By Nathalie Graham, Agueda Pacheco Flores, Ashley Archibald, Chetanya Robinson, Marcus Green
Seattle voters appeared to be embracing moderate candidates in key races for mayor, city attorney and City Council, according to early returns Tuesday night.
Seattle Mayor’s Race
Bruce Harrell was leading Lorena Gonzáles 65% to 35% in a race to elect Seattle’s next mayor and potentially set the course on homelessness, policing, affordable housing, and other critical issues facing the city.
Seattle voters found themselves in a similar position Tuesday night to election nights past: Should the electorate choose a moderate Democrat or a progressive to steer the city?
However, unlike years past, Seattle in 2021 is still reeling from the impacts of COVID-19, the expanding housing and homelessness crisis, and the after-effects of 2020’s uprising against police brutality.
Harrell was not immediately available for comment but Gonzáles issued a statement.
“Tonight’s results, and the fact that the votes of so many of our voters, who tend to vote at the very end, have not been counted means we may not know until late in the week or next week who the next mayor will be,” González said in a statement. “We respect every vote as equal regardless as to when it was cast and we will not prejudge the outcome.”
Between political action committee (PAC) money and individual donations, Harrell and Gonzáles spent upwards of $5.5 million on their campaigns according to data from the Ethics and Elections Commission (EEC), presenting voters with disparate approaches to solving issues facing Seattle.
Harrell, a former three-term Seattle City Councilmember and later Council president, campaigned on a more moderate vision for Seattle’s future.
He supports clearing homeless encampments from public spaces, yet has not spelled out how he will pay for more sweeps, shelter, or affordable housing. Harrell also supports adding more police officers to the Seattle Police Department (SPD).
His plan for police reform includes more training for officers, hiring officers “looking to be internal change agents” in the department, and creating a pledge all officers must sign that states “The Inhumane Treatment of Fellow Human Beings Will Not Be Tolerated In Seattle.” Despite only leaving the Council in 2019, Harrell’s campaign billed him as an outsider to City politics.
González, the current Council president, brought forth a more progressive platform. González wants to increase progressive taxation to pay for more affordable housing and homelessness services.
She points to JumpStart Seattle, the payroll tax on big businesses she and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda passed last year to plug COVID-19 budget holes that, after pandemic budget-balancing, will pay for more housing. González also supports defunding the police and reforming law enforcement by creating a system where unarmed responders answer non-violent emergency calls. González believes SPD’s culture is toxic and points to the fact that the department had the highest number of police at the Jan. 6 insurrection as evidence.
On top of the issues, the next mayor will inherit a majority progressive Council. Mayor Jenny Durkan wrote herself out of a second term last year after facing criticism about how she handled the aforementioned onslaught of obstacles. Durkan and the Council butted heads on policy and their disparate vision. This led to inaction and exacerbated the slow rollout of services such as emergency housing during the pandemic.
Despite the money funneling through the race and a year of campaigning, voter turnout in King County remains low. As of Tuesday evening, only around 36% of Seattle voters had cast their ballot. Of those ballots, around 20% came from people over 55 years old. Meanwhile, only around 1.5% of eligible voters aged 18–24 had voted. However, later voters tend to skew younger. In 2019, late return ballots gave socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant a 12% boost days after election night’s initial ballot drop, securing a win for her.
Due to younger, more progressive voters returning their ballots later, González’s campaign believes results for progressive candidates will “look absolutely dismal” on election night. They’re more optimistic about returns later in the week.
Tuesday’s results will only include the 300,000 ballots King County Elections received as of Monday. If 46% of voters cast their ballots as King County Elections projects, spokesperson Halei Watkins said, then they should pick up around 250,000 ballots on Tuesday.
Seattle City Attorney Race
Ann Davison was leading Nicole Thomas-Kennedy 58% to 41% according to early returns in a race for City Attorney which attracted national attention because it pitted a self-described abolitionist and a Democrat-turned-Republican.
