Running for mayor is sort of like running a monthslong marathon, with a lung-busting sprint to the finish line.
In Seattle’s primary election, the sprint has begun, as candidates for the city’s top job rush from neighborhood to neighborhood, pursuing undecided voters with promises and stump speeches.
With ballots due Aug. 3, the campaigns are showing up at doorsteps, farmers markets and storefront call centers to spread their solutions for inequality, policing and homelessness.
Only 13% of Seattle voters had returned their ballots as of Friday, but officials predicted that an additional 30% or so would by election night.
Front-runners Bruce Harrell and M. Lorena González are jostling for position, while former nonprofit executive Colleen Echohawk is taking aim at the former and current City Council presidents with a video spot called, “They had their chance.”
Urban designer Andrew Grant Houston’s “youth team” is spreading the word about his plans to combat climate change. Former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell and Echohawk have received late boosts from political-action committees.
Mayoral campaigns raised more than $2 million from donors ahead of the nonpartisan primary, and much of the money is being spent now, jamming mailboxes, television airtime and social media feeds with advertisements.
Deadly shootings shook Seattle last weekend, pressuring the candidates to explain how they would address gun violence. The incidents could drive voter concern about police staffing, though a report last week said officers may at some point not be needed for up to half of the calls they receive.
Echoing last year’s defunding debate, Harrell called for hiring more officers, among other responses, while González emphasized non-police strategies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has loomed throughout the race, spurring debates between the candidates about how to help downtown Seattle recover and about how to prevent a wave of evictions from slamming residents who racked up rent debts when they lost jobs last year.
The virus has also presented difficulties on the campaign trail, especially before widespread vaccination occurred. Almost all the primary’s candidate forums were held over Zoom, and the campaigns waited longer to hit the streets than they might have otherwise. Volunteers wore masks as they rang doorbells and handed out campaign literature.
Most endorsements were secured long ago, but González last week nabbed a late-breaking nod from 2016 and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Other candidates in the crowded field, notably Casey Sixkiller, Art Langlie and Lance Randall, have lagged the lead pack in fundraising and endorsements but could still be factors in a contest with very limited public polling.
The contenders are all spending on video ads, mailers and canvassing, but there are differences in strategy, too.
Harrell has bought the most TV time, and his materials tout his values, more than a slew of policies. In one video, he pledges to “restore the vibrancy of our city.” In a second, he tells his “Seattle story,” mentioning that his parents worked for City Light and the public library.
To reach voters directly, Harrell is visiting grocery stores, while volunteers make phone calls from their homes and campaign offices in Columbia City and on Aurora Avenue North. He represented South Seattle on the council, but his campaign wants to make sure North Seattle voters also “know we care,” said Christian Sinderman, a consultant.
González’s TV ad targets the power gap between “the rich and the rest of us,” vowing to close it, “by making big corporations finally pay their fair share.”
An advantage: Labor unions that represent grocery store, hotel and child care workers have sent members out to canvass for González, separate from her own volunteer corps. The double-headed push will be “really helpful” as the race winds down, campaign manager Alex Koren said.
Through the mail and house-by-house, Echohawk’s campaign is distributing a 16-page newsprint pamphlet that outlines her ideas. Indie rockers Pickwick played a “get out the vote” concert for her on Friday, too.
A recent poll commissioned by the Northwest Progressive Institute put Harrell in first place, Gonzalez in second and Echohawk closely trailing Gonzalez, though many voters were undecided. Only two candidates will advance past the primary to the Nov. 2 general election.
An Echohawk video ad shows homeless people, then says: “Lorena González and Bruce Harrell let this happen.” Noting her work with the Chief Seattle Club moving Native people from the streets into housing, it adds, “We don’t have to keep electing the same politicians.”
Houston is counting on texting and digital ads to reach millennial and Generation Z voters. “Our voter base tends to be people who would be using streaming services rather than watching cable,” campaign manager Kelsey Hamlin said.
In a video, Houston starts with the tagline, “No more empty promises,” mentions that he moved to Seattle recently and highlights his proposal for a “progressive income tax” (a 1% income tax with exemptions).
