The 2021 election cycle has hit its end stretch, and candidates are making their final pitches to convince voters why they should be trusted with the leadership of Seattle and King County.
There’s still a lot of work left to do.
While campaigns may feel that they’ve been knocking on doors and participating in forums for months, a large swath of the electorate is just now tuning in, said Crystal Fincher, a campaign consultant.
“My advice is not polling-dependent and it’s not a mystery,” Fincher said. “What campaigns need to focus on now more than anything is communicating their vision to those voters who just started tuning in.”
If local polling is to be believed, there are a lot of voters who just haven’t made up their minds yet.
The Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) released the results of its poll on Oct. 19, which captured the view of Seattle voters in the city’s races from Oct. 12 to Oct. 15.
That poll found clear leaders in each of the races that matched the results of previous polls published by Crosscut/Elway and Strategies 360/KOMO News, but also a large number of undecided voters even in races with stark differences between the candidates, such as the contest for City Attorney between abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Republican Ann Davison, where 30 percent of voters said they weren’t sure who to vote for.
What voters don’t seem to be as worried about is ideological consistency, said Andrew Villeneuve, founder and executive director of NPI, in a statement accompanying the results.
“Our team thinks that the odds of either of the two major ‘slates’ getting elected in their entirety is pretty slim,” Villeneuve said. “We would not be surprised, for instance, to see both Bruce Harrell and Nikkita Oliver win next month, and for them to win with the support of some of the same voters.”
The mayoral contest between current Council President Lorena González and former Council President Bruce Harrell has been slowly heating up in intensity as the candidates became increasingly more willing to take off the kid gloves.
Harrell has presented himself as the business-friendly candidate with a focus on public safety and homelessness. Those are the two issues where there is the greatest need, said Monisha Harrell, Harrell’s campaign manager.
“I think the one key to Bruce’s run for mayor has been around trying to eliminate the division between this side or that side, because oftentimes you’re concentrating on the fight versus concentrating on the work, and there’s a lot of work that we can do together if we can sit down and talk about it,” Harrell said.
The González campaign has represented her candidacy as pro-worker, with a plan to increase taxes on large corporations to pay for services to improve conditions in the city. Campaign manager Alex Koren pointed to the large amount of political action committee spending in support of Harrell from wealthy donors as a sign for where the candidate’s loyalties lie.
“Who is the candidate who is going to make this city more affordable for working class people?” Koren said. “Lorena is that candidate.”
City Council Position 8
Incumbent Teresa Mosqueda is facing off against engineer Kenneth Wilson for the chance to hold onto her districtwide seat.
Mosqueda has focused her closing message on working to ameliorate the economic inequalities that exist in Seattle, pointing to her track record of taxing large businesses through the JumpStart tax and directing those funds to help under-resourced communities.
“We have a choice in Seattle right now to elect progressive candidates who will create greater income stability, create greater economic opportunity, that will help house more people and treat people humanely,” Mosqueda said. “I want us to continue to be known for progressive policies for supporting workers and our most vulnerable.”
Wilson framed his final call to voters around fixing major infrastructure like bridges and touted his bonafides as an engineer.
“This councilmember has had four years on council to do something about critical tree canopy; hasn’t done anything. Has had four years to do something about critical infrastructure — all of our bridges are critical,” Wilson said.
Mosqueda is currently leading in the race, according to NPI’s polling.
City Council Position 9
Attorney and advocate Nikkita Oliver and brewery owner and former legislative aide Sara Nelson are competing for the citywide seat that opened when González threw her hat in the ring for mayor.
Oliver is an abolitionist who approaches the city’s response to homelessness and inequality through the lens of public health and equitable land use. They have been vocal about their position on defunding the Seattle Police Department and investing those resources into the community — something that has drawn fire from more conservative elements in the city.
“This is not a single-issue election,” Oliver said. “In many ways there has been an attempt to make this just about policing, but it’s about public health, and it is about public safety, and it is about housing affordability and homelessness, which is about land use and progressive revenue generation and treating our budget like a moral document that shows who and what we value.”
Nelson touts her experience as a small local business owner and has promised to support businesses in the downtown to restore economic vitality. She also draws a line between herself and her opponent on policing and police reform, which her website says is one of her top priorities.
The race to replace outgoing City Attorney Pete Holmes drew two candidates who could not be more distinct in their styles and visions.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy practiced law as a public defender and is an outspoken critic of the criminal legal system. She describes her approach as one of “safety and repair” and holds that “not prosecuting things is not the same as not doing things.”
That’s in contrast to her opponent, Ann Davison, who emphasizes on her website that she will “focus on those causing the most harm” and center victims of crime. Her detractors say that she lacks the courtroom experience needed to lead the city’s legal team.
Thomas-Kennedy came under reproach for a series of tweets that described property destruction as a “moral imperative” and derided police, which she wrote before deciding to run for office and during the summer of 2020, when police repeatedly used tear gas against protesters in Capitol Hill.
The groups paying for ads highlighting her tweets are “trying to freak people out about me,” Thomas-Kennedy said, and pointed out that the emphasis on the criminal side of the office leaves out a discussion of the civil division, which is larger.
Seattle voters have distinct choices in each of the races that they will ultimately decide, and the candidates have shrinking opportunities to reach undecided voters. But there’s still a lot that can happen between now and Nov. 2, Fincher said.
“They can make up all the ground,” Fincher said. “There are tons of people who are undecided and are trying to make up their minds between the two and people who haven’t begun to weigh the two yet.
“There’s a lot that can be done still,” Fincher said.
Read more of the Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2021 issue.