Questions abound about how the Seattle mayor’s race will play out in November, including who Jenny Durkan’s opponent will be and what it means to be part of the establishment in one of the nation’s most liberal cities.
“It often felt like five against one,” said Charles, a communications consultant who volunteered for state Sen. Bob Hasegawa’s campaign.
Durkan, a former U.S. attorney who attracted prominent endorsements and copious donations, was the perceived front-runner. In Charles’ view, she also stood out among the six leading candidates for voicing an opinion or two at campaign events that weren’t quite progressive enough.
So he thinks many of Hasegawa’s supporters will go to Durkan’s opponent in the general election, whether it be urban planner Cary Moon, who holds a slim lead for second place in the as-yet-unsettled primary, or lawyer and youth case manager Nikkita Oliver.
2017 Seattle mayoral race
“I’m certainly leaning that way,” Charles said.
His inclination corresponds to one theory of how the Nov. 7 general election will play out: Supporters of Moon, Oliver, Hasegawa, former Mayor Mike McGinn and former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell will band together to defeat Durkan, a candidate some see as aligned with the establishment.
That theory assumes those five candidates — and their supporters — think fairly alike and see themselves as more progressive than Durkan, who is firmly in the liberal Democratic camp.
And the theory makes light of Durkan’s decisive primary victory, with just under 29 percent of the vote at last count. Moon had 17 percent and Oliver 16.
“FIVE credible candidates ran to the left of her and took 60 percent of the vote,” wrote McGinn’s political consultant, John Wyble, in a blog post.
But there’s another, more obvious theory: Durkan will build on a showing that easily bested every other opponent.
“To be able to get that kind of response in a first round really showed the strength of the campaign,” Durkan said.
After all, she wasn’t an incumbent, said David Rolf, president of SEIU 775, which endorsed Durkan.
“It’s just not accurate to say there’s some sort of mandate for an outsider,” he argued.
For one thing, he said, several of Durkan’s primary opponents don’t fit that bill. Hasegawa, Farrell and McGinn had experience as elected officials.
The truth is, Rolf said, “people went with their favorite, and now everything reshuffles.”
As pointed jabs begin to fly, voters face questions: What does it mean to be part of the establishment in one of the most liberal cities in the country? And how much experience do you need for the job of mayor?
The 59-year-old Durkan is clearly hoping experience matters. In interviews after the primary, she emphasized her record as a U.S. attorney from 2009 to 2014, when she was instrumental in bringing about a court-monitored reform of the Seattle Police Department.
As the first openly gay U.S. attorney, she also pointed to her advocacy for LGBTQ issues, including same-sex marriage.
“I have a decades-long record of getting results in this city on issues people care about,” she said. “Policy without reality is just a dream.”
The implication is that her opponents can’t say the same — although Moon, 54, insisted Friday she has as much experience.
She cited leadership roles while working as a planner, a three-year stint in her early 30s running her family’s Michigan manufacturing business and her best-known effort: heading up the fight for a waterfront park rather than an Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement.
The 31-year-old Oliver, who works as a case manager for a program that offers an alternative to youth incarceration, wasn’t ready to talk late last week, given a primary vote that is still in flux. In her primary campaign, a central theme was her willingness to seek out the “brilliance” of others.
That doesn’t seem to do it for Ron Sims, a former King County executive and onetime deputy secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. “Seattle is too complex a place to make mistakes,” he said. “Learning on the job is not a task for the mayor.”
Sims has endorsed Durkan, whom he described as “unshakable.”
Moon, though, questioned the kind of experience Durkan has.
“I intimately understand urban growth and urban planning,” said Moon, who trained as an engineer and landscape architect.
Referring to Durkan, Moon said, “her area of expertise is pretty unrelated to any of these issues.”
Durkan countered that she has worked on land use as a lawyer and that her involvement in police reform, especially in relation to the treatment of minorities, is a defining national issue.
“I don’t recall Moon being at any of those meetings,” she said, referring to community meetings on the reform effort.
Durkan’s ties to Seattle’s political elite, and its current agenda, are another source of tension.
Listening to Durkan at candidate events, Moon said, “I heard a lot of: Stay the course. Keep doing what you’re doing. Really transformative change, I never heard that.
“To me, that’s frightening,” she added, considering Seattle’s explosive growth and affordable-housing crisis. “This city is heading toward a cliff.”
Being perceived as more of a mainstream Democrat than her opponents may not have hurt Durkan in the primary, according to political consultant Dean Nielsen, who is not involved in the mayor’s race. It set her apart in a crowded field.
However, he said, “If I was managing Jenny Durkan’s campaign, I would move left as quickly as possible. I don’t think she has to change any of her positions. She can choose to emphasize different issues than she did in the primary.”
Asked about the establishment label, Durkan didn’t address it directly. Instead, she said: “The mayor of Seattle needs to be a person who can pull together a broad range of people and forge solutions.” She was the only candidate, she added, to build a coalition of leaders from business, labor, the environmental movement and other groups.
Durkan also referred to “common progressive values” and “anxiety about where we are right now and whether we can be inclusive.”
Where the candidates differ is on proposed solutions. Take affordable housing. Durkan emphasizes implementation of the “grand bargain” pushed by Mayor Ed Murray, which requires developers to build or pay for affordable housing in exchange for upzones.
Oliver would have developers put aside 25 percent of their projects for affordable housing — more than double the amount required by the grand bargain — and she calls for the city to build much more public housing.
Moon proposes a speculator tax to curb investment from driving up prices, and turning surplus city properties into affordable housing.
On homelessness, Durkan is the only candidate who would continue sweeps of unauthorized encampments, which she says are not compassionate answers to the problem.
Does following in the footsteps of Murray and the City Council diminish Durkan’s progressive credentials?
Rolf argued no. The current administration, he said, has achieved one progressive accomplishment after another, including a $15 minimum wage, major tax levies and a ban-the-box effort to reduce discrimination against people with criminal records.
Young and black, Oliver has a legion of energized supporters among traditionally marginalized communities, and she would present the sharpest contrast with the former U.S. attorney. Durkan and Moon are white.
Oliver’s presence — at her ebullient election-night party, she sang and performed spoken word — is quite different from that of her middle-aged opponents. “I’m never going to be charismatic like her,” Moon admitted.
But if she keeps her No. 2 spot, Moon said she hopes to involve Oliver and Durkan’s other main primary opponents in her campaign.
Eric de Place, policy director of Sightline Institute, a think tank specializing in issues around sustainability, said he thought the primary field was a “pretty good slate” — so good, that he said he can’t quite remember whom he voted for. He thinks it was Farrell, because of the transit advocate’s track record on the environment.
Now, he said, he doesn’t know where his vote will go. “I am going to study up on policy,” he said. “I’m open to persuasion.”