Just a few months ago, it looked like Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes would coast to a fourth term, notwithstanding widespread controversy over his office’s approach to misdemeanor prosecutions.
But with less than a week to go before ballots are counted, Holmes and his allies are worried, acknowledging he’s in danger of getting squeezed out in the Aug. 3 primary.
Two challengers who launched campaigns just before the filing deadline in May — Ann Davison and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy — have been hammering at Holmes’ record from markedly different perspectives.
Davison is an attorney and arbitrator who ran for lieutenant governor last year as a Republican. She left the Democratic Party after running for Seattle City Council in 2019. To hear her tell it, Holmes has failed to get tough on criminal behavior ruining Seattle’s quality of life and reputation. “Literally, our city is just screaming for help,” she said.
By contrast, Thomas-Kennedy, an attorney and former public defender, is running as an “abolitionist,” arguing Holmes is prosecuting too many petty property crimes, wasting city resources and essentially criminalizing poverty. “Why are we prosecuting someone for stealing socks from Goodwill?” she said.
While Holmes has racked up endorsements from six City Council members, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and other prominent Democrats, his rivals have peeled off support from his right and left flanks, leaving him with no guarantee of finishing in the top two slots when primary votes are tallied.
Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said Holmes’ campaign has reason to be “pretty worried” about whether he’ll garner enough votes to finish first or second in the primary and advance to the November general election.
“It’s tough being in the middle,” said Pollet, who has endorsed Holmes. “Who gets motivated to vote in the primary? It’s right and left, not middle. That could leave him without a base to be in the top two.”
A recent poll showed the contest in a virtual three-way tie. Thomas-Kennedy has outraised Holmes, largely through collecting taxpayer-funded “democracy vouchers.” And an outside political-action committee has suddenly boosted Davison with mailers to Seattle households.
Meanwhile, Holmes recently inflicted a public relations crisis on himself when his office countersued The Seattle Times in an ongoing dispute with the city over missing text messages from Mayor Jenny Durkan and other officials.
Holmes dropped the counterclaim, which he described this week as “unfortunate” after widespread condemnation and a threat by Pollet to publicly withdraw his endorsement.
“Oh, I have had better days, better weeks,” Holmes said, acknowledging his precarious political position. “That’s the way it is. I have to deal with it. I am a big boy.”
This week, after running a relatively quiet reelection campaign, Holmes signaled nervousness about his electoral prospects, abruptly lashing out against his challengers with a series of public statements and tweets attacking Davison and Thomas-Kennedy as extreme and unqualified.
Holmes resurfaced a tweet by Thomas-Kennedy, who wrote last summer, amid nationwide protests over police killings of Black people, that “Property destruction is a moral imperative.” Holmes condemned the statement as “outrageous and inappropriate” for a candidate running for city attorney.
Thomas-Kennedy did not back away from her tweet, saying she was responding to what she viewed as “pearl clutching” last year, when images of smashed storefronts dominated some media coverage amid the massive protests over the murder of George Floyd.
“Is breaking a window illegal? Yes. But when we are comparing it to the open murder of people by police, is that what we should be focusing on?” she said.
Although the city attorney position is officially nonpartisan, Holmes has focused even more on Davison, trying to remind Seattle’s liberal voters of her Republican and pro-police stances. He tweeted a photo of Davison standing with Seattle Police Officers Guild President Mike Solan last year.
“A Republican City Attorney is simply not going to be the kind of advocate Seattle residents need and expect to fight Tim Eyman, take on the NRA, stand with workers and immigrants, support continued police reform, and so much more,” Holmes said in a campaign news release.
Davison responded in an interview that it is “petty and pathetic” to bring up partisan labels in a nonpartisan race. “Move on if that’s all you got. I am talking about where things stand when you have been there 12 years with the same approach,” she said.
Holmes said his late fusillades were prompted in part by the surge in pro-Davison mailers arriving at Seattle households, including his own.
A batch of $20,000 worth of mailers on Davison’s behalf was paid for by a PAC called the Concerned Taxpayer Accountability Center, which as of Thursday had not reported its donors. The expenditure nearly matched the entire amount raised by Davison’s campaign.
Holmes has sought to defend his record, saying his office has tried to strike a balance on prosecutions, seeking to avoid filing cases against people driven by dire poverty, while reserving the right to pursue charges against those “who do not seem amenable” to rehabilitation efforts.
In an interview, Holmes commented about the counterclaim against The Seattle Times, which sought to recover the city’s legal costs in the newspaper’s lawsuit alleging the city mishandled reporters’ requests for texts by Durkan and other top officials last year.
“I am telling you it was a mistake from the beginning. I wish it hadn’t happened,” Holmes said.
The counterclaim was dropped on Monday, a day after Pollet spoke with Holmes and said he’d publicly withdraw his endorsement unless the counterclaim was withdrawn.
“To be honest with you, Gerry was a factor. We were already considering it,” Holmes said.
Holmes said he’s disappointed the flap over the counterclaim has distracted from the larger issue of the missing texts. He lambasted the Durkan administration over the mayor’s phone being set to automatically delete texts after 30 days.
“It’s inexcusable. You can quote me on that,” he said, adding the missing texts were “causing great harm to the city” by compromising its legal defense in numerous lawsuits filed over last summer’s chaotic police and protester clashes, and shooting deaths around several blocks occupied by protesters on Capitol Hill.
As for his own political future, Holmes said with an air of resignation: “I don’t know what to say. I am 65. We’ll see what happens. I am at peace with what happens next Tuesday.”