Primary Election 2015: It Takes a Village Full of Candidates

Two years ago, against the near-unified opposition of Seattle’s political establishment, an overwhelming two-thirds of Seattle voters approved a new, district-based composition for Seattle City Council: seven districts and two at-large seats. The landslide reflected widespread disgust with a homogenous, unresponsive council almost universally in the pockets of big developers. The idea behind the campaign for Charter Amendment 19 (which – full disclosure – I was on the steering committee for) was to hold council members accountable to someone besides big downtown interests, give neighborhoods more of a voice, and make it easier for non-monied interests to run for office.

None of us working on CA 19 could have imagined the pent-up demand we unleased. With this primary, the first local election after CA 19’s passage, all nine council seats are up for election. Three incumbents chose not to run for re-election, and so two district seats and one at-large position have no incumbents. (Another, the seat held by the undecagenarian Jean Godden, might as well be.) A staggering forty-seven people are running for these council seats. Given that our state’s dreadful August primaries challenge the summer-addled attention spans of voters even in the simplest years, keeping it all straight is going to be far more than most people can, or want, to do.

Well, I’m here – again – to help.

Winnowing these fields, in which all nine seats have three or more candidates (West Seattle’s new district has ten), is a serious job. A lot of good candidates won’t make the cut. And, of course, a lot of bad candidates will. Minimizing both categories is our job.

There’s more than the council seats at stake, too: An important race for King County Elections Director, nine people running for an open commissioner’s seat at the Port of Seattle, and a chance to elect two great reform candidates to Seattle School Board. Buckle in.

With a bumper crop of good candidates, I’d also be remiss to leave out this reminder: As has been true for each of the 20 (!) years I’ve been passing on recommendations, the usual caveats apply. This is one opinion. Take it for what it’s worth, which is, well, one opinion. Do your own research.

And be sure to vote by August 4 – this time it’s worth it – but don’t think for a second the job of changing the world, or even our city, will be over afterwards. Social change comes from below. Voting becomes most useful when – as Kshama Sawant has clearly demonstrated in her limited time on city council – people have already organized, not when the people and policies we empower are approved. Without the organizing, we’ll never get that chance, and even if everything we want to see happen in our city takes place, it only opens up that many more opportunities. Get out and make yourself heard all the time, not just by mailing in a piece of paper.

Enough with the rant. As the late, great Kasey Kasem intoned: On with the countdown…

King County Elections Director: I really like Zack Hudgins. For the last decade, representing his Southeast Seattle district, he’s been one of our better, more effective progressive voices in Olympia. But now he’s running to head King County Elections. And much as I’d like to reward and support him for a job well done in Olympia…I just can’t. Because Zack could be the world’s greatest legislator, and he still doesn’t necessarily know shit about how to run elections. Julie Wise does.

Some context is in order here. In the wake of the controversially close first Gregoire/Rossi governor’s race in 2004, bitter Rossi supporters (mistakenly) blamed fraud at King County Elections for their loss. A hand-picked Republican judge in Wenatchee laughed their lawsuit out of court, but no matter; the controversy caused then-King County Elections Director Dean Logan to flee his job for California, and disgruntled Republicans to file an initiative making the directorship an elected rather than an appointed position – so that they could elect a partisan Republican, Katherine Harris-style, to the job. And the measure passed, since plenty of low-information Good Liberals thought, “Hey, more democracy! Great idea!”

Fortunately, not one but two batshit crazy Republicans – Sen. Pam Roach (R-Dodge City) and David Irons (who’d previously lost a race for King County Executive when it came out that he’d physically assaulted his own mother) – ran in the 2009 special election for the new position, and Logan’s appointed replacement, technocrat Sherril Huff (who was Logan’s deputy director), won instead. And King County Elections, despite the transition to all-vote-by-mail, hasn’t been in the news for the last decade specifically because an elections professional, not a partisan politician, has been running the department.

Now, Huff is retiring, and her deputy, Julie Wise, is running to replace her. Which is why, even though I like his politics, I don’t want to set the precedent of having a politician like Hudgins, or any other amateur, running our elections. Leave it to the professional. Julie Wise.

