With a rush of candidates, the campaign for a new Seattle mayor has begun. Which means the campaign for wishing there was somebody else has really begun.
The other day, former two-term governor, cabinet secretary and all-around Mr. Fix It Gary Locke gave a stemwinder of a speech at a rally in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, condemning hate crimes against Asian Americans.
“We’re always treated like foreigners,” thundered Locke, 71, who is Chinese American. “We can’t be scapegoated for this virus. Hate is the virus!”
“Former WA Gov. GARY LOCKE: Throwing down,” gushed a TV reporter at the rally, attaching a short video that then circulated on social media.
“Just one of a million reasons why Gary Locke should run for Mayor of Seattle,” commented one Democratic campaign pro from Seattle, attaching a hashtag “ReadyForGary.”
This got the punderati to punditing.
“Locke’s entry into the race would fundamentally shift the dynamics,” speculated DJ Wilson, publisher of the politics site Washington State Wire, in a post titled “Gary Locke for Seattle mayor?”
“Gary Locke is creating a little buzz.”
Wilson explained his view of Seattle politics, and why Locke would be a dream candidate. City elections usually end up pitting one “institutional, Seattle way” politician, Wilson wrote, against a candidate who is more anti-establishment and ideological. Think of it as two sides of Seattle’s id — our love of process versus our love of protest.
Wilson argued the lane for a consensus-builder candidate, similar in political style and makeup perhaps to the retiring mayor, Jenny Durkan, is wide open.
“In Seattle politics, there will very likely be at least one ‘Seattle way’ institutional candidate in the general election this year. And if that’s the case, that person hasn’t announced his or her candidacy yet,” Wilson wrote.
I don’t know, in Seattle all the candidates are to the left of 99% of the U.S. Senate, so maybe I’ve lost my ability to discern. But what stands out to me about the 15-candidate field for mayor so far is how mainstream and nonradical and Seattle process-deferential it mostly is.
Arguably five of the top candidates are City Council President M. Lorena González, former City Council President Bruce Harrell, Chief Seattle Club Executive Director Colleen Echohawk, former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell and Lance Randall, economic development director of South East Effective Development (SEED). None of them have been seen crusading around with bullhorns railing against capitalism, à la Kshama Sawant.
Echohawk has overseen the building of $100 million in affordable housing and has been a Durkan ally. Harrell was a lawyer in the telecom industry who has been endorsed in the past by the Chamber of Commerce, as has González (she probably won’t be this time after veering further left of late on the council). Farrell, a transit advocate, is a traditional, not radical, green who was a mainline Democrat in her terms in Olympia. And Randall’s group has developed and owns more than 1,000 units of Seattle housing.
No, the fascinating early dynamic in the Seattle mayor’s race is that there is one far-left, activist candidate — and his campaign is the one that’s surging from out of the gate.
Andrew Grant Houston — probably never heard of him, right? But the 31-year-old architect and Green New Dealer, who’s never run for office before, has already raised $175,000 in campaign money. That’s more than was spent in the last mayoral primary, in 2017, by all but two of the 22 candidates.
One big difference this time is mayoral candidates can tap into publicly funded democracy vouchers for the first time, and Houston has been raking these in by pitching the most left-wing, grassroots appeal to voters of any candidate, by far. Examples: He’s for rent control. He’s for defunding the police by at least 50% (González, notably, seems to have backed away from her support for that, and the other top candidates haven’t embraced it). He’s for making all transit free. He also envisions a city where “personal vehicles no longer exist.”
I’m not saying Houston will get elected. I am saying he’s got some mojo. The rest of the field, by comparison, comes off as safe and consensus-y — maybe too much so to get Seattle’s movement left truly fired up. Again, this is by the unusual terrain of Seattle politics. My sense is a sizable slice of Seattle voters have gone so pell-mell to the port side that one or more of these other candidates will probably need to tack further to the left, not to the middle, to make it through the August primary.
Which brings me back to Locke. Is there even a place in Seattle politics anymore for a centrist, fiscally frugal, coalition Democrat?
“I do love fixing things, and Seattle definitely needs a lot of fixing,” Locke said when I got him on the phone.
He then regaled me with stories about how as U.S. secretary of commerce under Obama, he brought the 2010 census in $2 billion under budget. As well as his ideas for fixing the state’s struggling vaccination nonsystem.
He was kind of sounding like he might be a candidate for something. Then he dropped this inconvenient fact.
“I don’t live in Seattle anymore,” Locke said. “I live in Bellevue.”
Oh. Candidates for Seattle mayor must be registered voters in Seattle, according to city election rules.
This is how it’s been going of late for Seattle. Even our dreams have up and gone to Bellevue.