As Seattle voters consider who should be their next city attorney, they face a choice between two candidates, each of whom is dragging political baggage that might have sunk them in another election year.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a former public defender, tweeted support last year for property destruction, describing “rabid hatred” of police and calling them “crybabies” and “serial killers,” and adding she hates the United States and fantasizes about secession.
Ann Davison, an attorney and arbitrator, disavowed the Democratic Party in 2020, spending most of the year running for lieutenant governor as a Seattle-bashing Republican — and recording a video for a national pro-Donald Trump “#WalkAway” campaign of ex-Democrats.
The candidates each have supporters enthusiastic about their contrasting approaches to the city attorney job: Thomas-Kennedy is running as an abolitionist whose long-term goal is an end to police and prisons; Davison emphasizes getting a grip on street crime and homeless encampments, whether through prosecutions or additional services.
But for voters just tuning into the normally low-key city attorney contest (publicly released polls have shown most undecided) the choice could come down to which candidate has the least disqualifying past.
“The voters of Seattle are in a huge pickle,” said state Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, who like many local elected officials had endorsed three-term incumbent City Attorney Pete Holmes, only to see him lose in the August primary.
Pedersen won’t say which candidate he’ll vote for in the Nov. 2 general election.
“I think it is hugely problematic for us to have a city attorney that thinks property destruction is a ‘moral imperative’ and who has announced she wants to dismantle the criminal division of the city attorney’s office,” he said. “I will quickly follow that by saying it is hugely problematic to have someone, who in the middle of 2020 with everything that was going on with Donald Trump, felt comfortable filing for office and saying she preferred the Republican Party.”
The rivals are competing to run the city attorney’s office, which has about 200 employees and a $35 million budget. Its criminal division prosecutes traffic infractions and misdemeanors, including cases of DUI, theft and domestic violence. The civil division defends the city in lawsuits and provides legal advice to city agencies and elected officials.
Tweets bashing police
Thomas-Kennedy, 46, has more courtroom experience, having spent four years as a public defender representing hundreds of defendants in Seattle Municipal Court. She says she was not even considering running for city attorney until the very last hours before the filing deadline on May 21.
Dozens of her tweets from the past year have been widely recirculated by critics since she decided to run — particularly after she placed first in the primary with 36.4% of the vote, compared with 32.7% for Davison and 30.6% for Holmes.
On July 25, 2020, when the Seattle Police Department reported someone had breached a fence line at the embattled East Precinct and detonated an explosive device, blowing a hole in a precinct wall, Thomas-Kennedy responded: “This person is a hero.”
The same day, as the department reported arrests in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and injuries to police, she called officers “pathetic” and advised: “Go to college and get a real job.”
She wasn’t through.
On Aug. 6, when then-Police Chief Carmen Best promoted department efforts to “rebuild” community trust, Thomas-Kennedy responded, in part: “Enjoy sitting in your dirty diaper you crybabies.”
On Aug. 25 she declared: “Property destruction is a moral imperative.”
On Sept. 29: “I have not taken any of this anti-bias training but I for sure hate this country.”
On Christmas Eve, when the Seattle Police Department shared a holiday message to officers from interim Chief Adrian Diaz, Thomas-Kennedy responded that police didn’t deserve the COVID-19 vaccine because officers had flouted mask mandates, gassed neighborhoods and removed a homeless encampment, adding: “Eat some covid laced shit and quit ur jobs.”
On April 22 of this year, after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, Thomas-Kennedy tweeted, “Big whoop” and “This changes nothing. ACA(Still)B. They’re not done killing.” (ACAB stands for “All Cops Are Bastards.”)
Thomas-Kennedy now describes some of her past tweets as “absurdist satire.” She says people should remember the context, as she posted some when Seattle police were firing tear gas and blast balls at protesters in her neighborhood and she had to buy a gas mask for her 9-year old daughter to wear inside their home.
Still, her tweets, as well as her abolitionist platform, have helped convinced some prominent Democrats, including former Govs. Gary Locke and Chris Gregoire, to endorse Davison despite her declared Republican affiliation.
Last week, 30 retired judges chimed in, including former state Supreme Court Justices Bobbe Bridge and Phil Talmadge, endorsing Davison in a joint statement calling her “clearly the most qualified” candidate in the race.