Port of Seattle Seat 2: Courtney Gregoire, with her mother’s name, money connections, and instincts for business-friendly liberalism, waltzed to victory in this seat four years ago, and has spent the intervening four years honing the “business-friendly” part of her political resume. Alas, she has no meaningful re-election rivals this year; our choices for who to “oppose” her in November are fringe perma-candidates John Naubert of the Socialist Worker’s Party (not to be confused with any of a half-dozen larger, more reality-based – yeah, it’s a low bar – local socialist outfits) and, uh, Goodspaceguy. Skip it.

Port of Seattle Seat 5: Fresh off his triumphant enraging of tree-hugging Seattle liberals with the Shell drilling platform, Port Commissioner Bill Bryant is leaving the lucratively greased hallways of the Port of Seattle to seek the 2016 Republican gubernatorial nomination. In his absence, nine candidates are seeking to replace him. Several could actually do the job. A handful might even be an improvement over Bryant. And environmentalists, still enraged over the platform fiasco, have a fine champion in longtime environmental activist Fred Felleman. If environmental righteousness is your top priority at the Port, Fred is your man.

However, the Port is also about the working and tourist waterfronts, running the airport, fair wages, greater transparency for one of the most corrupt agencies in the state, and fiscal conservatism (the Port has its own taxing authority, one reason it’s been a cesspool of revolving door corporate welfare over the years). On all of these issues – and even on environmental measures – there’s no evidence that Felleman can be anything other than a single, principled, and very isolated vote, politely (or not) ignored by the Port’s insular staff and his fellow commissioners.

In politics, being right isn’t nearly enough. My choice as a standout in the crowded field is good – but not nearly as good as Felleman – on green issues. He’s also a labor leader – the state railroad workers’ elected legislative director – who will fight for both blue collar jobs and livable wages, and against developer-driven sweetheart deals on the waterfront. He also helped found Equal Rights Washington and has a decades-long record working for GLBT rights. And most importantly, he has an equally long record of working across ideological divides, and of standing on principle, even at great personal and professional risk. Dude gets things done. Herb Krohn.

City Council Pos. 1: Forty-seven – forty-seven – people are running for council in this primary. And ten of them are here, in this open seat for West Seattle’s District One. But there’s only one choice imaginable. Lisa Herbold has been doing unsung but incredibly valuable work as Nick Licata’s legislative aide at City Hall for the entire 18 years of Licata’s council career. She is beloved by almost every political activist who’s ever dealt with his office, and more than a few who haven’t. With Licata retiring, she’s also the strongest bet this year for a new progressive champion on council. Do not hesitate. Lisa Herbold

City Council Pos. 2: Let’s start with who not to vote for – incumbent Bruce Harrell. Harrell, the council’s chair of the Public Safety Committee during the city’s resistance to federal efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department, has been among the worst apologists for SPD abuses. As the council’s sole African-American, and now running to represent South Seattle, that record should be triply disqualifying. There are other reasons not to support Harrell, but that’s plenty.

Alas, as a well-funded incumbent, Harrell is all but assured of surviving the top two primary. So the question becomes: which challenger should face off against him in November? On the issues, the best is Josh Farris, a SAFE anti-foreclosure activist who was sounding the alarm on Seattle’s gentrification and housing crisis long before it was cool. But Farris has not run a particularly broad or effective campaign, and the local history of white dudes trying to unseat non-white incumbents, no matter how odious the incumbent, is not encouraging. It’s Farris on the issues, but as I get older, I’m finding that I’d rather win – and so I think a better choice is Tammy Morales. She’s running a solidly progressive and well-organized campaign, is also a person of color, and has a much more realistic shot at beating Harrell in November – but only if she can do well enough in August to convince people that Harrell is vulnerable. That’s where we come in. Tammy Morales.

City Council Pos. 3: The knock by some progressives two years ago on Kshama Sawant – aside from distrusting the ideologues at her party, Socialist Alternative – was that, sure, she talked a great and inspiring game. But how effective could she really be on council?

