Councilmember Kshama Sawant talks to a group of union members before they go door knocking on Sunday, August 4, 2019, at Pratt Park in Seattle.
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Councilmember Kshama Sawant talks to a group of union members before they go door knocking on Sunday, August 4, 2019, at Pratt Park in Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle primary heightens contest between progressives and business-backed candidates

Initial results in Seattle’s seven City Council districts suggest that the November election will be a vigorous matchup between lefty progressives and business-backed candidates.

It was a good night for incumbents. Lisa Herbold in West Seattle, Debora Juarez in North Seattle, and Kshama Sawant in the Central District are all faring well.

In initial results Tuesday, the candidates in the lead were either those endorsed by progressive groups and The Stranger newspaper, or those backed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and The Seattle Times.

Incumbent Kshama Sawant had the most votes in initial tallies in District 3, but speaking to a raucous crowd at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, she noted the success of the slate of candidates who received mailings and other help from the Chamber.

“Big business has gone to war in all the seven city council races, and the Chamber candidate has made it through to the general election in every race," she said.

One of them is Sawant’s potential opponent, Egan Orion. He serves as the executive director of Pridefest and heads the Broadway Business Improvement Area. Orion said campaign spending by outside groups isn’t ideal, but that given Sawant’s lead in fundraising, he will need help from many places in order to challenge her.

“I think we’re running a very positive race," he said. "I know that the Metropolitan Chamber chose to support our campaign for very simple reasons, very similar to ones that are held by voters across the district.”

Orion said those include addressing homelessness, creating a safe and prosperous city, and having a council that works together.

Egan Orion says the Chamber's priorities resemble those of voters in his district: addressing homeless and safety, and having a council that works together.
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Egan Orion says the Chamber's priorities resemble those of voters in his district: addressing homeless and safety, and having a council that works together.
Credit: KUOW/Amy Radil

Over in Ballard, Heidi Wills is another Chamber-backed candidate who seems likely to advance in the general election. She served previously on the City Council, and she says voters in District 6 have given her a clear sense of their issues.

“People talk about how they’d like to have improved public safety. They’d like to have clean parks. They’d like to address the root causes of homelessness. They’d like to have a city council that prioritizes basic services," she said.

Wills’ likely opponent is Dan Strauss, who is in the lead in District 6. He works for outgoing Councilmember Sally Bagshaw.

Some Seattle voters are uneasy with the money coming from labor and business groups in these races. Joel Creswell was a volunteer for Strauss’ campaign.

“I'm not a big fan of the fact that [Civic Alliance for a Progressive Economy] and [Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy] are putting a lot of money into the election," he said. "I would rather see money coming from democracy vouchers. And I would just encourage voters to look at where the money is coming from, and who the candidates are accountable to.”

Councilmember Sawant told her supporters that while the business community was unified during the primary, labor unions were somewhat divided. And candidates who tried to take a middle stance between the two did not fare well.

“We need to work for unity of left candidates around a fighting strategy," she said. "To unite around a fight for rent control and social housing, unite around a movement for a Green New Deal, and unite against the corporate PACs.”

Sawant supporter Nikkita Oliver said she actually takes some consolation from the outside spending against Sawant, because it signals that progressive policies for more equitable development in Seattle are having an impact.

“Otherwise they wouldn’t be investing so much money in trying to get rid of one person," she said. "So while it bothers me, it also encourages me that our movements are starting to drive things forward.”

Orion saidys this contest suggests a “spirited” general election to come.