Three current Seattle City Council members running for re-election are working up a sweat this summer — because they each have opponents nipping at their heels.

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Three current Seattle City Council members running for re-election are working up a sweat this summer — because they each have opponents nipping at their heels.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant is seeking her second win in two years but has former Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle boss Pamela Banks in hot pursuit.

Council President Tim Burgess is hustling to hold off indie-rock musician John Roderick and other challengers who call him too conservative, a label he detests.

And Councilmember Jean Godden, seeking a third term at age 83, is losing ground to several upstarts, including Rob Johnson and Michael Maddux, who are in their 30s.

Seattle City Council

Interactive map: Click to see primary election results and explore the demographic makeup of Seattle’s new City Council districts.
Interactive map: Click to see primary election results and explore the demographic makeup of Seattle’s new City Council districts.

Sawant, Burgess and Godden should all survive the Aug. 4 primary election, aided by name recognition and low voter turnout. Yet the pace will undoubtedly pick up when two candidates in each race are matched in runoffs for the Nov. 3 general election.

The sitting council members can seek some comfort in past results: Only two incumbents have lost in the past decade. But all nine council seats are up for election this year, and seven will have new voting by district, so change is in the air.

District 3

Sawant, an outspoken leader of the Socialist Alternative Party, is running in District 3, which includes Capitol Hill, the Central District and surrounding neighborhoods, and has raised more than $192,000, outdoing all four of her opponents.

Rod Hearne, Morgan Beach and Lee Carter are lagging behind. But Banks is closer, having raised more than $156,000 while keeping more cash on hand to spend on mailers and advertisements. The city’s real-estate and finance moguls see her as their best chance to unseat Sawant, their socialist nemesis.

Sawant, who lives in Leschi, is relying heavily on local unions, and national notoriety — including a trip to New York City in May — has helped her raise more than $60,000 outside the city.

She’s been endorsed by two prominent Democratic officeholders, Metropolitan King County Councilmember Larry Gossett and state Sen. Pramila Jayapal.

Many homeowners in affluent neighborhoods like Madison Park will vote against Sawant. But she should do well among tenants on Capitol Hill, where rents are rising.

Displacement of African Americans from the Central District will be a factor in the race, says the Rev. Reggie Witherspoon, pastor at Mount Calvary Christian Center. Witherspoon is pulling for Banks, who’s lived in the Central District for nearly 20 years.

Before resuscitating Seattle’s Urban League chapter, Banks, who is partly African American, held jobs with the city. “Her heart is to serve people,” Witherspoon said.

The pastor brushed off the argument that Banks would be beholden to her business donors. “I see that as misdirection,” the clergyman said. “She’s got to get her funds from somewhere. It doesn’t mean she’s going to forget about the average person.”

The pastor’s congregants mostly see the race his way, Witherspoon says. But many have moved from District 3 in past years. “That’s going to work against Pamela. So many of our people are in Renton and Kent and Federal Way,” he said.

The Rev. Robert Jeffrey, pastor of New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, also in the Central District, understands the race differently, though.

“I think Sawant has the best solutions,” he said. “She’s fighting for things like rent control. The people not fighting for things like that have pretty much given up hope.”

Sawant and Banks are both progressives. But they disagree on some issues. Seattle needs rent control, says Sawant, who is co-sponsoring a resolution asking state lawmakers for that power.

Banks, endorsed by Burgess, Councilmember Bruce Harrell, former Mayor Greg Nickels and former King County Executive Ron Sims, says the city should focus on other solutions, such as redeveloping city property as affordable housing, which Sawant also supports.

Sawant is a booster of exacting linkage fees from real-estate developers to fund affordable housing. Banks has not staking out a clear position.

She’s endorsed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, while Sawant has accused officers and their bosses of harassing protesters during recent street demonstrations.

Joanna Cullen, a Squire Park Community Council board member, knows both front-runners — Banks through the parent-teacher association at Garfield High School.

“With Sawant, if you can get her to listen to you and be on your side, she’ll be a strong advocate,” said Cullen. “But sometimes she seems to have her own agenda. … With Pam, she’ll listen to you, but I don’t have a good sense of how she would govern.”

Though Banks is building a solid base, Sawant should be unbeatable if she drives young people and disaffected voters to the polls like she did in 2013.

Position 8

Burgess is seeking Position 8, one of two citywide seats, and has raised more money — about $222,000 — than any other candidate for council.

But Roderick, frontman for the band The Long Winters and co-host of a comedy podcast, has tapped his national fan base to raise nearly $81,000, no small sum.

Burgess, a Queen Anne resident, voted for a $15 minimum wage, pushed for city-subsidized preschool and penned Seattle’s wage-theft ordinance.

Roderick, of Rainier Beach, has released a number of policy papers, calling for a neighborhood streetcar system, immediate council action on reforms recommended by the Community Police Commission, and public broadband funded by property taxes.

Tell us: What’s the most important issue in your district?

Click to tell us which campaign issues are shaping the debate in your neighborhood.
Click to tell us which campaign issues are shaping the debate in your neighborhood.

“John is coming out as an urbanist,” said James Keblas, who ran Seattle’s Office of Film and Music for the city’s last mayor, Mike McGinn, and who flirted with running for a council seat this year. “He’s doubling down on that identity. I think Tim has to be a little more practical and pragmatic because he’s the veteran. He’s been around a while.”

