Election Night Results Represent a Turn to the Center for Seattle

City Councilmember Andrew Lewis at his sparsely attended Election Night party in Belltown

By Erica C. Barnett

In early results that signaled a hard turn to the center for the Seattle City Council, three progressive city council incumbents were trailing their more conservative opponents Tuesday night, while moderates had strong leads over progressives in all four open seats.

The number-one issue this cycle was public safety—exemplified, a bit absurdly, by a vote to empower City Attorney Ann Davison to prosecute drug users—and voters were apparently convinced that a slate of more moderate newcomers will be better equipped than the current council to address the city’s problems.

Collectively, the candidates who were prevailing on election night support aggressive efforts to hire more police, aggressive crackdowns on people using drugs in public, and a harsher attitude toward unsheltered people, particularly those who are visible downtown and in the city’s business districts.

Although land use took a backseat to issues that lend themselves better to soundbites, it’s likely that the new council will be disinclined to adopt policies that would allow more apartments in Seattle’s historically single-family neighborhoods; Joy Hollingsworth, leading urbanist Alex Hudson by almost 17 points in District 3, talked fondly of “middle housing,” citing her family’s experience converting their large house into a triplex, but spoke warily about other forms of density, telling PubliCola she considered the level of density in District 3 “very extreme.”

It’s almost unprecedented for a city council candidate to come back from a double-digit deficit. In fact, the only person to do it in recent memory was Kshama Sawant, who gained 12 points on challenger Egan Orion in late returns in 2019, ultimately defeating him by more than 4 points.

The one council incumbent who’s almost certain to prevail, District 6 (Northwest Seattle) incumbent Dan Strauss, still ended the night two points behind Fremont business leader Pete Hanning, despite the fact that Hanning raised relatively little money and did not benefit from the kind of massive business-backed independent expenditure campaigns that fueled other candidates.

In other races, progressive candidates trailed their centrist opponents by double-digit margins, each representing thousands of votes. Later votes in Seattle usually skew heavily toward progressives, but the gaps many lefty candidates who were generally viewed as competitive are facing—Rob Saka’s 18-point lead over Maren Costa in West Seattle’s District 1,  for instance—seem fairly insurmountable. (Up in North Seattle’s District 5, former judge Cathy Moore’s 41-point lead over social equity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner feels like a foregone conclusion, given ObeySumner’s 24-point second-place primary finish, but the lopsidedness of Moore’s lead is representative of Tuesday’s dramatic results.)

Some progressive candidates, such as Strauss and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda—narrowly leading Burien Mayor Sofia Aragon in her race for King County Council—will surge ahead to comfortable leads in late results. Others, like Lewis and District 2 incumbent Tammy Morales, who ended Election Night almost 9 points behind neighborhood advocate Tanya Woo, could still pull off a win as later, leftier votes come in.

That said, it’s almost unprecedented for a city council candidate to come back from a double-digit deficit—bad news not just for Lewis but for District 4 progressive Ron Davis, trailing centrist Maritza Rivera by 11 points. In fact, the only person to do it in recent memory was Kshama Sawant, who gained 12 points on challenger Egan Orion in late returns in 2019, ultimately defeating him by more than 4 points.

Next year’s council will have as many as seven new members, including one the council itself will appoint to replace Mosqueda when she leaves next year. Sara Nelson, the Position 8 incumbent who campaigned for Saka, Woo, Rivera, and Kettle, wants to be council president, and will likely have the votes. But if the current trend holds and most of the centrist slate prevails, the new majority will have no one to blame if they fail. These candidates promised they had solutions to crime, homelessness, and addiction, and now their supporters will expect them to deliver.

The election could also leave Mayor Bruce Harrell in the unfamiliar position of being in the absolute majority, with a council that fully supports his agenda. If the mayor and his supporters can no longer blame the city council for thwarting his plans for the city, who can they blame other than the mayor himself? This isn’t to say that Harrell himself is vulnerable (as my podcast cohost often tells me, the man is popular), but it’s always easier to point the finger at political opponents than admit that some problems are systemic, complex, and unsuited to quick political fixes.

The county will post outstanding election results every afternoon aroudn 4 for the next three weeks, and I’ll be posting regular updates on all the races in which no candidate has conceded.

13 thoughts on “Election Night Results Represent a Turn to the Center for Seattle”

  1. Something to note – last years HB 1110 requires cities like Seattle to allow middle housing in single family zones. So the single family/ density issue isn’t really in control of council anymore, at least in these lower density zones.

