Republican Ann Davison held a strong 58% to 41% lead in the race for Seattle city attorney, with returns Tuesday showing voters rejecting the brash language of her police abolitionist opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, in favor of Davison’s law-and-order stance.
No race in Tuesday’s city election was more fraught with the potential for unpredictable consequences than the race for Seattle’s official lawyer, who traditionally has prosecuted minor crimes and provided legal advice and defense for the city and its employees, including police.
At one end stood Thomas-Kennedy, a former public defender who wants to ultimately abolish misdemeanor prosecutions. During the unrest that swept the city in the summer of 2020, she tweeted about her “rabid hatred of the police” and pronounced property destruction during times of protest a “moral imperative.”
At the other end was Seattle attorney and arbitrator Davison, whose perceived transgression for some in liberal Seattle was seen as being as bad as anything her opponent said on social media: She declared herself a Republican in 2020, while President Donald Trump was in the White House.
Davison’s supporters, gathered at the old Seattle Firehouse #38 in Ravenna, erupted in cheers as the results were announced.
“Thank you so much for dedicating part of your life to this campaign,” Davison said to the crowd. “When we focus on our commonalities that connect us as human beings, we are going to go a long way.”
The reaction in Thomas-Kennedy’s camp, gathered at Taco City Taqueria in Columbia City, was muted. The candidate did not speak to the media after the initial results were announced.
Speaking to the crowd earlier in the evening, she said the race had been “unreal” and that she held out hope, regardless of what the early returns might show.
“I know that there’s just so many people who have worked so hard to get me here, and not only that but people who have worked before me, to explain to people what abolition really is,” Thomas-Kennedy said. “Whatever the results look like tonight, they are not the end result.”
Neither of the candidates has held public office before. This was the 46-year-old Thomas-Kennedy’s first run at public office. Davison, 53, has twice unsuccessfully run for office, running as a Democrat for City Council in 2019 and as a Republican for lieutenant governor in 2020.
Regardless, the victor will be the first woman to serve as city attorney, dating back to 1875.
The winner replaces three-term City Attorney Pete Holmes, who found himself caught in the crossfire between the other two candidates. Davison pilloried Holmes for not being tough enough on crime, while Thomas-Kennedy attacked him for being too harsh.
The winner takes over an office with 200 attorneys and a $35 million budget. The office prosecutes misdemeanor crimes and infractions, advises the mayor and council on legal matters and defends the city and its employees against lawsuits, including police officers accused of wrongdoing.
Much of the focus and criticism during the campaign, however, was about how either candidate would handle misdemeanor criminal matters — ranging from drunken driving to shoplifting.
Thomas-Kennedy said she’d work to reduce — and eventually eliminate — misdemeanor prosecutions, arguing they are wasteful and criminalize poverty. Prosecution would remain an option for repeat drunken driving, minor assaults and violent crimes, but most defendants would be referred to mental health, addiction or restorative-justice programs.
On the civil-law side, Thomas-Kennedy has said she would defend progressive tax laws, sue fossil-fuel companies and work to overturn the state’s ban on affirmative action.
Thomas-Kennedy’s abolitionist platform drew particular heat in an editorial by three former police chiefs, who warned of “anarchy” and said the Seattle Police Department — already badly short-staffed — would suffer further.
She has said her controversial past tweets were “deliberately inflammatory” and “absurdist satire.”
Thomas-Kennedy, who has been an attorney for five years, was endorsed by traditional Democratic Party organizations, labor unions and dozens of criminal-defense and civil-rights attorneys.
Davison, an attorney and arbitrator making her third consecutive run for office, has been vague about her specific plans, but she has generally advocated a more aggressive stance toward burgeoning homeless encampments and people who repeatedly commit crimes.
She has advocated clearing homeless encampments — a tactic that has drawn sharp criticism in the past two years — and suggested moving those residents into relief shelters set up in warehouses.
Davison has stressed that, while she ran as a Republican last year, she is “not a partisan.” She was criticized, however, for aligning herself with the #WalkAway (from the Democratic Party) project launched by Brandon Straka, a Trump supporter who went on to plead guilty for his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Davison’s critics also called into question her lack of experience in the courtroom compared with Thomas-Kennedy: Davison has handled only a handful of civil cases in court and has no misdemeanor experience.
Davison, who has been a commercial lawyer for 16 years, won the support of two former governors, both Democrats — Christine Gregoire and Gary Locke — as well as big business and technology leaders who want downtown cleaned up.
Staff reporters Elise Takahama and Scott Greenstone contributed to this report.