The other two Position 8 hopefuls are Jon Grant, a former executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State, and John Persak, a longshore-union leader.

Housing affordability is Grant’s bread-and-butter issue, so much so that he had the founder of the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, the eccentric former New York City mayoral candidate Jimmy McMillan, headline his campaign kickoff.

Grant’s priorities include campaign-finance reform, rent regulation and a principal-reduction program for homeowners underwater on their mortgages. He lives in Rainier Valley, in a house bought from a foreclosure company.

Both Grant and Roderick are trying to position themselves left of Burgess, a former police detective and communications-firm owner whose political career has been dogged at times by questions about his liberal bona fides.

Grant has blasted Burgess for sponsoring a measure in 2013 that would have banned some panhandling, blocking a ballot measure in 2014 that proposed public financing for local elections and accepting campaign contributions from developers. Burgess introduced two tenant-protection bills last month to soften his image, Grant has said.

The council president can fight back against his critics by pointing out he voted for an earlier public-financing measure and that his endorsers include several labor unions, such as the MLK King County Labor Council, which also endorsed Persak.

Persak, of Georgetown, is known in industrial circles but isn’t raising much dough.

“Tim has our support primarily because he’s been with us on the issues we’ve asked for support on,” said David Freiboth, executive secretary of the Labor Council. “He does take some convincing, so he gets tagged as conservative. But that’s not fair.”

Grant’s endorsers include state Rep. Gerry Pollet, the Transit Riders Union and several Democratic groups. McGinn and the Sierra Club are behind Roderick.

Roderick needs to drum up votes from artists and musicians, and they’re his voters to lose even though Burgess has been a friend to creative types, Keblas says.

Rather than worry about being pigeonholed, the musician should own his identity, according to Keblas, predicting a Burgess-Roderick runoff. Freiboth believes Burgess and his consultants are trying to determine “how far left Seattle has gone.”

“Tim is a moderate political leader and the electorate usually wants that balance. But the landscape is shifting.”

Eugene Wasserman, president of the North Seattle Industrial Association and a Burgess backer, is more confident that voters will end up rewarding the moderate.

“Tim’s raised a lot of money and his isn’t a district race, so the money will matter,” he said. “I don’t think the conservative thing will pay off. Voters aren’t pissed off enough.”

District 4

During a District 4 forum this month, some microphones weren’t working, so the candidates shared a single device. Godden at one point struggled with the cord.

“Am I strangling anyone?” the former newspaper columnist asked sweetly, shooting daggers at her four opponents. “I hope so,” she added, while the audience guffawed.

The moment told a story. Godden is in trouble, having seen Johnson, Maddux and Tony Provine beat her out for most major endorsements. When asked why she wants another term, she sometimes talks about loving her job rather than her specific goals.

But the View Ridge resident is a fighter, which means District 4, ranging from Eastlake to Wallingford, Ravenna, Laurelhurst and the University District, is wide open. She is leading in campaign contributions with more than $87,000 while Johnson is next with more than $69,000.

“Some leaders in the district are looking for alternatives,” said Alex Pedersen, a former aide to Burgess and Provine backer who lives in the district. “But none of the other candidates have really broken through, so people aren’t quite sure what to do.”

At the forum, Godden stressed her role this year in passing legislation to provide all city employees with up to four weeks of paid parental leave.

“Women in this area are paid 73 cents for every dollar that men are, and we have to do something about it,” she said. The Metropolitan King County Council this year passed legislation requiring up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for county employees.

Godden has aligned herself with Mayor Ed Murray since his election, going to bat for him against authorized homeless encampments in residential areas, for example.

But Johnson, who directs the Transportation Choices Coalition — which lobbies for walking, bicycling and transit — likely would become a friend to Murray, as well.

The Ravenna resident, who shares a political consultant with the mayor, defended Murray’s proposed transportation levy when Maddux and Provine argued against using property taxes alone to raise $930 million. He’s lined up support from business groups, the MLK Labor Council, the Cascade Bicycle Club and environmental groups.

Maddux, a gay single father who rents in Eastlake, has Democratic state House Speaker Frank Chopp and state Rep. Gerry Pollet on his side, deep policy knowledge and an engaging way of speaking to voters.

The 46th District Democrats have endorsed both Maddux and Provine and the King County Dems only Provine, who worked in county government, consulted for nonprofits, owned a gas station and ran a Starbucks store before diving into Seattle community work.

Provine was president of the Ravenna-Bryant Community Association, is co-chair of the Northeast District Council and has served on the Seattle Public Library board. He trails Godden, Johnson and Maddux in fundraising.

Abel Pacheco, an assistant director for external relations at the University of Washington’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity, has gained less traction.

“It’s going to be hard for people in this area to make a choice,” said Brianna McDonald, president of the Wedgwood Community Council. “The candidates each bring something different to the table.”

The city’s plan for a vacant lot near the Roosevelt light-rail station set to open in 2021 has become a touchstone for debates over density and development in the District 4 race. Godden and Provine stood with Murray to announce that officials would seek to have it seized from slumlords and turned into a pocket park.

But the mayor backtracked after critics said land near rail should be used for housing. Godden is now supporting further review, while Provine continues to back a park, partly because the property is very small. Johnson and Maddux favor housing.