A challenger to socialist Kshama Sawant is among six things to know so far about 2019's Seattle City Council elections. The races already are heating up.
Incumbents dropping out. Newcomers launching campaigns. A challenger for socialist Kshama Sawant.
Seattle’s next City Council elections are heating up, and it’s not even 2019 yet.
“I think that she needs to get focused on the needs of the District 3 and I don’t think that’s what has been happening,” Beto Yarce said Thursday, opening his bid to unseat Sawant at a preschool on Capitol Hill.
Many voters will wait months before tuning in to the elections, while others are paying close attention now. Whatever your level of interest, here are six things to know.
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7 districts, 2 dropouts
All seven of the council’s district seats will be up for grabs in 2019. But two incumbents already have bowed out.
Rob Johnson won’t run for re-election in District 4, and Sally Bagshaw won’t run again in District 7, they said this month. District 4 covers northeast Seattle, Wallingford and Eastlake, and District 7 encompasses downtown Seattle, Queen Anne and Magnolia.
Open seats tend to draw more candidates, so voters in those areas can expect to see a lot of names on their primary ballots.
These elections are the first in which incumbent council members will try to show they’ve delivered for their districts. The council moved to district representation for seven of its nine seats in 2015.
With Johnson and Bagshaw out and Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror, more campaigns are emerging.
This week alone, a number of first-time candidates announced bids.
Shaun Scott, a Democratic Socialists of America activist, and Alex Pedersen, a onetime aide to former Councilmember Tim Burgess, will compete in District 4. Andrew Lewis, a city prosecutor who worked for former Councilmember Sally Clark, jumped into the District 7 race.
Yarce will mount a challenge in District 3, which includes the Central District and Madison Park in addition to Capitol Hill.
An immigrant from Mexico who once ran a small business selling jewelry at Pike Place Market, he now leads a nonprofit, Ventures, that provides assistance to low-income entrepreneurs and serves on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council.
At his campaign kickoff, Yarce was endorsed by Burien Mayor Jimmy Matta. The candidate said he would bring small-business experience to the council and “make sure everybody comes to the table,” including Amazon, to solve Seattle’s problems.
He described the city’s short-lived head tax on large businesses as a good idea that lacked buy-in and an adequate spending plan.
“I think we need to get unified … rather than pointing fingers and making people feel guilty about what they do,” he said, referring to Sawant.
Yarce is working to move permanently from Mill Creek back to District 3, where his job is and where he previously lived for many years on Capitol Hill, he said. Candidates must live in their districts at least 120 days before filing declarations of candidacy with King County Elections. Yarce said he moved to Mill Creek for his partner’s job and now is living on Capitol Hill in a short-term rental.
The candidate said he bused tables to make ends meet when he first arrived in Seattle, and at City Hall would seek to boost economic opportunities for disadvantaged communities.
”I’ve climbed the ladder but I’m not going to forget where I came from,” he said.
Yarce filed for bankruptcy in 2017 with about $130,000 in liabilities. He attributed it to expenses incurred when a 2013 coffee-shop and art-gallery venture didn’t work out and a business partner backed out.
“For four years after closing the business, I continued making payments … but it became clear I would never be able to get out from under the debt,” he said in a statement. “I am not proud of it, but I know talking about my experience will only help other people avoid the same situation.”
Dates and deadlines
In order to appear on the primary ballot, would-be council members will need to file their declarations of candidacy by May 17.
Primary-election voting will begin July 19, and primary-election day will be Aug. 6.
The top two vote-getters in each race will advance to the general election.
General-election voting will begin on Oct. 18, and general-election day will be Nov. 5.
These will be Seattle’s second elections with taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.”
Starting Feb. 12, the city will mail each registered voter four $25 vouchers to spend supporting their preferred council candidates.
To qualify for the vouchers, candidates will first need to collect campaign donations and signatures from at least 150 Seattle residents, including at least 75 in their own districts.
Candidates who qualify will be allowed to spend up to $150,000 in vouchers but will be limited to spending $75,000 before the primary election.
The city has budgeted $4.2 million for vouchers in 2019.
Four constituencies tend to dominate Seattle politics — business, labor, social-justice activists and neighborhood groups — and candidates fare best when they can claim support from more than one.
Durkan, for instance, had the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce (business) and most unions (labor) on her side.
The 2019 district elections could be somewhat different, with a heavier emphasis on micro-local issues.
Still, watch to see who wins the support of business and labor in District 4, where they backed Johnson in 2015.
And check out who Queen Anne and Magnolia neighborhood-group leaders rally behind in District 7.
Nipping some activist and labor support from Sawant may prove key for Yarce as he seeks to unseat her.
Seattle has grown by tens of thousands of people since the 2015 council elections, adding tech workers, international refugees, Midwest transplants and San Francisco expats.
Their votes will matter.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Andrew Lewis, a city prosecutor who worked for former Councilmember Sally Clark.