The news may further shake Seattle's already unstable political landscape, with Harrell and other sitting council members weighing whether to seek re-election and with new candidates aggressively pursuing donors.
A community organizer who nearly unseated Seattle Council Councilmember Bruce Harrell in 2015 is running again and this time with a major endorsement.
Tammy Morales, who announced her candidacy Monday, will be backed in Harrell’s District 2 by U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, who represents most of Seattle and co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Ari Hoffman and Matthew Perkins also also campaigning in District 2.
The news may further shake Seattle’s already unstable political landscape, with Harrell and other sitting council members weighing whether to seek re-election and with new candidates aggressively pursuing donors.
A looming question with the council’s seven district seats up for grabs in 2019 is whether voters will punish incumbents for problems like homeless camping and gentrification.
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Rob Johnson (District 4) and Sally Bagshaw (District 7) are bowing out rather than running again, and some council members remain spooked by a backlash last spring against their short-lived head tax on large businesses.
“It still feels pretty fresh,” said Mike O’Brien, who intends to run again in District 6 but has yet to make up his mind for sure. “I think we’re all trying to figure out what that landscape looks like.”
Harrell, who briefly served as mayor in 2017, didn’t return requests for comment about his plans.
First elected to the council in 2007, Harrell has championed policies requiring police officers to use body-worn cameras and barring employers from automatically excluding job candidates with criminal records.
District 2 race getting crowded
In 2015, Harrell was a two-term incumbent with deep local roots and was expected to win District 2, which includes Southeast Seattle and areas south of downtown. Morales was a first-time candidate who had worked in Texas government and here as a consultant on access to healthful food for low-income communities.
But the challenger, promising to be more accessible to District 2 constituents, snagged more than 49 percent of the vote. Since then, Morales has worked as a community organizer with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union and has served as a co-chair of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, speaking out against the city’s removals of unauthorized homeless encampments.
She says voters battered by displacement and other challenges in Seattle’s only council district with a majority of people of color are hungry for change.
“We have a really energized base,” Morales said in an interview. “People are interested in having somebody who holds herself accountable to the community and somebody who understands constituents services.”
Early endorsements from Southeast Seattle state Sen. Rebecca Saldaña and from Jayapal should give Morales a boost in 2019. The congresswoman declined to back a candidate in Seattle’s last mayoral election but her support last year helped underdog Joe Nguyen snag West Seattle’s state Senate seat.
“Tammy is a champion for working families,” Jayapal said in a statement shared by Morales. “She’s been a strong advocate for policies that protect against displacement and is committed to building a local economy that works for everyone.”
This year’s District 2 race also will include Hoffman and Perkins, who both began running last year.
Hoffman started tracking Seattle politics when he pressed authorities to keep people from camping near a cemetery run by his synagogue and from trashing the grave sites.
The Seward Park homeowner says the council has contributed to the homelessness crisis by spending money on ineffective programs and “demonizing the police department.” He helped collect signatures for a referendum to repeal the head tax.
Hoffman, who owns real-estate and event-rental businesses, has raised about $6,200 from donors so far. “People want to be heard,” he said. “They feel like their elected officials aren’t listening.”
Perkins also is concentrated on homelessness. He opposed the head tax because he thought the city lacked clear spending details. The Pioneer Square renter has raised about $825 from donors and says the council must work better with large businesses.
“We need more housing. We need on-demand mental-health treatment. We need long-term rehab options,” he said.
Incumbents mulling their plans
Harrell has yet to announce a 2019 bid. Fellow incumbents Lisa Herbold (District 1), Kshama Sawant (District 3) and Debora Juarez (District 5) also have yet to do so.
Though O’Brien has yet to announce, he recently registered a campaign so he could legally engage in “evaluation” activities, he said, declining to say whether those activities have included polling.
Few council members have taken more heat in recent years from disgruntled constituents than O’Brien, who vocally supported the head tax and has championed more permissive approaches toward homeless camping.
Though he counts environmentalists, social-justice advocates and labor unions among his supporters, the race in District 6, which includes Fremont and Ballard, could be tough.
“I’m trying to give myself six to eight weeks to make my decision,” O’Brien said, citing personal and political considerations. “I’m thinking about where I am in life … and also about what the city wants.”
Candidates seek vouchers
Some candidates are counting on money from democracy vouchers, which will be used this year for only the second time.
The taxpayer-funded vouchers, which the city will mail out in February, allow voters to contribute $100 to candidates who qualify by agreeing to debates, spending caps and other rules and by collecting at least 150 cash donations and signatures.
Alex Pedersen, a onetime council staffer running in District 4, which includes Eastlake, Wallingford and Northeast Seattle, became the first 2019 candidate to meet that bar last month, he said.
Pedersen has raised about $17,500 from donors so far, more than any other council candidate, and has contributed $18,000 of his own money. “I’m proud to be the first candidate to demonstrate such strong and broad support so that we can foster a City Council election that is fair and free of special interests,” he said in a news release.
Another District 4 candidate, Shaun Scott, also is collecting donations and signatures to qualify for democracy vouchers, and Morales said she intends to participate in the program. Scott has raised about $6,600 from donors.
Not all candidates are taking the option. Hoffman won’t seek vouchers because “I don’t think the government should be spending taxpayer money on political campaigns,” he said.