C. Kimi Kondo, who served 28 years as a Seattle Municipal Court judge before retiring in 2019, was among the judicial endorsers. She called Thomas-Kennedy “an avowed anarchist,” pointing to tweets earlier this year endorsing jury nullification — encouraging potential jurors to conceal their views and then refuse to convict defendants. “You can’t have a fair trial of anybody if you can’t trust the jury system,” Kondo said.
Thomas-Kennedy admits some of her past statements were over the top. “I don’t think we should be walking around destroying each other’s property,” she said.
She said she was trying at times to get a rise out of people she saw as “pearl clutching” and reacting more to smashed storefronts than to the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. “A lot of the things I tweeted were deliberately inflammatory,” she said.
Thomas-Kennedy, however, has been endorsed over Davison by every Democratic district organization in Seattle, as well as by City Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda and former Mayor Mike McGinn, among others.
“I think folks who talk to Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and hear from her realize she is much more than those tweets,” said Scott Alspach, chair of the 43rd Legislative District Democrats. “They are not great,” he said, “but emotions were running very high last year.”
Davison, 53, has practiced law for about 15 years but handled only a handful of civil cases in court while advising clients and working as an arbitrator. She has no experience with the misdemeanor prosecutions handled by the city attorney’s office.
Davison was not eligible for any local Democratic Party endorsements this year because of her decision join the Republican Party in 2020, going against the flow in one of the nation’s most liberal cities.
Her split came after a failed 2019 bid for the Seattle City Council, in which she ran against incumbent Debora Juarez, emphasizing removal of homeless encampments from public spaces such as parks, and suggesting city build emergency shelters in warehouses to house up to 2,000 people each. Juarez easily won reelection with 61% of the vote.
Two months later, Davison declared she was leaving the Democratic Party and declaring herself a Republican to run for lieutenant governor. (She failed to get past a crowded primary in that race, finishing third with 12% of the vote.)
Now, making her third run for public office in three years, Davison doesn’t like to discuss her party affiliation, pointing to the nonpartisan status of the city attorney position.
During her lieutenant governor run, Davison adopted some Republican talking points, calling the other party the “Democrat Party” and opposing a new law requiring school districts to provide comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual-health education.
In contrast to Thomas-Kennedy’s invectives against police, Davison attended a small “Back the Blue” rally outside City Hall on Aug. 1, 2020, posting photos of herself with Mike Solan, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild. “Supporting the police does not preclude police reform but cutting the police department in half does prevent public safety from being ensured at all,” she wrote.
She also tweeted criticism of Seattle’s ordinance banning residential evictions during winter months, adding: “We can’t allow Seattle’s policies to overwhelm Washington State.”
At one point last year, Davison promoted the “#WalkAway” movement, an online campaign launched by social media influencer Brandon Straka, which featured recordings of people who claimed to be leaving the increasingly left-leaning Democratic Party to join Trump.
She recorded a video posted by Straka on YouTube in June of 2020. In the nearly 9-minute video, which has received more than 71,000 views, Davison explained she left the Democratic Party because of its “intolerance” and Seattle politicians’ failure to address the city’s homelessness crisis.
“I started to realize that the Democrat Party that I knew had started to move so far left that I didn’t recognize it any more,” she said.
That same month, Davison also promoted an online fundraiser featuring a conversation with Straka. In an interview last week, she said the event didn’t actually take place. “I pulled back,” she said.
Last week, Straka pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol. In plea papers, he admitted to recording himself urging a crowd to wrest a riot shield from a police officer, shouting “Take it! Take it!” according to The Washington Post.
On her campaign website, Davison has condemned the Capitol riot as “disgusting, dangerous, democracy-threatening and contrary to everything I believe and value in our nation.”
Despite her party switch, Davison says she has never voted for Donald Trump, backing Joe Biden for president last year and Hillary Clinton in 2016. She said she didn’t vote for either Gov. Jay Inslee or Republican challenger Loren Culp last year.
She said her focus has always remained on Seattle and its problems.
“When you look at my actions… I’m talking about the city of Seattle only. And when you look at the people who have endorsed me, Democratic Governors Locke and Gregoire, in addition to [former Republican Gov. Dan] Evans, it is talking about the city and the issues here, specifically, and that’s all that it’s about.”
Such explanations have not satisfied Seattle Democrats who view Davison’s joining the party led by Trump as an unforgivable sin.
“She aligned herself with really outrageous, vitriolic hate speech,” said state Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle. “She chose to say ‘I am a Republican’ in 2020, when anyone who had a sense of decency and defense of democracy and sense of equity was saying I cannot be — I am removing myself from this Trumpian Republican Party.”