The match was set when City Attorney Pete Holmes narrowly lost to both women in the August primary, leaving Seattle with an unprecedented choice: Should an abolitionist or a Republican lead Seattle’s city attorney office?
Holmes was unopposed until just hours before May’s filing deadline closed when public defender Thomas-Kennedy and failed lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Davison entered the race.
Davison was not immediately available for comment.
Thomas-Kennedy remained optimistic, however, despite the initial returns.
“The primary prepared us to have to wait several days for complete results of this election, but I’m as hopeful tonight as I was then,” said Thomas-Kennedy. “I know that when every vote is counted, the people of Seattle will have sent a clear message to the corporate interests that tried to buy this election: our democracy is not for sale.”
Thomas-Kennedy believes in the abolition of the criminal justice system — or, in other words, completely overhauling how Seattle prosecutes low-level crimes and doing away with prisons. Her leftist views will be difficult to carry out in an office that primarily represents the City in civil legal battles such as when landlords yell about tenant protections or when businesses fight business taxes.
The city attorney also prosecutes low-level crimes such as misdemeanors. Thomas-Kennedy doesn’t believe most misdemeanors should be prosecuted. Holmes and his office had already started diversion programs for these crimes to limit recidivism.
Davison, who switched her party affiliation to Republican during Trump’s administration, wants to crack down more on these crimes. She believes the City needs to support the victims of these crimes rather than those committing them. Evidence shows her belief in increasing the prosecution of low-level offenders to stop them from committing crimes is flawed.
Much of the city attorney race has focused on anti-police tweets Thomas-Kennedy sent during the height of the 2020 social uprising against police brutality. Former moderate Democrat Washington governors Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke came out in support of Republican Davison because of Thomas-Kennedy’s tweets.
Despite winning the primary with 36% of the vote to Davison’s 32%, recent polling shows support for Davison growing in Seattle. According to a Northwest Progressive Institute poll from last week, 43% of polled Seattleites said they would vote for Davison. Only 24% said they would vote for Thomas-Kennedy. However, 30% were undecided.
Seattle City Council Position 9
Sara Nelson had a large lead over Nikkita Oliver in early election returns between two candidates whose views on policing and homelessness could not be further from each other.
With 22% of ballots counted, Oliver currently has 39% of votes, while Nelson has 60% of votes.
Oliver (they/them) has been a longtime champion of social justice issues in Seattle. They vehemently opposed the new youth jail and they’re the executive director for Creative Justice, an organization that promotes an art-focused alternative to youth incarceration. In 2017, Oliver ran for mayor and lost to Mayor Jenny Durkan. Oliver’s policy views include defunding the police by 50%, allowing multifamily housing in single-family housing zones and providing hygiene stations for Seattle’s homeless community.
Nelson, on the other hand, is a small business owner. She owns Fremont Brewing and previously worked as a Council aide. She does not support defunding the police and supports removing homeless encampments in a phased approach. She also believes more data is needed in order to find an effective solution to homelessness.
Seattle City Council Position 8
Incumbent Councilwoman Teresa Mosqueda is easily leading challenger Kenneth Wilson for City Council Position 8 — 52% to 47% in early returns.
Mosqueda has served on the Council since 2017 and is the mind behind last year’s corporate tax law known as “JumpStart Seattle.”
A former labor organizer, Mosqueda is part of Seattle’s progressive left. She is in favor of defunding police and supported this past summer’s George Floyd protests.
Meanwhile, Wilson is an engineer who owns his own company: Integrity Structural Engineering. He worked on the overpass bridge between the new light rail station and North Seattle College in Northgate. He has no previous political experience and does not support defunding the police.
King County Executive Race
King County Executive Dow Constantine took an early lead Tuesday night over challenger Joe Nguyen after the first batch of general election ballots dropped just past 8 p.m. Tuesday night.
Early returns showed Constantine with 57.31% of the vote and Nguyen trailing with 41.55%.
