Seattle voters are fired up and ready for change at City Hall, judging from last week’s primary election results.
Voters need to stay engaged through November’s general election to be sure Seattle gets a more functional and reasonable City Council.
There are no clear winners yet in any of the seven open council races, which had 55 candidates in the primary. The multitude of candidates distributed votes and complicated analysis of who is leading in most races.
Nor is there a clear-cut divide between right and left. Virtually all candidates remaining in the races are progressive to varying degrees. Voters must look beyond superficial labels to differentiate and decide who could be the best city legislator.
All are concerned about housing affordability, for instance. But some candidates think Seattle should continue raising taxes, even though that increases the cost of living, a particular burden for working-class residents struggling to get by in an expensive city.
Another question for voters to ponder is whether the council is doing a good job reducing homelessness and increasing public safety. If voters like what’s happened in recent years, the general-election ballot has three incumbents and four candidates who reflect the current council’s ideology.
For those who do not, there are alternatives in each race — all endorsed by The Seattle Times editorial board.
Unusually big turnout last week suggests Seattleites aren’t happy with the status quo. In all seven council races, turnout ranged from 37 to 45 percent as of Friday, with more ballots still uncounted. Of course, turnout should be 100%. But King County elections officials were projecting just 36 percent turnout overall.
For comparison, the 2015 primary with a full slate of Seattle council races drew 29 to 36 percent turnout. Most districts drew around 30 percent of voters except for District 3, where turnout rose to 36 percent and incumbent Kshama Sawant received 52 percent of the vote, en route to winning her second term.
City residents were galvanized after last year’s head-tax debacle. In May 2018, the council and Mayor Jenny Durkan unanimously approved the job-killing tax on a wide swath of employers. But City Hall flip-flopped and repealed the tax after a surge of public opposition.
For many residents, it was a tipping point of frustration with city leaders who fail to manage growth, safety and homeless challenges but excel at raising taxes and grandstanding on behalf of their special-interest pals. After years of increasing homeless spending with poor outcomes and little accountability, many doubted the city would wisely use head-tax revenue.
Revisionists falsely cast the reversal as Amazon getting its way. Actually, city leaders ignored Amazon’s initial threats to move thousands of jobs elsewhere and imposed the head-tax anyway.
The tax was repealed not because of Amazon but because of a powerful labor union. Through secret conversations with Service Employees International Union 775 and a Shoreline political activist, Durkan and council members learned the union was dropping the head-tax fight after polling showed it would lose in a voter referendum.
Council members then repealed the tax, preventing the referendum that would have highlighted how out of touch City Hall had become. A referendum defeat would also prevent the council from resurrecting the tax, a move now favored by some labor-backed candidates.
Since the head-tax fiasco, four council members declined to run again.
The loudest tax proponent, Sawant, received just 37% support last week. In other words, 63% of the people voting in Council District 3 want someone, anyone, other than Sawant to represent them.
Turnout also surged in District 3 to 45% as of Friday.
Those voters are clearly engaged and demanding new and better representation at City Hall.
Keep it rolling until Nov. 5.