A lot has happened since election night. City Council races that looked close widened into blowouts, Kshama Sawant won as late votes leaned heavily in her favor, and Shaun Scott lost by likely fewer than 1,500 votes. I-976 is still going to pass comfortably, but it is not the total blowout it appeared to be on election night. And in King County, which faces some of the worst cuts, the initiative is getting crushed 59–41 as of Friday’s release, a gap that could widen to 19 or 20 points after all votes are counted.
It appears that Scott may end up fewer votes away from Councilmember-elect Alex Pedersen than Egan Orion did to Sawant.
In the end, 6 out of 7 Seattle Bike Blog’s endorsed Council candidates won, which isn’t too shabby. But Scott’s was the race I wanted to win most (in part because it’s my district), so it’s still sad to see him fall barely short. And with just 1,500 or so votes needed, there are a lot of leaders, organizations and PAC funders who need to do some real soul searching about why they didn’t support Scott’s campaign until a lot of ballots were already in the mail. The big Amazon PAC spending spree just weeks before election day was clearly a big push that convinced people to jump on board, if they supported him at all. But that was a bit too late.
This race was winnable, yet a Scott received almost no PAC spending on his behalf to counter the quarter million PAC bucks spent against him. A Seattle Times graphic shows that labor-backed PACs like the Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy (“CAPE”) spent $136K supporting Lisa Herbold, who received over 50% of the primary vote and is currently winning in an 11-point landslide. Union-backed PACs also spent $154K supporting Dan Strauss, who is winning in an 11-point landslide of his own (though that result was less certain following the primary than Herbold’s). These PACs spent less than $2K supporting Scott. This Twitter thread from @RiallJohnson should be a wake-up call:
"Why you always gotta make it about race Riall?"
Me: 'cause it already is… read this.
Seattle "progressive" orgs raised over $600k to spend on Seattle City Council elections, and spent a total of $21,393 of that IE money on the 3 candidates of color they "endorsed".
— Don't Elect Riall Johnson (@RiallJohnson) November 6, 2019
Like Scott Alspach noted, imagine if a PAC had sent an early mailer to every home in D4 that said, “Alex Pedersen opposed light rail expansion.” It’s not hard to imagine that turning a good number of votes, since light rail is extremely popular in D4. And it’s true. Closing a 1,500-vote gap only requires flipping 750 people (and/or getting more supporters to vote at all).
Scott’s campaign did an incredible job against all odds. It’s not easy to counter a quarter million dollars in PAC spending while also trying to come back from a big primary deficit (23–40), and they almost did it even without the help of union-backed PAC money. They ran the best campaign in the city this year, no contest. The gap they closed between the primary and the general election sets a new bar for what’s possible with grassroots power in our city, and we all need to remember this next time an inspiring candidate is down by a similar margin.
To Pedersen’s credit, he has spent at least half a decade getting ready for this race, writing a neighborhood newsletter and gathering support from various neighborhood groups. This is what set him apart from the other less progressive candidates in the other districts. It’s also why his primary win was so much bigger than many people, myself included, had expected. His primary result was enough to convince people the race was over.
And he felt comfortable enough with the base he built over those years that he did not even try to win over people with concerns other than his own. If you met him while doorbelling and said you care about the Bike Master Plan, he would often say, “Then I’m not your candidate.” I suppose he had done the math and decided he could lose every safe street proponent’s vote and still win. And I guess he was right, though just barely.
But hearing your councilmember tell you they don’t care about your safety doesn’t feel great, and people are not going to forget that feeling. I wouldn’t feel very confident about reelection after winning by such a slim margin, especially when the city’s progressive leaders left so much on the table. I hope he rethinks this strategy of ignoring the concerns of people who want our streets to be safe (or want a Green New Deal), because he’s going to need a bigger tent if he wants to win again. Biking, walking and transit is booming in this town and car driving is declining. The math might not be so friendly going forward.
On a recent phone call, Pedersen said, “I don’t think I’m as bad on these issues as you think I am.” I hope he is right, but people are going to need to see it to believe it. And he will have a chance to demonstrate his priorities sooner than the other new candidates because, as a replacement for Rob Johnson’s vacated seat, Pedersen will join the Council as soon as the election is certified. So he’ll be voting in December, a month before everyone else.
Pedersen will be in office when two new light rail stations open in his district. It’s hard to believe D4 voted a Sound Transit levy opponent into office just as we are about to get two new stations, but here we are. He will also be in office during final development and (hopefully) construction of the Eastlake/Roosevelt RapidRide J bus line. These projects all need strong Council support for biking, walking and transit priority and access improvements. And depending on the I-976 fallout, new funding sources.
The Burke-Gilman Missing Link is also facing continued challenges in court. Hopefully, it doesn’t make it back to the Council where Strauss would be in a position to oppose the funded design. We endorsed Strauss, who talked a good game on biking and transportation issues other than the Missing Link. But as always, we will be watching closely.
The big question now is: Who will chair the Transportation Committee? Chair Mike O’Brien and Vice Chair Abel Pacheco will both be gone. Sawant is a longtime committee member and the most senior member on the entire Council, so she has the strongest claim to the Transportation Committee if she wants it. I think that would be awesome. No other major U.S. city has a socialist Transportation Committee chair, and there’s a lot of bold work to be done. And hey, taxing Amazon and other big businesses to help fund walking, biking and especially transit sounds like a pretty good idea to me (Update: A previous version of this post said the MASS Coalition has been pushing such a tax. The coalition has been pushing for new funding sources, though not specifically an Amazon/business tax).
With so many new Councilmembers joining, at least some juicy committees usually reserved for senior members like Transportation will have to go to new members. Tammy Morales had a great transportation platform during her campaign, so I’d also be very interested to see what she could get accomplished as chair of such a big committee.
Teresa Mosqueda would be amazing, too, if she wants the gig. There’s a lot of work to do on transportation right now, and leading the city through a transit crisis brought by I-976 could be a pretty effective springboard to running for, I don’t know, let’s say mayor…