By Erica C. Barnett
With reporting by Paul Kiefer and Maryam Noor
Moments after the first batch of primary election results appeared on King County Elections’ website last night, mayoral candidate Lorena González’ campaign consultant Heather Weiner rushed across the tasting room at Jellyfish Brewing, where a crowd of several dozen had just moved to get out of the rain. “Oh my god, it’s really good, you guys!” she said excitedly. The results showed González 10 points behind former council member Bruce Harrell, 28 to 38, with former Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk and ex-state legislator Jessyn Farrell far behind in the single digits.
González, backed by labor and progressive leaders like Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (who was there last night) and Bernie Sanders, said the results showed that voters “want a mayor who will stand up to big, wealthy corporations who have millions to stop progress, but refuse to pay their fair share when it comes to addressing our most significant issues in this city. … We are done fighting around the edges. It is time for a mayor who’s going to center working people and our issues in City Hall and that is what tonight represents.”
Over at his party, held on a narrow stretch of Astroturf beneath the Bluwater Bistro in Leschi, Harrell struck a different tone, promising to bring “energy and new ideas” to the mayor’s office while rejecting big changes like defunding the police. Instead, Harrell said, he would work to “reimagine” and “reform” the department ideas that echo the incremental approach pushed by current mayor Jenny Durkan. “We will change the culture and build trust with our police department,” he said. “I understand why some people call for defunding, but I’m interested in reimagining.”
A persistent narrative leading into last night was that that people are “sick of the activist city council” and are looking for leaders without council ties. That narrative struggles under the weight of last night’s results,
For the last few weeks, political observers and consultants have speculated that Echohawk would see a late surge, spurred in part by an ad blitz and a 16-page mailer that outlined her policy positions in detail, including her 22-point plan to address homelessness; before the results came in last night, even some at González’ party said they thought the mailer was particularly potent. Ultimately, though, Echohawk ended the night with 8 percent—too small a showing to surge back in later counts.
At her party at Tamarind Tree in the International District, Echohawk and her supporters put a positive spin on the blowout. After the results came in, Echohawk told PubliCola she felt “amazing,” because “we lifted up the issues I really care about. And we made the whole city, all the campaigns, talk about homelessness. I always say that those experiencing homelessness are the people I did this for.”
A persistent narrative leading into last night was that that people are “sick of the activist city council” and are looking for leaders without council ties. That narrative struggles under the weight of last night’s results, which included a 3.5 percent showing from former deputy mayor and mayoral candidate Casey Sixkiller, who campaigned as an outsider on a “fix this mess” platform. Collectively, Harrell and González served 18 years on the council, spanning four elected mayors—the definition of institutional players.
Echohawk field organizer Matthew Mitnick noted last night that her campaign slogan was “a new generation of leadership,” which he said encapsulated her approach and appeal. “She brings a perspective of someone who hasn’t just spent years and years and years bickering in city hall, but rather working on the ground with those most impacted,” he said.
Ultimately, outsider appeal carried little weight; a third “outsider” candidate, former state legislator Jessyn Farrell, ended the night with 7 percent, and a fourth, Andrew Grant Houston, got just 2.5 percent. (Houston’s campaign was a triumph of fundraising, with more than 5,000 donors, but that reflected a smart organizing strategy more than organic voter support).
George Gibbs, a 49-year-old González volunteer who had never worked on a campaign before, said, “frankly, it’s the activist council that’s working to create a more just city. And that’s what drew me to [González].” Gibbs said his support for González was also a vote against Harrell—who, he said, “has given more conservative voters a place to park without calling themselves Republicans. My impression, having been around Seattle with my eyes and ears open, is that people are a lot more conservative than they let on.”
“The challenges that face the city right now merit experience in local government, and I think that that is what people are saying,” González said last night. “I ran this campaign talking about the good work I have done as a council member, and I think that tonight’s results show that that is resonating for voters in the city.”
If labor support helped propel González into the general election, business support was equally important for Harrell, who benefited from a $350,000 independent expenditure campaign funded by downtown real estate developers and property managers. Over at the BluWater Bistro, Harrell’s supporters—many of them longtime family friends—told PubliCola they hoped Harrell would “clean up” the city and restore it to the way it was in the past.
Patricia Johnson, who volunteered on Bruce’s first campaign, said, “Bruce is going to help restore Seattle’s identity. We used to be a welcoming city, but with crime and homelessness running rampant, we need someone to clean up the streets and bring us back to what we once were.” Her husband, James Johnson, who graduated from Garfield High School a few years ahead of Harrell, added, “We just want the city cleaned up.”
Aaron Allen, a supporter whose mother was an administrator at Garfield when Harrell was a senior there, said Harrell “is the only candidate who really represents what it means to be from Seattle.”
“You have to have some emotional tie to the people you want to lead,” he said.
In other races, city council Position 8 incumbent Teresa Mosqueda (whose 2017 opponent, Jon Grant, was at González’ party) was winning handily with almost 55 percent of the vote—another blow against the hoary “voters hate the activist council” narrative. In the other race, though, voters were rejecting an insider, longtime Lorena González aide Brianna Thomas, in favor of two polar opposites—police abolitionist Nikkita Oliver on the left and business owner (and former city council aide) Sara Nelson on the right. Nelson came through with about 42 percent of the vote, but that could shrink as King County Elections counts late-arriving ballots (which tend to skew left) in the coming days.
Incumbent city attorney Pete Holmes was struggling last night, with just 44 more votes than his challenger from the left, former public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, and behind Ann Davison, a declared Republican whose campaign misleadingly blamed Holmes for allowing felonies (which the city attorney does not handle) to go unpunished. Davison, who has run for office unsuccessfully two times before, may have tapped out for the primary at just under 35 percent, but if she and Thomas-Kennedy make it to the general election Holmes’ supporters will have to choose between someone who supports moving homeless people to warehouses and someone who opposes prosecuting most misdemeanors.
Finally, most King County incumbents closed the night with absolute majorities. Executive Dow Constantine’s nearly 24-point lead on challenger Joe Nguyen, a state senator, could close somewhat as late votes come in, but Nguyen will need to make a more convincing case than he has so far that Constantine has fallen down on the job. Republican County Councilmembers Reagan Dunn (East King County) and Pete Von Reichbauer (South King County) both finished last night above 50 percent, while the council’s third Republican, North King County council member Kathy Lambert, landed at 41 percent and could face a tough general-election battle against left-leaning challenger Sarah Perry, at 34 percent.