Seattle won this week’s costly, hard-fought City Council election.
Initial ballot counts suggest five of nine council seats will be held by newcomers, providing an opportunity for positive change.
Incumbents should be chastened after recent polling showed most residents disapprove of their performance. Some incumbents even chose not to face the electorate.
The incoming council still lacks ideological diversity. It was going to be progressive no matter what, since every candidate tilts left.
But newcomers are all sharp and savvy enough to recognize Seattleites want a council that’s more focused on solving problems than political grandstanding.
The council would perform better without Kshama Sawant using the dais as a platform to advance her personal political cause. Sawant’s weak showing in the primary suggested that voters were tired of her shtick.
Furious campaigning through Nov. 5 narrowed the District 3 gap between her and Egan Orion, a Capitol Hill community leader who revived PrideFest. Orion was leading in early returns but Thursday’s count showed Sawant gaining.
Sawant’s possible defeat, and efforts by most candidates to present themselves as somewhat pragmatic and reasonable, could be considered a victory.
For any real progress to happen, the council must work collaboratively with neighborhoods and employers, not demonize and smear them. It must build consensus instead of coalitions.
While some want to declare these election returns a loss for Amazon, that grossly oversimplifies what happened.
Results differed widely across the seven district races, with a range of spending levels by labor and business PACs in each. There were also wide variations in candidate charisma, campaign skills and political experience in the seven races.
Three of the business-backed candidates appear to have won and a fourth, Jim Pugel, is in a race still too close to call.
In District 7, independent expenditures by business and moderate groups for Pugel totaled $554,000. That was matched by labor-affiliated groups that spent $541,000 for challenger Andrew Lewis.
Amazon’s $1.5 million in contributions was clumsy and spurred criticism that the city’s biggest company was trying to buy the council. But context is important. Amazon was among many business and moderate donors seeking a council that’s less extreme and more functional, not because they’re seeking a quid pro quo or control of City Hall.
Labor and progressive groups defending the status quo, by supporting candidates likely to preserve their iron grip on city policymaking, spent more than $1 million.
Altogether, $4.1 million worth of independent expenditure and PAC spending was disclosed through Tuesday.
Amazon will learn from the experience and should stay engaged in making Seattle a better place to live and work.
Noise around Amazon’s big checks also makes it harder to read signals in this election.
What’s clear is that new and longtime residents were united in their concerns about issues like homelessness, affordability and transportation.
The refreshed City Council must rise to these challenges, rebuild trust and restore Seattle’s reputation as a place of strong and responsive local governance.
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