All three City Council incumbents were positioned to advance past Seattle’s primary election in Tuesday night results, and all three were leading in their races. None had more than 50% of the vote.
Lisa Herbold had the most votes in District 1 with 48%, Kshama Sawant had the most in District 3 with 33% and Debora Juarez had the most in District 5 with 42%.
In the city’s four other council races, the leaders were Tammy Morales, Alex Pedersen, Dan Strauss and Andrew Lewis, and the Nov. 5 general election may be characterized by showdowns in some districts between labor- and business-backed candidates.
More ballots will be counted in the coming days, with the initial results based on about 60% of the total expected ballots, according to King County Elections. Most ballots returned Tuesday have yet to be counted.
Stomps and cheers from Sawant backers greeted the results at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, and the outspoken socialist painted her modest lead a win against corporate titans who want to see her unseated.
“What’s at stake this year is who runs Seattle: Amazon … and big business or working people like ourselves,” she said in a speech punctuated by supporters shouting, “Tax the rich” and “Tax Amazon.”
• District 1 (West Seattle, South Park): In Tuesday night results, Herbold was ahead, followed by attorney Phillip Tavel with 34%. Former police lieutenant Brendan Kolding trailed with 18%. Those were the three candidates on the ballot.
• District 2 (Southeast Seattle, Georgetown): Morales, a community organizer, was leading big with 45%, followed by crime-prevention coordinator Mark Solomon with 25%. Business owner Ari Hoffman lagged behind with 14%. There were seven candidates.
• District 3 (Central Seattle): Sawant was out front, followed by nonprofit leader Egan Orion with 24%. Business owner Pat Murakami and school board member Zachary DeWolf had 14% and 13%, respectively. There were six candidates.
• District 4 (Northeast Seattle): Pedersen, a former council aide, held a commanding lead with 45%, followed by Democratic Socialist Shaun Scott with 19%. Safe-streets advocate Cathy Tuttle and scientist Emily Myers trailed with 13% and 11%, respectively. There were 10 candidates.
• District 5 (North Seattle): Juarez was leading, followed by attorney Ann Davison Sattler with 28%. Environmental consultant John Lombard trailed with 14%. There were six candidates.
• District 6 (Northwest Seattle): Strauss, a council aide, was leading with 31%, followed by former Councilmember Heidi Wills with 23%. Police officer Sergio Garcia and doctor Jay Fathi were behind with 15% and 14%, respectively. There were 13 candidates.
• District 7 (Pioneer Square to Magnolia): Lewis, an assistant city attorney, was leading with 29%, followed by former interim police chief Jim Pugel with 26%. Businesswoman Daniella Lipscomb-Eng was next with 10%. There were 10 candidates.
The initial results could indicate where Seattle voters are headed this year.
There were no public polls in recent months, but as the primary neared, some City Hall watchers predicted a revolt against the current council, which has taken heat and been called ineffective while grappling with rapid growth and homelessness.
Four sitting council members decided not to run again, leaving Herbold, Sawant and Juarez as the only incumbents in the primary.
Skeptics described the backlash as overblown, criticizing business lobbyists and more-conservative groups for stoking discontent among voters and unfairly blaming the council in order to unseat progressives.
The Tuesday results indicate the incumbents could win reelection in November, though there should be hard battles in each race.
“I think nobody can predict how any of these races are going to be resolved,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said. “But I think it’s very telling that no incumbent got over 50% … That’s a very unusual thing in politics.”
Orion said he was thrilled with the initial results in District 3, arguing they signal Sawant is vulnerable.
“Voters see me as a clear contrast to her,” he said, promising he would partner with businesses.
Herbold was elected in 2015 and has focused on renter and worker rights. Sawant was reelected in 2015 and has stressed economic and social-justice issues. Also elected in 2015, Juarez is Seattle’s first Native American council member and has overseen deals to renovate KeyArena and the downtown waterfront.
All three incumbents were endorsed by labor unions, with Juarez also backed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Sawant saw some unions defect to DeWolf.
At a West Seattle pizza parlor Tuesday night, Herbold expressed optimism.
“The numbers look fantastic,” she said, to cheers. “We are not going to let the downtown chamber, we’re not going to let Amazon … decide who the next council member is going to be.”
Seattle voter turnout stood at 29% earlier Tuesday, with that number expected to climb considerably with the addition of ballots mailed and stuffed into drop boxes on primary day.
The chamber is backing Tavel against Herbold and Orion against Sawant. In District 5, Sattler was endorsed by The Seattle Times.
“Seattle voters have a clear choice this fall between new leadership or more of the same,” chamber President Marilyn Strickland said in a statement. “We now have an opportunity to elect people who can rebuild trust (and) get back to the basics of local government.”
The primary results will help decide whether business-supported candidates halt recent gains by the council’s left wing or candidates with ties to unions and socialist groups grow in number.
The backdrop is a city with a booming economy partly powered by Amazon, working-class households dealing with living-cost increases, construction cranes adding density and a disturbing homelessness crisis.
Durkan could see her hand strengthened or weakened based on the November outcomes. She weighed in for Solomon against Morales in District 2, warning voters about “adding another socialist.” Endorsed by several Democratic Party organizations, Morales described the mayor’s attack as red-baiting.
Dozens of her supporters at a restaurant near the Othello light-rail station erupted in applause Tuesday night when the initial results were released.
“I feel great,” Morales said. “We aren’t going to allow cynical efforts to divide our community.”
Running for council in Seattle has become less daunting and attention has been paid to neighborhood-specific issues since Seattle moved to geographic representation in 2015 and began allowing residents to boost candidates with taxpayer-funded democracy vouchers.
Interest groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars through independent political-action committees to support or oppose candidates.
Times reporters Evan Bush, Elise Takahama, Brian Contreras and Heidi Groover contributed to this story.