At the root of this Seattle election were such huge questions. Such as: Will the epic growth boom that has reshaped the city now fundamentally realign our politics, too?
Will the city get tougher, or softer, on the homelessness problem? Will millennial-fueled socialists take over? Will the oligarchs buy democracy?
The voters had an answer to all of the above Tuesday, and it was: Nah.
For all those Amazon bucks, Bernie tweets and speculation about how this could be a pivot point for Seattle politics, voters Tuesday seemed to instead carefully pick and choose a City Council that probably won’t be all that different in overall approach than what we had before.
Check out how perfectly split the early returns Tuesday were. Of the seven candidates endorsed by downtown business interests and backed by the infamous $1.5 million in Amazon money, three were winning, three were losing. And in the seventh race, it was a virtual tie!
So much for the oligarchs buying democracy. It was a tough night all around for big business, as the $5 million they spent against Tim Eyman’s car tabs measure didn’t work, either.
Likewise, Seattle’s homelessness issue got no clarity. The candidates who wanted to get toughest on the homeless problem weren’t winning (like Phil Tavel in West Seattle, or Heidi Wills in Ballard). But neither were most of the “stop the homeless sweeps entirely” candidates, such as the two socialists, incumbent City Councilmember Kshama Sawant or Democratic Socialist Shaun Scott.
Plus two out of the three City Council incumbents on the ballot seemed headed to reelection (West Seattle’s Lisa Herbold and North Seattle’s Debora Juarez). So voters also didn’t seem to be in a “throw the bums out” mood, as some critics had predicted.
“Voters want change,” the Seattle Chamber of Commerce insisted in a news release a few weeks back that I saved because it called me delusional for suggesting city voters weren’t all that riled up. “They are tired and upset about the lack of progress and accountability on homelessness, traffic, public safety and neighborhood issues.”
Were they now? Looks like voters may have been tired solely of Sawant (although I wouldn’t count her out either, as votes tallied in the coming days will likely surge her way).
But even if Sawant’s six-year stint as the council’s ideological firebrand is over, her far-left “tax Amazon” policies hardly got a thumping rebuke in Tuesday’s election.
Example: Newcomer Tammy Morales was sailing to a big win Tuesday night over a business-backed moderate in the south end’s District 2. In her campaign, Morales proposed levying an incredible six new taxes, including a mansion tax, a CEO pay tax, an extreme compensation tax and a head tax on big companies like Amazon that would be triple the size of the supposedly radioactive head tax the council passed and then repealed last year.
Her easy win is not a sign of the council moderating. In the end, the council previously was split 5-4 in favor of who had been endorsed by the downtown Chamber group. Now it’s likely to be 4-5, or maybe 3 to 6 if Sawant comes back to win (it’s hard to predict exactly because the race in District 7, between former police chief Jim Pugel and assistant city attorney Andrew Lewis, is way too close to call).
So expect the Seattle City Council to go on tilting as progressive left as ever — even if, without Sawant, it becomes less likely to go out and shout it through a bullhorn.
Meanwhile the State of Washington continues its flirtation with red voting for such a blue state. Tim Eyman’s light-rail slashing Initiative 976 was passing, including in two out of the three counties where Sound Transit operates.
I don’t agree with this vote, at all, as regular readers well know (it marks our eighth vote on light rail in 24 years, and I’d love to move on but no such luck). But I do like that a main takeaway of this election has got to be that big money doesn’t always hold sway. It didn’t buy the Seattle City Council elections, and it couldn’t win the statewide vote despite a $5 million to $0 spending advantage.
I think that means democracy’s probably going to be OK, after all.