In 2017, Zachary DeWolf ran for the Seattle School Board on the message that he would fight for the city’s most vulnerable students.
But Tuesday — less than halfway into his term — he announced that he will join this year’s crowded City Council election, challenging incumbent Kshama Sawant for the seat representing District 3. It comprises roughly the same Central District and Capitol Hill area he currently represents.
Outside Tougo Coffee, the Yesler Terrace cafe where he announced his campaign, DeWolf — who works as a program manager for All Home, King County’s coordinating agency for homelessness — spoke of a “deep urgency” to work on the affordable-housing and transportation problems faced by the students and families he represents.
When asked how he’d respond to criticism about leaving his School Board spot early, and skepticism about his commitment to elected office, he said that a move to the council would help his constituents. “I’m not leaving anybody,” said DeWolf. “I am … going to be able to be a different and maybe sometimes better advocate for their needs and their issues.”
If his campaign is successful, DeWolf’s departure could mark even more potential change for the School Board. Four of seven seats are up for reelection this November. Member Jill Geary said this year that she will not seek another term.
The process for filling DeWolf’s role, should he win, is unclear. As of Tuesday evening, the district’s legal department did not have an answer.
The creation of another open seat could also affect the board’s average level of experience. With the exception of Betty Patu, who has occupied her seat since 2009, all board members are serving their first terms.
“It doesn’t terrify me,” said board member Rick Burke. “But we would need to be very strategic about planning.”
The news of DeWolf’s campaign comes at a time of financial upheaval, another round of teacher-contract negotiations and the beginning years of a superintendent he helped select. Stephan Blanford, who served in DeWolf’s seat from 2013 to 2017, said he was disappointed to see DeWolf make the announcement so early in his term.
“It takes a couple years to get up to speed on all you need to do to be a strong school-board member,” said Blanford, who endorsed DeWolf’s opponent in the 2017 election. “I have likened it to drinking from a fire hose for the first year and a half.”
Jennifer Stewart, a Central District parent and one of DeWolf’s constituents, said the news also bothered her. “The school system is a tricky thing,” said Stewart. While she would like to see someone more proactive in the seat, Stewart said, “Maybe it would be a benefit to have him around for a while. When you’re new, you don’t have a lot of sway.”
DeWolf, a citizen of the Chippewa Cree Nation and the board’s first openly gay member, said his initial goal was to reform the district from the inside to better support marginalized students.
In 2018, for example, he said he worked on making sure students’ pronoun preferences appeared in all the district’s major information systems. But after a while, he said he recognized that the board’s conversations ultimately rested on “where people can live, and how they’re able to move.”
Both Burke and board president Leslie Harris said they endorsed his run.
“I can attest that he’s worked very hard, and that he’ll stay invested,” said Harris.