The first round represents a small number of the overall ballots, which had to be postmarked by Nov. 2 or turned into one of the ballot drop boxes located throughout the county by 8 p.m.
“I think this shows having a strong, engaged leader on critical issues like COVID, housing and homelessness, transit, and climate has paid off,” said Christian Sinderman, a Constantine campaign consultant. “People understand it and are rewarding that level of hands-on, thoughtful leadership.”
Nguyen sounded upbeat Tuesday night. His campaign did well compared to some other progressive races, Nguyen said, suggesting that with more resources with which to get his message out and without being hamstrung by the pandemic and off-year election, he might have done better.
“This is the status quo knowing that this is its dying breath, because the future of what this county looks like is more diverse,” Nguyen said.
He did not plan to concede Tuesday.
Additional results will continue to be tallied in the coming weeks. The primary contest — held on Aug. 3 — took two weeks to certify. Historically, more people cast their ballots in the general election compared to the primary, however, and later ballots tend to skew younger and more leftwing.
The 2021 campaign represented the first significant challenge to Constantine since he won the executive’s office in 2009. Nguyen captured 33% of the vote in the primary, putting him comfortably ahead of the other, lesser-known candidates as well as perennial mononymous candidate Goodspaceguy.
But that still left Constantine with 52% of the vote and Nguyen with a significant amount of ground to make up going into the general election.
Nguyen positioned himself to Constantine’s left, framing his candidacy as a challenge to the incumbency and entrenched political interests. He’s relatively new to politics compared to Constantine, first winning office in 2018 to become the first Vietnamese American in the Washington State Senate. He represented the 34th district, which encompasses Vashon Island, West Seattle, West Burien, and White Center, where Nguyen grew up.
He says that as executive he would act with a “deep sense of urgency,” criticizing King County’s slow roll out of rental assistance and lack of investment in marginalized communities.
Constantine, in contrast, is a career politician, serving in the State House of Representatives and State Senate before joining the King County Council in 2002 to replace Greg Nickels, who had been elected mayor of Seattle.
That long career left plenty of room for attack from critics over issues such as the homelessness crisis, which grew significantly during his tenure as county executive, and a controversial youth detention center and court complex that Constantine’s administration defended in court against a legal challenge to its funding source.
In October 2021, he transmitted a plan to end youth incarceration and repurpose the secure detention facilities in the Children and Family Justice Center by 2025.
Constantine points to his work setting up the new regional homelessness authority that King County and the City of Seattle formed and of which they are the primary funders. He also touts the “Health Through Housing” initiative that led to the County purchasing distressed hotels to safely house people experiencing homelessness during the coronavirus pandemic.
Constantine’s campaign had a significant spending advantage throughout the race and support from King County Progress, a group that poured money into digital advertising in the final days of the contest. According to records filed with the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), King County Progress dropped $19,950 in digital ads the day before election day.
In total, the pro-Constantine group dropped $159,200 into the race, dwarfing the $2,873.95 spent for Nguyen through Fuse Votes, which Constantine also received.
But the real difference in spending came directly from the campaigns — Constantine’s campaign outspent Nguyen’s by more than $1.64 million, according to the PDC.
King County Council District No. 5
David Upthegrove was leading Shukri Olow in the race for King County Council District No. 5 with nearly 70 percent of the vote. The race featured newcomer Olow taking on Upthegrove, incumbent and former 33rd District State Representative.
Port of Seattle Commission Race
This year, three candidates are challenging incumbents to serve on the Port of Seattle Commission. Here are the results according to early returns Tuesday:
Toshiko Grace Hasegawa and Peter Steinbrueck were in near tie with Steinbrueck receiving 49.98% of the votes compared to 49.44% for Hasegawa according to early results in the Position 4 race.
