Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Today's local elections in Seattle: the clash between progressive and business interests

I've been more closely involved in DC politics and civic affairs for about 20 years.  In all that time, business interests have never been successful at running candidates against more avowedly progressive Councilmembers.

Election after election they tried to pick off Phil Mendelson, although now maybe he's been cowed, because he seems to be a more outward proponent of a Growth Machine agenda.  In the recent election cycle, they went after Elissa Silverman, who won pretty decisively too.

Example of an anti-leftist mailer in the 2019 Seattle Council election.  Photo: Amy Radil, KUOW/NPR, "Anti-Kshama Sawant fliers aimed at unseating 'populist left' Seattle Council."

Seattle's Council is noteworthy for its leftist bent, culminating in Kshama Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative Party.  She was first elected at large in 2013, then for the Capitol Hill area seat once the Council moved to a mix of at-large and district seats in 2015, and she is up for re-election today.

She has five opponents ("There are five candidates challenging incumbent Kshama Sawant in District 3," Seattle Times).

Most interestingly, there is hundreds of thousands of dollars in PAC money being spent by business interests ("Going negative, nasty in bid to 'flip' Seattle City Council" and "Big bucks from business boost Seattle City Council candidates," Seattle Post-Intelligencer; "Is Amazon taking revenge on the Seattle socialist who took on the retail giant?words," Guardian) to defeat her and other candidates deemed too left.

From the SPI:
The latest figures from Seattle Records and Elections underline the point: There is a serious effort underway to "flip" what has been a left/progressive/activist city council in the Emerald City. With four open seats, 2019 is the year to do it.

The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), political arm of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, has supported District 3 candidate Egan Orion with $107,405 of spending. District 3 includes Central Seattle, Capitol Hill, Madison Park and Madrona.

Orion is the business-backed candidate for the seat held by council incumbent Kshama Sawant. CASE has put $77,875 behind Philip Tavel, challenging city council incumbent Lisa Herbold in District 1 (West Seattle-South Park).

A third big outlay, $80,105, has gone to back Mark Solomon in District 2 (Southeast Seattle). Solomon is a crime prevention coordinator for the Seattle Police Department. The favorite in the race has been Tammy Morales, community organizer with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, who almost beat retiring Council member Bruce Harrell in 2015.
Sawant pushed the $15 minimum wage, rent control, and the concept of a head tax on large corporations, including Amazon.  Although the Council passed the tax, later they reversed.  Communicating its displeasure, Amazon has since announced the move of a large division to suburban Bellevue ("Amazon details plan for Bellevue expansion," ), which will result in the movement out of Seattle of 8,000 direct jobs and many indirect jobs.

(Be careful Arlington County...)

Although opposition to Sawant is complicated.  Some councilmembers prefer another member not because of her leftist politics but because they claim she is almost impossible to work with ("Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda On Why They Endorsed DeWolf Over Sawant," The Stranger).

Interestingly, The Stranger article discussing Sawant's tenure illustrates a point I make all the time, that when you stake out a hardcore position you get a lot more movement towards it, then you would if you had picked a less difficult easier position along what I call the "Issue Continuum" (although it turns out that a couple years after I developed this concept, but never wrote about it, an analyst in Michigan made a similar observation, which is now called the "Overton Window," "How the politically unthinkable can become mainstream," New York Times).

It will be interesting to see what happens. Compared to DC-based efforts I can recall, by contrast the amount of money sloshing around in the Seattle elections is truly astonishing. The CASE group -- Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy -- has raised $888,000 ($200,000 from Amazon) which vastly exceeds the amount of money that goes into a typical ward election here. Although Councilmember Sawant is successful at raising money from across the country, from people who support her progressive position on the Council.

But given how many opponents Sawant has, likely she will win a plurality, and move on to the general election -- the top two vote getters automatically are on the ballot for the general election. Her likely opponent will be progressive Zachary DeWolf, who has picked up the support of the labor unions who once supported Sawant.

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