In Seattle’s last mayoral election, both finalists were from multimillionaire households. Things may not shape up the same way this year.
The leading candidates in the 2021 race are worth from $0 to $15 million, with most worth under $500,000, according to estimates they provided in mandatory disclosures that were filed with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission this month and that include spousal assets.
That may matter to some voters in an increasingly expensive city where the median household income recently hit $100,000 and where thousands sleep in vehicles and tents, while others voters may not care much.
Some of the candidates say their economic circumstances have shaped the way they view the city’s challenges. Some also say they believe their politics and policies are much more important than their bank accounts.
Based on campaign contributions, the contenders are Andrew Grant Houston, Bruce Harrell, M. Lorena González, Colleen Echohawk, Lance Randall and Jessyn Farrell. They’ve each raised more than $30,000 and they’re each using or seeking to qualify for Seattle’s taxpayer-funded democracy voucher program, which allows voters to donate $100 in vouchers to campaigns.
Andrew Grant Houston’s net worth: $0
The Capitol Hill renter made less than $45,000 last year as a self-employed architect, as a temporary City Council aide and in pandemic unemployment assistance. Houston meanwhile owes about $60,000 in student loan debt, he said.
“That puts me in a place like a significant amount of residents here, especially renters — trying to get by, paycheck to paycheck … That’s the lived experience I bring to this conversation,” said the Texas-reared 31-year-old. “Once you attain a certain level of wealth, you typically become more conservative.”
To reduce student debt, a Seattle program that subsidizes tuition at community colleges for public school graduates should be extended to four-year colleges and apprenticeships, Houston said. To reduce housing pressure and commuter pollution, the city should repeal zoning laws that ban apartments on many residential blocks, he added.
“Especially as a person of color I recognize the wealth gap here in Seattle, which is tied to generational wealth through homeownership,” Houston said. “I’m also really focused on how we can allow for more homes that people can actually purchase — more condos and town houses.”
Bruce Harrell’s net worth: $15 million
The former council member, who served as interim mayor in 2017, made more than $100,000 last year as an attorney, in pension payments and in investment income. Before entering politics, Harrell worked in telecommunications, and he now serves on the boards of several nonprofits. His wife, a Microsoft executive, made more than $1 million in 2020. Their four-bedroom Seattle house overlooks Seward Park, and they own a second house in Boise, Idaho.
“Voters will determine the relevance based on how they view personal finances. But I’m proud of the hard work that both my wife and I have put into overcoming barriers where the paths of opportunity seemed limited,” said Harrell, 62, who grew up in the Central District and whose parents did not go to college, he noted.
“If our goal is to make Seattle a place where every kid can succeed, regardless of race and ZIP code, I’m proof that it’s possible if we remove obstacles to success,” he said.
City Hall must push for equity in Seattle’s public schools, “tackle police bias,” support small businesses owned by people of color and ensure students have mentors like the college basketball star who taught Harrell about “goal-setting” at the Rotary Boys & Girls Club, Harrell said. “I’m the result of good policies and good teachers,” he said, vowing as mayor to create a city-run jobs center to train and connect residents with local businesses.
M. Lorena González’s net worth: $266,000
Seattle’s current City Council president had a salary of about $130,000 at City Hall last year, while her husband’s work as a restaurant manager was interrupted by COVID-19. They have a toddler and own a one-bedroom condo.
González’s husband received unemployment benefits in 2020, noted the council member, who last year helped secure City Hall pandemic grants for struggling restaurants and their workers. “Just because I’m an elected official doesn’t make me immune from those realities,” said the 44-year-old, whose household also is paying $250 monthly on a federal tax payment plan. “Working-class families in this city are deserving of and need an economic bailout of historic proportions.”
The council president says Seattle must increase density “throughout the city, so we can increase the inventory of different housing choices,” like condos. “Part of the reason I have any net worth,” as a woman of color from Central Washington and daughter of immigrants, “is because I was lucky enough to find a condo” in the West Seattle Junction urban village in 2011, González said.
Condos today are restricted to urban villages. “We cannot simply offer people a $850,000-home in a single-family zone” as the only option to own, she said.
Colleen Echohawk’s net worth: $400,000
Family has played a crucial role for the Greenwood homeowner, who made more than $100,000 last year as executive director of the Chief Seattle Club. She and her husband, a consultant who made under $100,000 in 2020, bought their house with her sister. They share the three-bedroom home with their mother.
“I share that because I think a lot of people identify with how expensive our housing is,” said the 45-year-old, who grew up in Alaska. “We could definitely use a bigger house but we’ve looked at it and I don’t want to spend $1.2 million on a house. I just can’t do it, and my husband and I are still paying student loans.”
An enrolled member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation and a member of the Upper Athabascan people of Mentasta Lake whose nonprofit serves people experiencing homelessness, Echohawk said some of her employees can’t afford to live in Seattle.
As mayor, she would advocate for more affordable housing and would direct funds “into the hands of the Black community, the Native community, the Pacific Islander community,” to enable those communities to build and own housing, she said.
“I know and feel how hard it is and I am going to make it better,” Echohawk said.
Lance Randall’s net worth: $200,000
The 55-year-old, who formerly worked in economic development for the city and for a Rainier Valley nonprofit, made under $100,000 as a musician for Seattle’s First AME Church. His wife made under $100,000 as a state employee.
“I’m just like anybody else. I work hard, try to keep my credit score high and pay my bills on time,” the Rainier Beach resident said, noting his career has mostly been spent in mission-driven jobs with the government and community organizations. “That just shows I’m like a lot of people who work hard.”
Voters want to know their mayor is responsible with money, but most people care more about policies than about how much money candidates make, Randall said. “I don’t think it’s a matter of wealth. It’s a matter of common sense,” the Georgia transplant said. “I’m more concerned about policy points.”
Seattle’s next mayor must work to ensure that “everyone, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to participate and create wealth,” Randall said, adding that City Hall should help homeowners with modest means develop their own properties rather than allowing them to be gobbled up by gentrification.
Jessyn Farrell’s net worth: $1.25 million
A former state representative who made more than $100,000 last year as an attorney and senior vice president at the Civic Ventures think tank started by venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, the Laurelhurst homeowner also is a single mother of three children, she said.
Washington residents “should be really proud of the disclosure regulations” that require candidates to share their financial affairs, said Farrell, 47, whose major asset is her four-bedroom house.“I would bet that most voters do really care about transparency, and mechanisms like this are important,” she said.
“But in addition to that, people want to know, ‘Are you going to solve my problems?’ ” Farrell said, mentioning she would as mayor seek tuition-free child care for all children through 5 years old and a new regional plan to build affordable housing.
“The bottom line is that this is really a change election and people are really fed up with the current state of play in the city. They’re hungry for solutions,” she said.