Hasegawa ran partly on a platform of making the Port more environmentally sustainable. During her campaign, she highlighted the negative health impacts of pollution faced by communities near the Port, including those impacted by Sea-Tac Airport. She raised more money than Steinbrueck and earned more high-profile endorsements, including from Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, Gov. Jay Inslee, the King County Democrats, and unions. Hasegawa’s father, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, represents parts of South Seattle in Olympia.
Steinbrueck, the incumbent, ran on the platform of job creation including a $10 million South King County Community Impact Fund. His endorsements include Ron Sims, Bruce Harrell, 32nd LD Democrats, and a variety of unions.
In Position 3, Stephanie Bowman was leading Hamdi Mohamed by 50.72% to 48.74% in early returns.
Mohamed, who works as a policy advisor for King County Executive Dow Constantine, is running against incumbent Bowman, who has outraised Mohamed in the campaign. Mohamed earned the endorsements of King County Labor Council, Jayapal, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.
Hamdi Mohamed and Hasegawa could make history: Either would be the first Woman of Color to serve on the Port Commission if they win.
In position 1, Norman Sigler, a former Alaska Airlines finance manager who now runs an executive recruiting agency, is running against incumbent Ryan Calkins. Calkins is leading Sigler 73% to 26% in early returns.
School Board Races
In Seattle School Board races, current director Brandon Hersey, with 91.43% of early returns, has a staggering lead over Genesis Williamson for the District No. 7 Director position, which represents South Seattle. Hersey is a Rainier Beach resident and Federal Way teacher who was appointed to the school board in 2019, replacing Betty Patu. He is currently the lone educator serving on the school board.
Though already a member of Seattle’s school board, this was the first time Hersey faced a public vote. The overwhelming vote in his favor was a sign that South End parents believed he and the school board have been on the right track.
“This tells me that people had been unsatisfied with the previous status quo for some time. If you look at our legislative agenda we’ve been tooling our system to work for children and their families,” said Hersey. “We’ve been able to prove that people want and deserve a better school board.”
With 67.94 % of the early vote, Vivian Song Maritz currently leads Laura Marie Rivera (32.06%) for the board’s District No. 4 position representing Magnolia, Queen Anne, and Ballard.
Public health advocate Michelle Sarju, with 82.05% of the early vote, currently leads mechanical engineer Dan Harder (17.95%) in District No. 5, representing the Central Area and the Chinatown-International District.
Notable South King County Races
Races across South King County were punctuated by a bevy of first-time candidates, progressive challengers, and candidates of color. In some noteworthy races:
Dana Ralph currently leads Dawn Bennett for Kent Mayor. Kent City Council President and incumbent Toni Troutner is currently ahead of community activist and Bellevue professor Cliff Cawthon for a position on Kent’s city council.
Burien saw four City Council seats up for grabs. Currently, Martin Barrett has a slim lead over Hugo Garcia for Position No. 1. Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta (the city’s mayors and deputy mayors are elected amongst and by City Councilmembers) is up slightly on Mark Dorsey for Position No. 3. Sarah Moore leads Alex Simkus for Position No. 5, and Burien Deputy Mayor and incumbent Krystal Marx currently trails Stephanie Mora for Position No. 7.
Three city council seats were contested in SeaTac. Jake Simpson currently leads Stan Tombs for Position No. 2. Mohamed Egal is leading Clyde (Fuzz) Hill for Position No. 4, and Iris Guzmán leads Pam Fernald for Position No. 6.
Nathalie Graham is a freelance journalist in Seattle covering politics, science, and any particularly weird or niche neighborhood news. You may recognize her work from The Stranger. If you don’t, you can brush up on it here. Contact Nathalie on Twitter @gramsofgnats.
Agueda Pacheco Flores is a journalist focusing on Latinx culture and Mexican American identity. Originally from Queretaro, Mexico, Pacheco Flores is inspired by her own bicultural upbringing as an undocumented immigrant and proud Washingtonian.
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist with previous work in Real Change, the Santa Monica Daily Press, and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development, and you can find it in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX, and the Urbanist.
Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.