Some candidates are putting feet on the street as they stump for votes in the Seattle City Council’s seven new geographic districts.
Brianna Thomas took a deep breath. Then she gripped her clipboard, strapped on a smile and scaled the dozen steps to the first house on her Sunday door-knocking list.
“Things are different this time around, right?” asked the surprised, middle-aged man who answered her knuckle-rap. “I’ve never had anyone come by before.”
Thomas is one of 11 people seeking the Seattle City Council’s District 1 seat this year under the council’s new system of representation by geographic district for seven of nine positions. Her district encompasses West Seattle, Delridge and South Park.
Proponents of the system say voting by district encourages candidates to campaign on doorsteps and street corners, and some hopefuls, like Thomas — a political organizer by trade who led the 2013 campaign for a $15 minimum wage in SeaTac — are putting that theory to the test.
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She tromped through West Seattle for hours that recent Sunday, stopping at bungalows with manicured lawns and reliable primary voters.
“Some folks may not want to do this,” she said after a freewheeling, 20-minute talk with the first voter on her list. “We’ll see whether me doing it makes a difference.”
The primary election is Aug. 4, nearly three months away. But Friday is the deadline for candidates to file with King County Elections.
Another District 1 hopeful, Amanda Kay Helmick, is counting on her ground game to qualify for the ballot.
Unlike most candidates, who are paying a fee to file — about $1,200 for this year’s council races — Helmick is submitting petition signatures gathered at community meetings and farmers markets. She needs to have at least 1,200.
“Most of my competitors are out there doorbelling, looking for donors, looking at the voter rolls to see who’s voted and how they voted,” she said. “I’m doing the opposite of that. I’m out there on the street asking people whether they want me on the ballot.”
Helmick, a Delridge community activist, has been pleasantly surprised by reactions to her pavement pitch, she said. The first-time candidate plans to submit more than 1,400 signatures. There were about 60,000 registered voters in District 1 as of 2013.
“Probably 50 percent of the time people say, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign,’ and about 50 percent of the time people want to know more about me,” Helmick said. “I launch into transportation, because that’s my No. 1 issue, and once I do that a lot of those people agree to sign.”
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who’s running in District 3 — Capitol Hill and the Central District — also has gone the petition-signature route.
Helmick’s signatures strategy means she isn’t too worried that she’s raised only $1,700 in campaign contributions; in previous years, some winning council candidates running citywide have raked in more than $200,000.
Tony Provine, a candidate for District 4 in Northeast Seattle, isn’t much more flush than Helmick. Provine has taken in just $13,000 — including $9,000 of his own money.
That’s partly why he trudged up Roosevelt Way Northeast on a recent Wednesday afternoon talking to small-business owners about the city’s plan for a new bicycle track.
“I’m the one candidate who’s sticking up for the businesses,” he said, ducking into Paul’s Auto Upholstery, an old-school garage with a Frank Sinatra tune playing in the background.
Provine has made time for “small-business walks” in several District 4 neighborhoods, including Ravenna, Sand Point and Laurelhurst. The idea has been to learn about community issues while meeting potential donors and endorsers, he said.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who’s running in District 6 — Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Ballard — hasn’t changed his tactics much to jibe with the district-voting system.
He’s been attending neighborly meet-and-greet events, mostly. But O’Brien has noticed some changes.
“I’ve always run very grass-roots, people-powered campaigns, and I think that works even better with the districts,” he said. “But more of my campaign time will be spent at events in my district as opposed to throughout the city, and I do sense from conversations that voters feel more empowered. In a district, your vote matters more.”
O’Brien said he thinks the system will yield more serious contenders because more candidates will be able to afford mailed campaign literature. Mailing citywide can cost $50,000 to $100,000, but in a district may take just $10,000 to $20,000, he said.
Inside The Shoe Advantage, a nearly 50-year-old store on Northeast 65th Street, assistant manager Jose Rodriguez told Provine about the impact of road construction around Roosevelt’s new light-rail station, which is scheduled to open in 2021.
“There’s a lack of parking,” Rodriguez said. “We might have to move or shut down.”
Provine left his business card for Rodriguez to pass along to the owner of the store, hoping that in the new world of Seattle politics, shoe-leather campaigning will pay off.