It’s hard to imagine more distinct Seattle City Council candidates than those competing in District 4, which includes many Northeast Seattle neighborhoods and Eastlake.
Alex Pedersen, 50, is a Ravenna homeowner supported by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, several neighborhood-group leaders and former Councilmember Tim Burgess. Shaun Scott, 34, is a Roosevelt renter backed by the Democratic Socialists of America, environmental groups and Councilmember Mike O’Brien.
The opponents disagree about homeless-camp evictions, police oversight, bike lanes, taxes and development. They couldn’t truly compliment each other at a recent debate. They even disagree what their race is all about.
Pedersen says the nonpartisan contest is about his résumé — how he can mine his time in government and business to reduce homelessness and improve basic services.
He whipped out his phone on a Wedgwood doorstep when voter Casey Saenger mentioned cars whizzing through a nearby intersection.
“I’m making a list” of projects, Pedersen told Saenger, a research scientist and undecided voter. “You know the neighborhood better than anybody.”
Scott says the race is about repairing a broken system — drawing on his experience as a political organizer and cash-strapped artist to narrow the wealth and class gaps hurting Seattle.
When Molly Smithgall and her dog happened upon Scott telling volunteers at Magnuson Park about his child-care plan, she was thrilled to snap a photo with her preferred candidate.
“Alex seems to be more a proponent for the well-to-do, whereas Shaun just seems to have genuine compassion” and would make the council more diverse, said the retired Wedgwood resident, noting Scott is black and Pedersen white.
The race is an open contest because incumbent Rob Johnson resigned earlier this year to take a job in the private sector.
Pedersen wants to continue removing unsafe homeless camps, let neighborhood input guide bike-lane projects and wait for the state Legislature to adopt a more progressive tax system.
He says winning the August primary with 40% of the vote shows he knows what constituents want.
“You can’t just camp anywhere,” Pedersen said about unsheltered people. “The other candidates [in the primary] weren’t saying that and I think it’s because they hadn’t door-belled as much as I had.”
Scott opposes camp removals that he calls cruel and unproductive, wants to site bike lanes on arterials and thinks Seattle should consider taxing large businesses, mansions and second homes.
While Pedersen says he would have voted for the city’s controversial new police-union contract to boost officer morale, Scott says he would have voted against it based on concerns about discipline, and he says new officers should be unarmed.
Both candidates have opposed taller buildings along University Way Northeast, but Scott believes Seattle should change zoning to allow apartments and public housing on more blocks now reserved for detached houses, partly to address the climate crisis. Pedersen opposes that.
Scott hopes to build on his 23% primary share with voters who backed other progressive candidates and says he better understands challenges facing millennial and working-class constituents.
“The experience of having been evicted” is one he shares with many, he said.
Both candidates have maxed out on democracy vouchers. Political-action committees associated with the chamber, more moderate or conservative voters and Seattle’s firefighters union have spent about $70,000 on independent campaigns supporting Pedersen.
The Martin Luther King County Labor Council has endorsed neither candidate, while a PAC associated with service-worker unions has rated Scott higher. Pedersen has criticized City Hall’s “constant stream” of new business costs and regulations.
“A get-it-done person”
Raised in Baltimore, Pedersen started his career at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and hopes to boost programs that rehouse people immediately, before they enter the homeless shelter system. He later worked as an Oakland City Council aide and on affordable-housing loans at Bank of America and Alliant Capital.
“Alex is a get-it-done person,” said Ignacio De La Fuente, who as Oakland City Council president relied on Pedersen to write memos and manage personalities.
In Seattle, Pedersen is best known for serving as a legislative analyst under then-Council President Burgess. He’s also known for the neighborhood newsletter “4 to Explore,” which covered local businesses, activities, meetings and politics. He left City Hall in 2014 for the real-estate company CBRE.
“Alex helped create a bridge to Tim’s office,” said ex-Councilmember Nick Licata.
Pedersen’s campaign logo sports the same colors that Burgess used. But his newsletter can no longer be viewed at the website he previously maintained.
He says he scrubbed the site to start a “listening campaign,” while critics have suggested he wanted to bury unpopular opinions, like opposing the Move Seattle transportation levy in 2015 and opposing Sound Transit 3. The 2016 ballot measure authorized $54 billion in taxes to expand light rail, bus service and commuter rail.
Pedersen says ST3 should have been rejected, reworked to make companies like Microsoft contribute more and split up to wait for a state income tax. Transit advocates and 70% of Seattle voters disagreed.
“Long view” for union movement
Raised in New York City and Shoreline, Scott is an independent filmmaker and author who wrote a column for City Arts magazine.
In City Arts, he criticized City Attorney Pete Holmes for threatening to prosecute protesters who shut down public streets, slammed business executives for waging “class warfare” by opposing last year’s short-lived head tax and reviewed music.
When editor Leah Baltus met Scott, he’d been working on a documentary about Seattle history. “He has this ability to connect pop culture and social movements,” she said, and is “maybe the most voracious reader of nonfiction I know.”
Stints in politics dot Scott’s résumé. But he also served for 18 years as an in-home caregiver for his disabled sister, who passed away in August. While that work has received scant attention, the council could use insight about domestic work, he said.
“We already know what it looks like to have people who look at government as a revolving door,” he said.
Scott did outreach as an arts-department contractor ahead of the city’s King Street Station renovation, helped run Jon Grant’s unsuccessful 2017 council campaign, worked on U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s winning 2018 reelection campaign and was interim editor at the Real Change street newspaper.
He led Jayapal’s campaign workers to unionize, advancing a national push by the Campaign Workers Guild. “He had a long view” about how to help the movement, said Sean Ward, at the Guild then.
At Real Change, “Shaun was interim editor for a little bit more than a month,” executive director Tim Harris said. “After he announced his campaign, we went our ways.”
On the ground
Pedersen supported City Hall’s recent decision to scrap a plan for bike lanes on 35th Avenue Northeast, providing some cyclists with another reason to back Scott. Canvassing “every District 4 block before the primary” educated Pedersen, he says.
“It’s 50/50” even among cyclists, he said, on his way to another Wedgwood door. “The other half will say, ‘I’m a cyclist and I prefer side streets.’ “
Martha Bosma is like that, she told Pedersen. “I bike every day and would not want to ride on 35th,” the 62-year-old said, describing arterials as too dangerous for cyclists with disabilities.
Though she worries about developers “buying” politicians, Bosma supported him in August over others she considered “too far left.”
Doorbelling in View Ridge, Scott touted his Democratic Party ties and touted his call for a Green New Deal to reduce pollution by building densely, tolling streets and taxing the rich.
Kresta Austin was receptive, telling Scott she bikes to work and wants Seattle parks preserved. Her household “always votes for higher taxes” for important needs like schools, she said.
Elsewhere, volunteers were talking to more voters. While Scott’s campaign has attracted supporters of all backgrounds, his staffers include many young people of color who believe he’ll fight for what’s right, coordinator Rubyna Ali said.
“We can’t rely on the benevolence of corporations and establishment politicians” to address homelessness and other problems, Ali said. “People are dying.”