Jon Grant, a housing activist who lost an underdog bid to unseat Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess in 2015, plans to run for the same position in 2017. He announced an exploratory campaign Tuesday.
Jon Grant, a housing activist who lost an underdog bid to unseat Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess last year, says he plans to run for the same position in 2017.
Grant says Seattle’s reworked campaign-finance system, under which “democracy vouchers” will be sent to all registered voters, will give him a better shot this time.
“It’s creating a new opening for grass-roots candidates,” he said, announcing an exploratory campaign Tuesday. “We’ll have more resources to get our message out.”
Grant recently served as outreach director for Raise Up Washington, the coalition behind the statewide minimum-wage increase that voters approved this month.
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He was the executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State before stepping down to challenge Burgess in 2015 for Position 8, a citywide seat.
The 34-year-old Hillman City resident finished second to Burgess in their top-two primary election, edging out musician John Roderick and union leader John Persak. In the general election, Grant lost to Burgess by about 10 percentage points.
The outcome might have been different with democracy vouchers, Grant says. Seattle voters last year approved Initiative 122, a ballot measure raising $30 million over 10 years to pay for the vouchers. Each city election cycle, the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) will mail four $25 vouchers to each registered voter.
Voters will assign the vouchers to candidates by signing and mailing them in. Then the SEEC will release the money to candidates who agree to various rules, such as participating in three debates and accepting lower contribution and spending limits.
In 2015, Burgess raised more than $423,000 in campaign contributions and saw independent-expenditure committees back him to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, crushing Grant in that part of their race. The challenger raised under $76,000.
Grant says he plans to qualify for the vouchers next year. One way to raise $200,000 in democracy dollars would be to have 2,000 voters assign him all of their vouchers.
Burgess has registered with the SEEC to seek re-election next year. But the 67-year-old Queen Anne resident — a former radio reporter, police officer and communications consultant first elected in 2007 — hasn’t said for certain whether he’ll run again.
During their race last year, Grant sought to portray Burgess as too conservative for a politically progressive electorate moving even further left. Burgess played up his experience and his hand in creating Seattle’s publicly funded preschool pilot program.
The race took a strange turn when a development executive doing business with the city told Grant to help settle a lawsuit or have money be spent against his campaign.
A proponent of rent control who says the city should postpone hiring additional cops and building a new North Precinct station until the police department undergoes more reforms, Grant served on the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee but has criticized the “grand bargain” the panel came up with.
He says the city should demand more affordable-housing help from real-estate developers who are set to benefit from zoning changes. San Francisco voters recently approved a 25 percent affordable-housing requirement for new projects, but Seattle’s bargain includes requirements ranging as low as 3 percent, Grant says.
“The same problems still exist,” he said. “If Seattle wants to have a future as an affordable city … this is the time to act and win a progressive voice on the council.”
Burgess on Tuesday said his own “broad support from business, labor, social justice, neighborhood and environmental leaders” in winning three elections shows he’s not too conservative for Seattle.
The term Burgess won in 2015 lasts two years rather than the usual four years because Seattle has moved to voting by geographic districts for seven of its nine seats.
All nine seats were contested in 2015, but only the citywide seats, Position 8 and Position 9, will be up for election again in 2017, along with the positions of mayor and city attorney. The council’s seven district seats will be up for grabs again in 2019.