Most Seattle neighborhoods lean one way or the other, politically speaking. More than 1,000 of the city’s voting precincts chose either Bruce Harrell or M. Lorena González, as the mayoral candidates advanced in the Aug. 3 primary election.
But there are exceptions: Harrell and González won exactly the same number of primary votes in about a dozen precincts that now are battlegrounds in the Nov. 2 general election.
Harrell, a former City Council president, has bet his campaign on a pledge to keep parks clear of homeless encampments, while González, the council’s current president, has vowed to tax big businesses and wealthy people. Races for council and city attorney are similarly split.
In the primary, Harrell performed best in water-proximate areas with many homeowners. González performed best in urban areas with many renters. Some of the neighborhoods where they deadlocked illustrate Seattle’s political landscape in miniature (the median number of registered voters in a precinct is about 450).
In a Maple Leaf precinct, rows of bungalows run perpendicular to an arterial street with apartment dwellers. In another precinct, Beacon Hill houses with mountain views overlook town homes. In a Magnolia precinct, tenants in duplexes and triplexes rub shoulders with homeowners.
“The defining issues around the city mostly have to do with housing,” said Shaun Scott, campaign coordinator for Nikkita Oliver, a council candidate.
The battleground precincts are among those where campaign mailers and canvassers will help decide the races. There will be more voters in the general election than in the primary.
“These are middle-income precincts. Mostly homeowners but some rentals,” with a blend of young and old residents, said Ben Anderstone, a consultant working with Sara Nelson, Oliver’s opponent for the council’s citywide Position 9.
Campaigns also are targeting swing precincts where many voters picked candidates who didn’t advance past the primary, Scott and Anderstone said.
Only two blocks in Maple Leaf separate their businesses, but Mike Kelley and Jill Killen hold divergent perspectives on the city attorney race.
Kelley, who owns a hardware store, let candidate Ann Davison canvass at his business in July. The store has experienced increases in crime and in volatile behavior by people with addiction and mental health challenges, he said, mentioning associated security costs. Davison has promised to prosecute more aggressively in certain cases.
“The public can’t protect themselves. That’s the police force’s job,” Kelley said. “We have to have people to respond, or else businesses can’t flourish.”
Killen, who owns a coffee shop, supports Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a former public defender who wants to shift spending from many prosecutions to social services, over Davison, a lawyer who ran for state lieutenant governor last year as a Republican. “I just don’t think we can arrest our way out of poverty,” Killen said.
Kelley and Killen like and appreciate each other, so there’s no personal beef. Rather, their perspectives reflect the range of opinions in Maple Leaf. In the voting precinct that includes Kelley’s store, Harrell and González tied with 91 primary votes. The neighborhood is mostly detached houses, but apartments line Roosevelt Way Northeast.
“We’ve had a wide variety of people move here,” including new parents and more people of color, Killen said.
Chris Kammeyer, 40, has noticed a divide in his area between “activist-minded millennials” and “dyed-in-the-wool Seattle NIMBYs.” The renter is backing González and Oliver, a lawyer who runs an arts-based diversion program for court-involved youth, over Harrell and Nelson, a brewery owner who is a former council aide.
Kammeyer had trouble with the police growing up in Idaho because he’s queer, and he supports candidates who are “open to the whole concept of defunding the police” for other solutions, said the maintenance worker, arguing higher taxes on companies like Amazon and Boeing are needed to address homelessness.
Brad Wood, 59, a longtime Maple Leaf homeowner who works in construction, is also leaning toward González, despite concerns about trashed parks, because she seems “more liberal.” But he said he expects his wife and many neighbors to vote for Harrell, partly because they’re angry about encampments and hoping Harrell would deal firmly with them.
Epidemiologist Liz Cromwell, 40, is worried about her child encountering needles at parks and is likely to vote for Harrell over González because the “current council seems completely inept.” Current Mayor Jenny Durkan, who’s led the city’s homelessness response since late 2017, isn’t running for reelection.
The precinct covers only 10 square blocks. Val Landicho, a city employee, lives just outside the precinct, as does Guy Oron, a writer. Landicho, 60, a Harrell voter, believes many unsheltered people need drug and mental health treatment. Oron, 23, a González voter, named housing and climate change as key issues.