  2. This is the second consecutive city election in which the Stranger didn’t have any print editions, and the second consecutive election in which the left got trounced. Granted, other important factors have been at work, but I still doubt this is a coincidence. People who still work remotely seem to think everyone is as online as they are, but that isn’t true, and anyway online is different, not concentrated in any one place. Print is part of the physical landscape, which for Seattle residents is concentrated around Seattle, and there’s no longer anything in this part of the physical landscape to the left of the Seattle Times.

    I came to town in 2006, had no home Internet access at all (and bad TV reception), but found copious information in print. The Stranger, Seattle Weekly, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the Seattle Times. I read them all. The Seattle Times was the farthest right, and it’s the only one someone like me would find now. Now I still read the Stranger, but only online, and I’m mainly aware of PubliCola and Crosscut online because I used to read Erica Barnett, Josh Feit and Mark Baumgartner in print.

    Suppose all the new arrivals now have home Internet access, unlike me then. I just typed ‘Seattle news’ into Google, and here’s what I got: “Top Stories” from the Times, KIRO, KING and something called “Field Gulls”. Then KING, then KOMO, then videos from NBC, KOMO and KING. Then Fox13, the Times, KIRO, and then, finally, Crosscut. The UK’s Independent, MyNorthwest, NBC, AP, Seattle Gay News, something called Patch, the Times on Twitter, West Seattle Blog, Univision, the Seattle P-I, and the city’s website. Google doesn’t rank PubliCola or the Stranger (let alone my blog) higher than the mayor’s office as sources of Seattle news!

    Is it the chicken or the egg? To what extent have Seattle’s prominent news media shifted right because the city has? To what extent has the city shifted right because its prominent news media have?

    1. This is a very interesting point – I do think there’s been some disconnect between digital urbanists type who increasingly work from home vs your in-person workers who live the realities of public transportation and sidewalk encampments. What do voters think of elected officials who log in to meetings from home, years after lockdowns have ended? I quit Twitter years ago – it’s a toxic cesspool! – so I’m not sure what folks think is landing well, but looking up from the keyboard a little more often would keep the POV grounded in the lived experience of many voters.

  3. Let’s call out the big losers, shall we? Publicola, The Urbanist, and especially, The Stranger. All now limping along, already looking for people to blame, instead of recognizing that the Far Left went too damn far and a course correction, started two years ago, was desperately needed.

    1. This, time 1000. I’m resisting the urge to go all Cartman at Slog and talk about how tasty overreaching progressive tears are. OK, fine, so I can’t resist.

  4. “it’s likely that the new council will be inclined to adopt policies that would allow more apartments in Seattle’s historically single-family neighborhoods” – I hope this is true, but am worried.

  5. This is very common to see the electorate go in another direction, we’re just not used to it in Seattle where voters lurched leftward for a very long time. I think we would have seen similar results if more offices were up for election two years ago, although the choices this time weren’t so extreme (Davison vs NTK anyone?).

    A lesser watched but high impact race last night was the School Board, in which incumbents and new elects are expected to continue to go along with the district and superintendent. That’s unfortunate because the district just spent down all its reserves, is facing an enrollment crisis and school closures, and there is a real possibility will enter state receivership in the next five years.

  6. Very telling photo of Lewis talking and no one paying attention. It is over nerd, time to get a real job as you failed miserably.

  7. Stupid voting system that takes days if not weeks to have a winner. Another victim of progress. France has millions of votes cast on election day and manages to count them and announce a winner but we get these vote dumps trickling in for days. LAME!!

  8. I will continue to support a much more conserative approach to city management. If only those governing or wanting to govern Seattle would look to more conserative cities. The (baby-step) approach to open drug use will not have the desired effect. Furthermore, thinking that Seattle can funnel everyone into a treatment program is ignorant liberal idealogy.

    1. Eh, I want people who are smart. If a dingbat like Pete Hanning (read his interview here) can be anywhere near power, the crime rate is only going to go up, not down. Strauss may be a weasel, but at least I know he is smart enough to understand the nuances, even if he doesn’t vote the way I want.

      1. Thieves don’t give a flying fuck whether or not Councilmembers are smart or not – but they do (to at least some extent) care if what they’re doing might actually send to jail, and local electeds – “smart” or not – are the ones who primarily establish those policies

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