The answer is in, and it’s unambiguous: Sawant has gotten more done in 20 months than most council members can point to in their entire careers. And she’s done it with almost the entire Seattle civic and political establishment horrified of her. Besides making the city’s $15/hour minimum wage a national model, Sawant made key social service improvements to last fall’s city budget, got a horrific Seattle Housing Authority rent increase stopped, and out in front on Capitol Hill’s spike in hate crimes and especially the city’s accelerating housing crisis long before any other elected official. (As with the minimum wage two years ago, she’s the sole reason people are talking seriously about rent control today.) Among other things. This is what progressive organizing looks like.

Sawant has done exactly what she promised to do: listen to and prioritize the concerns of the ordinary working people long-ignored at City Hall. Which is exactly why her reelection will without question be the most expensive council race in city history, as both local and national special interests channel their horror into unseating her. Three candidates are hoping to win that establishment banner (and money) for November. Most likely to emerge is Pamela Banks, a former Urban League head whose backers are a lot less progressive than she claims to be. But for now, all you need to know is: donate, volunteer, and vote for Kshama Sawant.

City Council Pos. 4: Look, I like dinosaurs. Everyone does. But can we please retire our only council member who was alive when they were?

Just kidding. Jean Godden would only be 88 at the end of another term. If she were healthy, doing a good job, and not an autovote for downtown interests who otherwise sleeps through council meetings and treats her seat like a civic gold ring for 30 years of valued gossip reporting, it might be a different matter. But it’s not, and Godden has to go.

Unfortunately, those corporate interests have also figured out that they need a younger, more dynamic advocate in this seat, one not at risk of (heaven forbid) dropping dead of a stroke in six months. So, last week, the Seattle Chamber dropped $40,000 in independent expenditures on the U-District campaign of urbanist True Believer Rob Johnson. Johnson was already pulling in a ton of developer money, but the Chamber money is unprecedented – doubly unpreceented in a primary – and triply unprecented coming against a three-term incumbent ally. Godden has lost her base.

But she still has name ID, and an older primary electorate, so the question is whether someone else in the race can beat out either Godden or the Johnson juggernaut for that second general election slot. The best bets in the five-person field are neighborhood activist Tony Provine and gay activist (and Democratic Party honcho) Michael Maddux. I started out not entirely trusting Maddux, but people I trust vouch for him, and he’s run a more broadly progressive campaign than Provine. By a whisker, Michael Maddux.

City Council Pos. 5: This Northeast Seattle district is wide open, with eight candidates, no incumbent, and no clear favorite. The race got thrown a curve ball last week when the National Association of Realtors spent $48,000 in Citizens United funny money supporting the hitherto unnoticed campaign of a realtor named Kris Lethin, apparently solely because Lethin opposes rent control. Seattle, this is your future.

Your past is represented by the closest thing this race has to a favorite, former Church Council of Greater Seattle head and 7,294 Year Plan To End Homelessness architect Sandy Brown. Brown cares about social issues but, as you might gather, is rather too fond of the kind of bureaucratic “solutions” civic Seattle likes to use to wash its hands of such icky problems without ever actually helping much of anyone.

Fortunately, there are not one but two better choices. Mercedes Elizalde is a Tenant’s Union of Washington board member and longtime service provider whose entire campaign has been built around the housing crisis and on calling bullshit on Sandy Brown-style “solutions.” And Debora Juarez, a former public defender and judge, is running a strong campaign on many of the same issues. Either choice is good, but on the basis of her stronger and broader campaign, I’m going with Debora Juarez.

City Council Pos. 6: Sometimes, Mike O’Brien has been an invaluable progressive voice on council, a reliable third vote (with Licata and Sawant) for progressive principles. And sometimes, he’s been a sanctimonious urbanist nuisance, using climate change as his excuse for handing big developers the keys to the civic vault.

Way back in 1997, two candidates with Green Party backing (yes, chilluns, it sort of mattered back then) won with progressive campaigns and would go on to long council careers. One, Nick Licata, retiring this year, would become revered for his combination of idealism and effectiveness. The other, Richard Conlin. would become a pompous ass, corporate welfare toady, and all-around sellout, so widely loathed that he was beaten in 2013 by an open socialist.

O’Brien is still a better choice this year than any of his challengers. But in his next term, Mike O’Brien needs to decide which career he wants to have. Conlin’s? Or Licata’s?

