Seattle’s most powerful business group has unveiled the City Council candidates who may benefit ahead of the August primary election from large political donations by corporations such as Amazon.
The Chamber’s political-action committee unveiled its endorsements Wednesday, and the only incumbent on the list is Debora Juarez. The PAC — Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy — is backing challengers against the council’s two other incumbents. Councilmember Kshama Sawant is Seattle’s outspoken socialist and Councilmember Lisa Herbold has drawn the ire of business leaders with some of her pro-worker and pro-tenant stances.
The endorsements signal the Chamber’s dissatisfaction with the current council, and the group’s leaders say they’re optimistic a majority of voters share that view. Four council members declined to run for reelection this year.
“I think the polling indicates that this is a change election,” Chamber president and CEO Marilyn Strickland said at a news conference.
In past elections, the Chamber has pumped cash from businesses and industry associations into independent-expenditure committees that can spend unlimited amounts on their own to support or oppose candidates. Its PAC has already raked in more than $888,000 this year, with $200,000 coming from Amazon.
The PAC has yet to determine how those funds will be allocated among the Chamber’s candidates. Strickland and Markham McIntyre, the PAC’s executive director, said spending decisions likely will be determined by how much money the candidates collect on their own and the evolving dynamics of each race.
“It’s a very fluid and rapidly changing field and so we’re trying to be as nimble as possible,” McIntyre said “We have not made any sort of declarations nor set up independent expenditures at the moment.”
Some would-be council members would benefit more from the group’s help than others. Juarez is almost certain to advance past the Aug. 6 top-two primary in District 5, which covers North Seattle. She was also endorsed Wednesday by the local Sierra Club chapter and was previously endorsed by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council.
Former council aide Alex Pedersen in District 4 (Eastlake, Wallingford, University District, Northeast Seattle), community doctor Jay Fathi and onetime Councilmember Heidi Wills in District 6 (Fremont, Phinney Ridge, Green Lake, Ballard), along with police leader Jim Pugel and real estate project manager Michael George in District 7 (downtown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, Magnolia) all have raised enough to run competitive campaigns.
But the Chamber’s assistance could push Phil Tavel, an attorney who ran unsuccessfully in 2015, past former police officer Brendan Kolding in District 1 (West Seattle, South Park), where they’re challenging Herbold.
The business group’s endorsements could also make a difference for Mark Solomon, a crime-prevention coordinator running in District 2 (Chinatown International District, Southeast Seattle), and Egan Orion, a small-business advocate challenging Sawant in District 3 (Capitol Hill, Central District, Madison Park, Montlake). Their races are crowded with viable candidates.
While Chamber support can boost candidates in many cases, business endorsements can also turn off voters wary of corporate influence in politics. That was a point Sawant emphasized when she announced her reelection bid Jan. 24. “Who runs Seattle?” she asked. “Amazon and big business or the working people?”
Besides Juarez, the Sierra Club’s Seattle chapter is backing community organizer Tammy Morales in District 2, Sawant in District 3, Democratic Socialists of America organizer Shaun Scott in District 4, Wills in District 6 and George in District 7. That could help them win over environmentalist voters.
Also besides Juarez, the MLK Labor Council has at this point endorsed Herbold in District 1, University of Washington researcher Emily Myers in District 4 and assistant city attorney Andrew Lewis in District 7.
Notably, three labor unions that backed Sawant in 2015 — including political heavyweight SEIU 775, which represents home-health workers — said this week they’re switching their allegiance to District 3 challenger Zachary DeWolf.
Update: Wednesday night, the MLK Labor Council also abandoned Sawant, endorsing DeWolf.