Politics in Seattle was said to be at a crossroads, with this election hyped as a chance for a once-in-a-generation change in direction.
But sometimes at a crossroads you don’t veer right or left. You just end up going straight.
That’s the general take-away from early primary election returns Tuesday for the Seattle City Council. The hype fizzled. It wasn’t a backlash — at least not as sweeping as the critics and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of attack mailers had banked on.
The biggest overall winner is … the status quo?
Yep, after all that drama, we may end more or less back where we started — before the uprising over the head tax, before Seattle was declared to be dying, before Amazon started pouring money into local politics in an effort to blunt its activist, left-wing bent.
Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant is in trouble. In early returns she was getting only about a third of the vote, which is terrible for an incumbent. No incumbent in recent memory has survived a primary showing that low, so the days on the council for the crusader for rent control and taxes on big business could be numbered.
That alone would mark a change for the council, as Sawant, and her activism, have been a potent force pulling the entire body to the left.
But it’s not like voters picked a slew of conservatives or “clean up Seattle” types to take over. The most conservative candidates — Ari Hoffmann in south Seattle’s 2nd District, Pat Murakami in Sawant’s 3rd District of Central Seattle — each were well off the pace and aren’t likely to go on to the November general election.
The other two council incumbents, for instance, looked more or less OK. Both Lisa Herbold of West Seattle, and Debora Juarez of North Seattle, were winning by double digits and have favorable matchups in the fall.
On the eve of the election, Hoffman had framed the choice like this: “Voters get to decide if they want to continue the failed Socialist policies that created the mess in Seattle, or are they ready for commonsense.”
But what voters decided is that they didn’t accept that framing. The election wasn’t decided on a left-right scale, as national elections often are. For example, in Hoffmann’s own 2nd District, voters gave the most left-liberal candidate in the field, Rainier Beach community organizer Tammy Morales, a 20-percentage-point lead. She’s now the favorite in November — which would swing that district not toward the center, but farther to the left.
Meanwhile the 4th District was being won by a former City Council aide, Alex Pedersen, who is more moderate. But the 6th District of Ballard, home to outgoing Councilmember Mike O’Brien, is led by Dan Strauss — also a City Council aide, who was endorsed by labor unions and the left-leaning alternative newspaper The Stranger.
And over in the 7th District downtown, the leader was not the candidate endorsed by big business or the “let’s clean up” Seattle groups, but rather self-described “labor Democrat” Andrew Lewis, who works for City Attorney Pete Holmes.
So if you’re keeping score at home: That’s one lefty community organizer, two City Council aides and a labor Democrat who works for the same city law department that gets bashed for being soft on crime. Hardly seems like a generational shift in focus for the Seattle City Council.
Here’s another marker: Candidates that favored the controversial “head tax” on Amazon and other big businesses were leading in most of the districts. This doesn’t mean they will win in November. But support for what was believed to be a radioactive idea didn’t turn out to actually be radioactive.
The downtown Chamber of Commerce, which poured nearly half a million dollars into the primary, appeared it would get all of its candidates into the general election. Success? Not exactly. Only two — incumbent Juarez and Alex Pedersen — were leading their primaries. One of those obviously is already on the council, so again this wouldn’t seem to mark a big shift.
So were voters just not as upset about the homeless camps and street disorder as all the attack ads, the big-business interest groups and the right-wing radio talkers all insisted?
Seems like it. So far, at least, it turns out people don’t buy that Seattle is dying after all.