Despite 40 candidates and counting for all nine Seattle City Council seats up for re-election this year, nobody has yet challenged Sally Bagshaw in the 7th District.
While at least 40 people have registered campaigns for the Seattle City Council’s nine positions, which are each up for re-election this year, one seat remains uncontested.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who lives downtown, is running alone in the new 7th District as the council moves to geographic representation for seven of its nine spots.
The 7th District includes the high-rises of downtown and Belltown, the technology-worker boomtown of South Lake Union, the apartment buildings of Lower Queen Anne and the prosperous single-family-home communities of Queen Anne Hill and Magnolia.
“To have no one else running would seem somewhat strange. But when you think about it, Sally … fits the district,” said John Wyble, a political consultant. “The district is politically moderate, and she more or less fits that mold.”
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Wyble is working on a handful of council campaigns, primarily with first-time candidates. No one running for one of the council’s district seats is a true incumbent because the system is brand-new, the result of a successful 2013 ballot measure. But Bagshaw and four other members seeking re-election in districts — Bruce Harrell, Kshama Sawant, Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien — have a leg up in their races.
The filing deadline is May 15, and Bagshaw is the only one of those five without competition thus far. The 1st Council District, which includes West Seattle, Delridge and South Park, has 10 registered campaigns. So what’s different about Bagshaw and the 7th District?
The former King County deputy prosecutor, a council member since 2010, has positioned herself in the center of the council’s political spectrum, siding with socialist Kshama Sawant on issues such as city support for tent encampments while pushing back against O’Brien’s attempt to fast-track new so-called linkage fees on real-estate development.
That makes her a less-clear target for a challenger from the right or the left, Wyble noted. Last October, a poll of likely voters gave her the lowest district-specific unfavorable rating among six current council members.
“Sally hasn’t been much of a lightning rod,” he said. “She’s kind of gone along with the council. She’s not very extreme.”
The district system generally encourages new candidates because doorbelling a district of about 90,000 on a limited campaign budget is much easier than visiting every home in Seattle.
But the 7th District presents a greater challenge to a grass-roots campaign than other districts because it contains more apartments, Wyble said. The district’s population is 67 percent renters, far above the 51 percent city average.
What’s more, the district’s residents may not be Seattle’s most political bunch.
“You have communities that are higher income, and then you have high turnover in Belltown and Lower Queen Anne,” said Christian Sinderman, a political consultant for Bagshaw’s campaign. “You have folks who are very comfortable and not looking for a career change into public service, and you have people who may be moving on in a couple of years.”
Then there are things that make Bagshaw a formidable opponent. She has endorsements: Her campaign website lists 31 current and former elected officials as supporters, including Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, three council members, King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett and state House Speaker Frank Chopp.
Bagshaw also has money. As of Friday, she’d raised $43,451 in campaign contributions, making her one of the cycle’s best-funded candidates, despite having no opponent.
Her natural foil is Don Harper, who chairs the Queen Anne Community Council’s parks committee and who ran the campaign last year opposing an ultimately successful, Bagshaw-backed ballot measure to create a new taxing authority for Seattle parks. And indeed, Harper has considered a council bid.
“A number of people have asked me to run. A lot of people got to know me during the campaign (against the Seattle Park District measure), and I think I did a fairly good job debating her and speaking with her,” he said.
But Harper isn’t running.
“I think Sally is actually vulnerable,” he said, “if there was somebody who wanted to take her on. But in order to run against her, you need money. I figured I’d need $100,000 to $150,000 to take her on. She’s going to get a lot of support from the same type of people who supported the Park District. I don’t see anyone coming forward.”
There’s still time, cautioned Charles Bookman, who chairs the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council. And the 7th District seat is a hugely important position because its first-ever representative will be expected to make real progress on combating street disorder downtown and on relieving congestion between Ballard and downtown.
Bagshaw, like all of her colleagues other than Sawant and O’Brien, supported the deep-bore Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement-tunnel project that’s nearly two years behind schedule. And the council has done little to mitigate Seattle’s rents rising as rapidly as anywhere in the nation.
“The books aren’t closed yet,” Bookman said. “I’ll be surprised if no one else files by the time the deadline passes.”
But he pointed to another reason why Bagshaw may be the safest bet to win another term at City Hall and survive whatever throw-out-the-bums sentiment exists in Seattle.
“I think people in Magnolia and Queen Anne are relatively happy,” Bookman said. There’s not the same level of civic discontent as elsewhere in the city.”