City Council Pos. 7: Gah. Sally Bagshaw is everything wrong with city council: wealthy, photogenic, blandly friendly, and just enough social conscience to mask the fact that she is a wholly owned puppet of the greedheads ruining Seattle. Alas, she’s also the only incumbent with no meaningful opposition this year.

I’d suggest writing in Beezlebub, but King County Elections would just assign the vote to Bagshaw. Skip it.

City Council Pos. 8: Tim Burgess is city council president. He’s also council’s most conservative and business-friendly member, and a shrewd operator who’s raised boatloads of corporate cash for this citywide seat. Astonishingly, he’s also got three pretty decent challengers. Weirdly, they’re all named John.

The hardest to pin down is also the likeliest to face Burgess in November: John Roderick, a former rock star who’s raised lots of music industry money and, last week, became the beneficiary of another $40,000 soft money package from the Seattle Chamber.

That money may be.strategic – getting Burgess and the more malleable Roderick in the November general election means keeping two seasoned activists out. John Persak, an IWW Wobbly in his youth, wears suits now but works in the maritime industry and still retains his old labor sensibilities. Jonathan Grant is the former head of the Seattle Tenants Union and has made more noise about Seattle’s housing emergency this year than any other candidate not named Kshama. Both are fine choices; narrowly, on the basis of his having run a more visible campaign on a hotter set of issues, I’m going with Jonathan Grant.

City Council Pos. 9: Grumble. I want to go all in for Bill Bradburd. Really, I do. He’s a personal friend and a Nice Guy. He has a good history as a neighborhood activist. I agree with him on most issues. And of the two real opponents in this at large open seat – sorry, civic menaces Alex Tsimerman and Omari Tahir-Garrett don’t count – Alon Bassok hasn’t run much of a campaign, and I don’t trust the well-oiled machine of Lorena Gonzalez, formerly Ed Murray’s attorney, any farther than I could throw all 28 members of the mayor’s developer-dominated Housing Affordability [sic] committee. And I have a tricky back.

So what’s the problem? It’s that Bradburd hasn’t run a very good campaign so far – slow to get going, showing poor command of a number of key issues, and failing to connect widely with enthusiastic audiences in this Year of Angry Neighborhoods despite having the best neighborhood pedigree of anyone running this year. It doesn’t add up. Almost all first-time candidates have growing pains, and Bradburd is likely to survive the primary – but he’ll need to do a lot better this fall to overcome the mayor’s well-funded friend. Bill Bradburd, with reservations

School Dist. Pos. 3: Jill Geary is an attorney who has worked on the issue of (the criminally underfunded) special education in programs in Seattle schools for 17 years. Her major opponent, Lauren McGuire, is getting a boatload of money from the corporate education parasites at the Gates Foundation. I know whose priorities I trust more. Jill Geary.

School Dist. Pos. 6: Four years ago, reform advocates for the long-dismal, corporate-dominated Seattle School Board worked hard to get Marty McLaren in office in this West Seattle district. Now, they’re working to get her out.

McLaren almost immediately went over to the dark side, voting with the downtown cabal running the Glass Palace on issues as disparate as standardized testing, for-profit education, the district’s latest educrat superintendent, and the district’s war on alternative schools. And so, now, reform advocates have a new hope for someone to join the progressive rump of Betty Patu and Sue Peters on the board: Leslie Harris, whose campaign has targeted both the district’s testing fetish and its appalling lack of transparency and contempt for the public – a contempt McLaren, sadly, seems to share. With Patu, Peters, and hopefully Geary and Harris, their dominance of the Seattle School Board has a real chance to end this fall. Leslie Harris,

The Disclaimer: At various times over the past eight months, I have served as a paid consultant or advisor for Herb Krohn’s Port campaign, along with that of a city council candidate who later dropped out for personal reasons; and served without pay on the campaign steering committees of Bill Bradburd and Kshama Sawant. As of this writing, the Sawant position is the only one I’m still involved with. Take these conflicts for what they’re worth. On the other hand, all this means I’m privy to lots of inside gossip….

2 thoughts on “Primary Election 2015: It Takes a Village Full of Candidates

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