The new Seattle City Council began to take shape Tuesday as the results of the Nov. 5 elections were certified and Alex Pedersen was sworn in to serve District 4.
In a ceremony at Magnuson Park, Pedersen said he would respond to constituent concerns and “fulfill the promise of district representation.”
“A promise enshrined in our City Charter with these words: To ensure members of the City Council are closer to the people they represent,” he said.
It’s not clear how much clout Pedersen will wield on the council, where he previously worked as a legislative analyst, nor how the 50-year-old will mesh with three other newcomers scheduled to join him at City Hall in January.
But the Ravenna resident — who will represent Eastlake, Wallingford, the University District and multiple Northeast Seattle neighborhoods — could play a key role as a skeptic of attempts to increase density and city spending.
Pedersen has criticized last year’s short-lived per-employee head tax on high-grossing businesses for housing and homeless services, arguing Seattle needs to start by sharpening its plans to address homelessness and by carrying out audits.
“Having all nine council members cheerleading for more taxes isn’t going to provide durable outcomes,” he said in an interview Monday. “I see my role as asking a lot of questions and making sure we have all the data we need to make sensible decisions.”
Pedersen won the District 4 race with 52%, edging out Shaun Scott, a democratic socialist.
At a Magnuson Park building that once served as a military officers club, Wallingford resident Miranda Berner said she expects her new council member to advocate for new apartments large enough to accommodate families. U District booster Cory Crocker said he hoped Pedersen would work to spare University Way Northeast, also known as The Ave, from development that could displace businesses.
Pedersen is starting work early because District 4 has lacked an elected council member since April, when Rob Johnson stepped down to take a private-sector job.
Abel Pacheco, District 4’s interim council member, made way Tuesday. Councilmembers Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw, all of whom declined to run again this year, will be replaced by election winners Tammy Morales, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis.
District incumbents Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant and Debora Juarez won reelection and will return, as will citywide Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González, whose seats weren’t up for grabs.
In an interview Monday, Pedersen argued his victory would have been larger had Amazon not poured $1 million into the races through the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political-action committee (PAC).
Though the PAC backed Pedersen in District 4, some voters were turned off by Amazon’s power play, as national leaders like Sen. Bernie Sanders weighed in against it. Pedersen was the only Chamber endorsed candidate to beat a left-wing opponent.
“The excessive amount of money dumped in by Amazon … hurt a lot of candidates, including me,” he said. “But that doesn’t erase the desire of constituents to have an effective local government.”
Pedersen’s arrival at City Hall will worry some apartment and transit advocates because he questioned Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) upzones, opposed the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure and missed some important candidate forums.
The new council member added to those anxieties recently by announcing Toby Thaler as one of his office hires. The Fremont activist has been active in legal challenges against the upzones.
“It’s disappointing to see Alex doubling down on that mindset of trying to keep people out” of neighborhoods, said Joshua Newman, a Maple Leaf resident who ran in District 4 but didn’t advance past the primary.
Pedersen has said the MHA upzones and Sound Transit 3 required too little from developers and large corporations and has said his campaign concentrated on community meetings. He said he now wants to see how well the upzones are working.
He said he chose Magnuson Park for his swearing-in ceremony because the space includes natural beauty, recreational space and nearly 1,000 low-income apartments. His other hires include Lhorna Murray, an artist and Magnuson Park community leader.
Supporters will be eager to see Pedersen dig into Seattle’s approach to homelessness. Pedersen has worked in the private sector on low-income housing loans and promised during his campaign to push smarter spending.
“He does his homework,” said Wallingford resident Cathy Tuttle, another District 4 candidate who didn’t advance past the primary. “Alex will dive deep to understand the issues. Not all council members want to do that.”
Though the battle lines during this year’s elections were sharply drawn, the next council’s dynamics may prove more complicated.
For example, Pedersen could align with socialist Sawant in resisting developer deals based on displacement concerns and policies such as downtown street tolling.
He said he intends to surprise doubters by “working hard to improve and expand public transit connections” in District 4, where more light-rail stations are slated to open in 2021.
Pedersen said Tuesday he wouldn’t let “shouting at City Hall” drown out the voices of voters who urged him to “get back to basics.”