sheriffs, council members, and state legislators (not to mention pay equity, affordable day care, and hiring parity) before we declare the glass ceiling shattered to dust.
On to the celebrations!
I arrived at council member-elect Teresa Mosqueda’s party at Optimism Brewing Company at around 7 last night and the mood was already ebullient, although some supporters I talked to were still gritting their teeth as they waited for the 8:15 results. They shouldn’t have worried: The first vote drop showed Mosqueda winning decisively with 61.51 percent of the vote (to Grant’s 38.49 percent)—a rout that turned the cavernous room into a veritable nerd mosh pit.
Council member Lorena Gonzalez, who also won decisively over neighborhood activist Pat Murakami last night, introduced Mosqueda to the stage, shouting no fewer than three times that Mosqueda won because “she gets shit done!” In response to the results, the Grant campaign sent out a tepid non-concession, holding out hope that the remaining ballots would somehow reverse a yawning 23-point gap. (I was told that the statement he made at his own election-night party, down in Hillman City, was more decisively a concession speech.) At any rate, Grant’s defeat showed that not only is an endorsement from the Democratic Socialists of America not a slam-dunk in Seattle (and that, in fact, it may be a liability), neither is an endorsement from the Seattle Times or the Stranger, both of which effusively supported Grant. (Although the two papers have decidedly different politics, they both backed Grant in large part because of his position on zoning and development—he opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which chips away at exclusionary Seattle zoning rules that restrict new housing to a small fraction of the city’s residential land, and supported punitive developer fees that would have contributed to Seattle’s housing shortage.)
Grant’s campaign was also hampered by charges that he had created a hostile work environment for women and people of color as head of the Tenants Union, and by persistent questions about why, if his campaign was truly about “giving a voice to the most marginalized,” he was running at all. Grant, who grew up on Bainbridge Island, is white; Mosqueda, who grew up in Olympia, is Mexican-American. Mosqueda, who was lambasted by Grant and his supporters for her support from labor unions, kept her job lobbying for the rights of women, children, and workers in Olympia right through the end of the campaign, noting that she had to do so to pay her rent. (In addition to bein the third Latina on the council, Mosqueda will be the only renter.) Grant, in contrast, has been campaigning full-time since January, and lives in a house in South Seattle that was initially purchased for him by his parents after the previous owners lost their home to foreclosure. That class divide between the two candidates might not have been immediately apparent to the casual voter, but Grant’s insistence on portraying Mosqueda as an “establishment” candidate beholden to business and nefarious unions spurred Mosqueda to make Grant’s own more rarefied background an issue, and may have turned off voters initially inclined to support Grant because he purported to be the candidate of the people.
Speaking of which: Density was also a big winner last night, with HALA fan Jenny Durkan winning big (Moon, who touted urbanist values in front of urbanist audiences, was wishy-washy in front of neighborhood groups and on the citywide stage, proposing to start the HALA process over and let neighborhood groups have a larger say in the “character” and “culture” of their neighborhoods when deciding whether to let density in—as they did under “the great Jim Diers.”
Other takeaways from last night:
• Democracy vouchers and the Honest Elections initiative, once touted as a way to get money out of politics, have done nothing of the sort. Early on, both Grant and Mosqueda began filing requests to exceed the mandatory limits on contribution size and overall spending imposed by the 2015 initiative, and the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission promptly granted all their requests. Closer to Election Day, both candidates for city attorney—incumbent Pete Holmes and challenger Scott Lindsay—were also released from the initiative’s strictures. Mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon didn’t have access to democracy vouchers (they’ll kick in for the mayor’s race in 2021), but it probably wouldn’t much matter—as of today, Durkan has raised a record-breaking $937,410 and is well on track to burst through the $1 million ceiling by the time late contributions come through, and Moon’s contributions, currently $347,734, will top $500,000 once she pays off her debts, which total $182,682. Unless the ethics commission has a dramatic change of heart, it’s unlikely that they’ll force mayoral candidates to abide by limits that they haven’t enforced on candidates for city council or city attorney.
Moreover: The Honest Elections initiative limits contributions to $500. Neither Moon nor Durkan had an average contribution close to that. Moon’s average contribution was $174, and Durkan’s was $234. Finally, both campaigns were heavily supported by funding that was outside the scope of the initiative: Durkan was backed by $727,139 in independent expenditures by a business-backed political action committee, People for Jenny Durkan, and Moon has spent $176,521 of her own money (so far) to self-fund her campaign, nearly as much as the $181,766 she received from 1,043 supporters. Until PAC spending is dealt with (unlikely, given the ruling in Citizens United that money is speech) or self-financing is banned (ditto), big money—whether from wealthy candidates or deep-pocketed donors—will continue to be a major factor in Seattle politics.
• The King County Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services levy, which King County Executive Dow Constantine and advocates for homeless residents argued should be even larger, passed so overwhelmingly that it’s tempting to second-guess the county council’s decision to play it safe with the ballot measure. As I’ve reported, Constantine initially proposed renewing the levy at 12 cents per $1,000, which would have added $9 to the typical property owner’s annual tax bill and funded an additional $67 million in services over six years, but the county council rejected his proposal, arguing (among other things) that voters might be suffering from tax fatigue. Advocates for homeless services argued for an even higher rate, 15 cents, to extend services to the hardest to house. Last night’s results suggest that that council underplayed its hand in going with the lower, “compromise” rate.
• Outside Seattle: Manka Dhingra’s election to the (traditionally Republican) 45th District state senate seat solidifies the Democrats’ hold on both houses of the state legislature and is part of a wave of Democratic victories across the country, including in Virginia, Minnesota, and New Jersey. (Vox has a roundup of all of last night’s barrier-busting wins here.) In Bellevue, the results were a mixed bag: Supporters and opponents of a proposed men’s homeless shelter—which turned out to be a key issue in this year’s divisive council races—each one two council seats. Newcomer Jared Nieuwenhuis and incumbent Conrad Lee oppose the shelter, and newcomer Janice Zahn and incumbent Lynne Robinson support it. Down in Burien, where a slate of city council candidates calling themselves “Burien Proud Burien First” focused on Burien’s status as a sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants, to races were still too close to call; in the other two, a conservative and progressive candidate have strong leads, according to KUOW, which reports that “Nearly a quarter of Burien’s population is Latino but none have ever been elected to City Council.”
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