Farrell has raised less money, but her campaign is on TV and in the mail, nonetheless. She plans to rally volunteers with remarks about gun violence Sunday at a park in Ballard, having pledged early in the race to make “zero shootings” a target for the city.
In her TV ad, Farrell says “years of infighting” at City Hall have “worsened the homelessness crisis.” She hasn’t been part of that, but she does have political experience, noted Will Casey, a campaign spokesman. “We’ve knocked on more than 20,000 doors and … people are dissatisfied,” he said.
Independent PACs also are trying to sway voters. A pro-González PAC funded by unions had reported $443,000 spent as of Friday, while a pro-Harrell PAC with large donations from real estate players had reported $266,000, a pro-Farrell PAC $105,000 and a pro-Echohawk PAC $29,000.
Street level campaigning
“Seattle voter?” George Gibbs asked repeatedly as he strolled past picnics on the grass next to the Columbia City farmers market.
The 49-year-old architect is volunteering for González because he likes her “aggressive, unapologetic” vision, he said. “I tell people that everything with Lorena flows down from social justice,” he added.
When Gibbs encounters voters who blame the council for homelessness, he reminds them that Seattle’s challenges were “decades in the making.”
“You have prosperity on the one hand and a housing shortage on the other. … The City Council is not responsible for that,” the Mount Baker resident said, arguing González has been working to combat the city’s housing woes with funding for affordable projects.
Elsewhere at the market, past stalls with blackberries, cucumbers and pupusas, Chetan Soni conferred with Houston supporters. Soni, 15, coordinates the campaign’s youth team, which includes paid workers and volunteers.
The youth team has led Houston’s texting operation, sending about 1.2 million messages to the phones of voters since the race began and more than 300,000 in the past week, Soni said.
“Millennials are underrepresented in government, and we want to change that,” said the Fremont resident, who met Houston through the Sunrise Movement, a youth-led group working to combat climate change.
“We don’t have another eight years to solve the climate crisis. We have to solve it right now,” he said, calling Houston “the most progressive.”
On Aurora, Harrell volunteer Rolanda Carriere sat with a half-dozen others in a nondescript storefront next to an IHOP. Over and over, she called potential voters. Mostly she got voice mails.
“Bruce knows we need a restart in City Hall, to restore trust and unify our city,” the 45-year-old South Seattle resident told the answering machines, stressing issues of homelessness, economic recovery and public safety.
Carriere was upset last year at how former Police Chief Carmen Best was treated by the council, leading to Best’s resignation. She worried about Seattle losing the younger, more diverse police officers that Best worked hard to recruit.
“All the defund, defund, defund. Nobody seemed to even know what that meant or what the plan was,” Carriere said. “It was refreshing to me the first time I heard Bruce say, ‘No, I’m not going to defund.’”
In Ravenna, Stephen Paolini, Farrell’s campaign manager, walked door-to-door, following a targeted voter list. The goal was not to hit every house. And while Paolini was happy to try to convince skeptics of Farrell’s merits, that wasn’t really the goal either.
Instead, he and a dozen or so volunteers were trying to reach people the campaign felt confident in, because they’d donated to Farrell, or had given Democracy Vouchers, or otherwise indicated support.
At every house, Paolini reminded the residents that the election was coming up on Tuesday. He asked them if they planned to vote. By mail or by drop box? Which drop box? Did they need to know the closest one? What day did they plan to go?
He wanted people to make a plan to file their ballot, which research shows makes them more likely to actually vote.
Echohawk volunteer Tony Monroe, a Ballard resident who coaches track, has been chatting with voters for months, encouraging them to consider someone who’s never held office before.
“People are screaming, ‘We want change.’ Well, Colleen is the change,” said Monroe, 62.
He met Echohawk field director Matthew Mitnick on Beacon Hill to knock on doors. Mitnick carried a stack of pamphlets, asking voters to check out the candidate’s “22-point plan” to reduce homelessness. “She’d be the first Indigenous mayor of a major U.S. city,” he told one resident.
The campaign has kept Mitnick busy, but he took a break to run an actual marathon recently, grinding out 26 miles. In the mayoral race, “We’re on Mile 23,” he said last week.
Time to pick up the pace.