Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes conceded on Friday, as he fell further behind his two primary opponents in an election that will bring an end to his 12 years in office.
The result will leave Seattle with a clear-cut choice in November between a law-and-order candidate and an abolitionist who wants to halt most misdemeanor prosecutions.
“After two decades of public service to Seattle — the last 12 as your City Attorney — it’s time to acknowledge that my opponents will be advancing to the general election,” Holmes said in a prepared statement. “While defeat is difficult to accept, it’s inconsequential compared to the collective pain we’ve suffered as a City throughout this pandemic.”
Holmes was in third place after Friday’s vote tallies, with 31% of the vote. He trailed challengers Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who had 35%, and Ann Davison, who had 33%.
And while thousands of ballots remained uncounted, the trendlines offered no reason to believe the results would swing Holmes’ way.
Holmes was in second place, leading Thomas-Kennedy by about 550 votes on election night, but Thomas-Kennedy has gained every day since, taking the lead for the first time Friday, as later-arriving ballots continue to be processed, counted and released. Davison led on election night and now leads Holmes, for second place, by 3,141 votes. The two candidates with the most votes advance to the Nov. 2 general election.
Just over 41,000 Seattle votes were included in Friday’s release. There are around 30,000 to 35,000 votes in Seattle that still needed to be counted, according to King County Elections.
Davison says Holmes has been prosecuting too few misdemeanors (the city attorney does not handle felony offenses), while Thomas-Kennedy says he has been prosecuting far too many.
Holmes wished both candidates luck, adding, “With a city so ideologically splintered, whoever wins will certainly need it.”
But he had few other kind words, for either his opponents or for Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose office is represented by the city attorney in legal matters.
“After facing one candidate who considered my criminal policies too lax and another who considered them too draconian, it’s clear Seattle’s a city with fractured views, sadly reflective of the polarized politics that grips our nation,” Holmes said. “Whether the Republican candidate or the Abolitionist candidate prevails in November, they’ll face a truly daunting set of challenges, not least of which includes protecting the City from an avalanche of litigation arising out of the Durkan administration, and a thousands-deep criminal case backlog wrought by the pandemic closure of our courts.”
Without naming them, he criticized both his challengers for what he characterized as inaccurate portrayals of his time in office — Davison has painted him as lax on crime while Thomas-Kennedy has called him overly punitive.
“The City Attorney’s Office does not have jurisdiction over felonies like murders, burglaries, drug offenses, or auto theft,” Holmes said. “Low-level cases like shoplifting and trespass are referred to the newly-established Community Court where intervention and restoration are the outcome, not jail.”
Seattle political consultant Sandeep Kaushik said the November matchup shows a city starkly divided, with two candidates who each have support but also potential baggage.
“You have a significant chunk of the city that is sympathetic to Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and her abolitionist views,” Kaushik said. “You also have a huge chunk of people who find that prospect nonsensical and even terrifying.”
Davison, an attorney and arbitrator, has spotlighted rising crime and homeless encampments. While supporting services and intervention for people struggling with addiction, she says the city should no longer ignore harmful criminal conduct and disorder.
This is Davison’s third consecutive run for elected office. She ran for Seattle City Council in 2019 and as a Republican for lieutenant governor in 2020, switching parties after declaring the Democratic Party had grown intolerant of dissenting views.
While the city attorney position is nonpartisan, Davison’s GOP affiliation is sure to be an issue for critics. Seattle has been hostile ground for Republicans for decades; only 8% of city voters backed President Donald Trump in 2020.
Thomas-Kennedy, a first-time candidate, is a former public defender running as an abolitionist, saying she’d seek to halt most misdemeanor prosecutions. Explaining her views on her website, she said police and prisons don’t promote public safety, but do accomplish “what they were actually designed to do: control and disappear the poor, the disabled and BIPOC,” referring to Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Even in a solidly progressive city, Thomas-Kennedy is likely to have controversial past statements resurfaced during the general election campaign. Last summer, amid nationwide protests over police killings of Black people, she tweeted that “Property destruction is a moral imperative.” Holmes condemned that statement as “outrageous and inappropriate.”
The turnabout for Holmes came after years of criticism over his office’s record on prosecuting misdemeanor crimes. More recently, he apologized for countersuing The Seattle Times in an ongoing dispute over missing text messages from Durkan and other city officials.
A former bankruptcy lawyer, Holmes was elected city attorney in 2009, beating incumbent Tom Carr. He was reelected with no opposition in 2013 and easily defeated challenger Scott Lindsay in 2017.
Prior to Election Day, he had signaled his political future was in jeopardy but said he was at peace with whatever voters decided. “That’s the way it is. I have to deal with it. I am a big boy,” he said at the time.
Left-leaning candidates also picked up big ground in Friday’s count in other citywide races, including those for mayor and City Council Position 9.
In the mayoral race, former City Council President Bruce Harrell will face current City Council President M. Lorena González in the general election. Harrell had led González by nearly 10 points on election night, but with Friday’s release, González closed the gap to less than 4 points. Harrell has 35% of the vote to 31% for González.
In the City Council race, business owner Sara Nelson continued to lead, but she’s seen her advantage over activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver drop from about 7 points on election night to less than 1 point after Friday’s count. Nelson has 40% of the vote, to 39% for Oliver.