Another battleground precinct plunges from Beacon Hill, near Jefferson Park, down to Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, where light-rail trains zip by.
Harrell and González each captured 89 primary votes there, though Matt Briggs chose neither. The Beacon Hill homeowner picked Colleen Echohawk, who touted experience leading a homelessness-focused nonprofit.
Briggs, 39, is struggling to choose between candidates he regards as sharing responsibility for current conditions, the engineer said, also blaming systemic issues like Washington state’s regressive tax structure and tech boom as responsible for Seattle’s affordability woes.
“They both seem to be the same,” he said about Harrell and González.
Neighbor Karin Roberts believes Harrell “didn’t do enough” in more than a decade on the council, whereas González has been trying to boost homeless services, she said. People living in a longstanding encampment by the VA Medical Center should receive help but “I don’t feel threatened” or want them chased off, said Roberts, 51, who works in higher education.
Up the block, Theo Holt, 38, said he worries that higher business taxes could blunt Seattle’s competitive edge against other parts of the country. “Part of me just wants to continue to be an economic power,” said the investment manager, likely to vote for moderate candidates.
Down on MLK, separated from Beacon Hill by the Cheasty Greenbelt, the Seattle’s issues look different. Rent hikes have bounced Matthew Paige, 26, from Lake City to Renton and elsewhere, he said, speaking over traffic noise.
During that time, “I’ve never lived anywhere longer than eight months,” said Paige, who works in billing and intends to vote for candidates who agree that “housing is a basic human right.”
Andy Raghavan, 48, lives in the same complex and prefers Harrell, partly because González last year backed calls for police defunding, he said. “There has to be police reform, but ‘defund the police’ is a horrible slogan,” the tech worker said.
Primary turnout in the Beacon Hill precinct was 46% — better than the 42% citywide mark. Still, that means most residents sat it out.
Kurt Kogita, 63, a jewelry maker, wishes the city would stop building bike lanes. Demaurier Casey, 34, an Amazon worker who rents on MLK, is worried about housing. Neither plans to vote in the Nov. 2 election.
“Whatever they do is what they’re going to do anyway,” Kogita said.
Magnolia is best known for bluff-top mansions, but a voting precinct near Interbay’s railroad tracks is characterized by a residential jumble that includes large and small apartment buildings, cottages and view homes.
Echohawk performed relatively well in the precinct, winning 38 votes in the primary; Harrell and González each won 57.
“These blocks are a weird mix,” though residents are overwhelmingly white, said Ruth Eitemiller, a duplex renter who works in the theater industry and has noticed an increase in homelessness while riding the bus. She connects that to the pandemic and housing costs.
Eitemiller is wary of campaigns that stress “cleaning up the streets … just getting homeless people out of sight,” she said, describing that strategy as disturbing and ineffective. In the Position 9 council race, the 33-year-old is voting for Oliver, who sees Seattle’s problems “in a creative way,” she said.
Jennifer Hallett, a nearby condo owner, disagrees about homelessness. People camp in vehicles below her building, she said.
“I don’t think it’s fair that they’re allowed to stay there and make messes,” said Hallett, 55, a consultant skeptical of city attorney candidate Thomas-Kennedy.
Even among homeowners in the Magnolia precinct, opinions vary widely.
Carlos Echevarria believes González would “give the homeless a free hand,” whereas Harrell would take a tougher stance on street camping and crime, he said, also siding with Nelson. The 74-year-old retiree and immigrant from the Dominican Republic has lost patience with City Hall, he said.
Not long ago, someone who seemed mentally unstable barged into Echevarria’s yard with a metal pipe, he mentioned.
Helping people makes sense, but, “I came to this country with $20 in my pocket. I worked hard. If I could do it, so could they,” Echevarria said.
On the same block lives Katelyn Weaver, whose window displays a sign with the message: “Prosecutors and judges are complicit.” She posted the sign during last year’s protests against police brutality. Weaver, 35, is a public defender voting for Thomas-Kennedy.
She understands why neighbors like Echevarria are upset. “There has to be some rule of law. We absolutely need police,” she said.
Still, she wishes more voters would dig “beyond the police report,” into the cascading circumstances by which many people end up on the streets and in court, she said, mentioning wrongful arrests and lost jobs.
Many times, Weaver said, “There really is a lot more going on.”