Seattle voters largely rejected progressive candidates in the Nov. 2 election, opting instead for relatively centrist and right-leaning candidates to take the reins of the city moving forward.
Former City Council President Bruce Harrell took an early and solid lead on election night, but opponent and current City Council President Lorena González didn’t concede until the following Thursday. As of Nov. 5, Harrell had secured just more than 59 percent of the vote.
In a statement, González thanked supporters for their efforts over the course of the campaign and encouraged people to continue to push Harrell to resist criminalizing poverty, demilitarize the Seattle Police Department, invest in alternative forms of community safety and refuse to sweep people experiencing homelessness from public spaces.
“As a strong progressive movement, we need to continue to organize and work every day towards progress on creating a more affordable, just and safe city for us all,” González wrote.
While González spoke out against sweeps over the course of the campaign, Harrell emphasized public safety and the clearing of encampments from public parks while creating more shelter options and approaching homelessness with “compassion.”
Concerns around homelessness has long ranked high in the minds of Seattle voters, but the discourse on homelessness has been largely unproductive, said Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness (SKCCH). Rather than centering the experiences of homeless people, there was a conflation of a myriad of issues related to the economy, public health, public safety and sanitation with homelessness.
“I think the discourse is something that doesn’t serve our community well. It doesn’t serve people who have homes well, it doesn’t serve public policymakers well and it doesn’t serve people across King County very well,” Eisinger said.
Harrell, business owner Sara Nelson and incoming City Attorney Ann Davison formed most of an unofficial slate of candidates running more to the center and right than González, attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver and longtime public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.
González opened up District 9 to run for mayor and Nelson will take her place over Oliver. Oliver actively ran on a platform of abolition, alternatives to policing and a rejection of encampment sweeps. Nelson, on her website, followed closer to Harrell’s line, emphasizing a desire to get people into shelter and treatment while reducing the number of homeless people in parks.
The race between Davison and Thomas-Kennedy was one of the most distinct contests with Davison — a Republican who joined the party during the Trump administration — running on a promise to prosecute misdemeanor crimes while Thomas-Kennedy went in the opposite direction, explicitly saying that she would avoid most misdemeanor prosecutions.
Lost in the conversation was the civil division of the City Attorney’s Office, one of the two main sides of the office and one that will have to defend the previous City Council’s progressive legislation, some of which has been contested in court.
Preserving the JumpStart tax, a payroll tax, is a key priority, said Katie Wilson, general secretary of the Transit Riders Union, in an email.
While progressive candidates lost, their defeat was not as decisive as it looked after the initial ballots were counted.
Thomas-Kennedy trailed by 17 points after the Nov. 2 ballot drop but cut that margin to just 5 percent as later mail-in and drop-box ballots were processed. Similarly, Oliver was more than 20 points behind their opponent the first night and cut that more than in half by the time King County Elections released results on Nov. 8.
Incumbent Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda declared victory early on Nov. 2 despite leading her opponent, political neophyte Kenneth Wilson, by only 5 points. Her confidence was not misplaced — by the Nov. 8 drop, she’d widened that lead to 18 points.
Ashley Archibald is a freelance journalist and former Real Change staff reporter. Her work can be found in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX and the Urbanist.
Read more of the Nov. 10-16, 2021 issue.