It’s that time of year. Amazon is cutting a million-dollar check to Seattle’s chamber of commerce political action committee. Their candidates are talking about accountability and responsibility, and we still don’t know what that means–but it seems to pay well. Milquetoast Moderates insist it’s their time. To do what? It’s unclear. Keep a low profile? Shy away from taxes? Hold business roundtables? Valet park their wealthiest constituents?

Luckily, candidates with stronger aspirations than being Jeff Bezos’s lapdogs are out there. We have before us an inspired pack of urbanist progressives that generally care about making it safer for people walking, rolling, and biking to get around. They’re willing to raise progressive revenue to fund affordable housing and transit upgrades. We sought candidates that had an equity lens and used it to construct policies rather than only to destruct them.

The Urbanist Election Board crafted a questionnaire zeroed in on these issues, and we published highlighted candidate responses on issues like congestion pricing, affordable housing strategies, the streetcar, Vision Zero, and evictions/displacement. Additionally, we hosted candidates for in-person interviews and finally arrived at our endorsements.

1 to 7 in Seattle City Council vote Herbold, Morales, Sawant, Scott, Juarez, Strauss, Lewis. (Graphic by Hayley Bonsteel)

No On Tim Eyman’s I-976

Tim Eyman isn’t just after our office chairs, he’s trying to gut our transportation system.

Tim Eyman has dedicated his life to cutting taxes in Washington State and his latest terrible initiative, I-976, would put over $25 billion (yes, BILLION!) at risk for critical state transportation projects. I-976 would impact every community throughout Washington State, taking away precious funding for transit service and expansion, ferries, Amtrak, Washington State Patrol, and road and bridge maintenance.

I-976 would limit all car tab fees in Washington State to $30, and reduce other vehicle licensing and weight fees. It would take away 61 cities’ authority to use Transportation Benefit Districts for car tabs, cutting $60 million for local municipalities to pay for road improvements and transit service in their community. For example, the car tab portion of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District would disappear, cutting $36 million that funds hundreds of thousands of bus service hours and Seattle’s youth ORCA program.

It also would severely delay or potentially cut Sound Transit light rail projects, and puts close to 40% of the entire ST3 package at risk. This initiative also cuts transit access services for people with disabilities, seniors, students, and Northwest Tribes, and could shut down rural transit agencies like Mason Transit and Garfield Transit that depend on state funding to run its transit service.

The bottom line is I-976 would increase congestion and leave people with fewer transportation options. Spread the word and vote No on I-976.

Seattle City Council

D1: Lisa Herbold

Councilmember Lisa Herbold is a hardworking legislator. She takes bold progressive stands, but she also often defends the status quo when it comes to parking, single-family zoning, and sabotaging the streetcar. She can talk about equity while trying to sink an extra billion dollars building a light rail tunnel to West Seattle whose primary function appears aesthetic–and which will almost surely delay light rail reaching High Point, Westwood Village, and White Center. Despite some suburban proclivities, Herbold is a net positive on the city council, willing to stand up to big corporations.

Her opponent Phil Tavel is a chamber darling who ironically has a dozen failed business ventures to his name and thousands of dollars in unpaid traffic tickets. Accountability and fiscal responsibility starts at home, dude. While Herbold got most of her irresponsible driving behavior out of her system in the 1990’s, Tavel apparently is still driving like a jerk to this day. He goes further than Herbold in opposing upzones and pandering to and embodying car culture.

We hope to see more of the Herbold that voted for the head tax and championed affordable housing funding–and less of the Herbold that launched into soliloquies railing against the streetcar and new parking reforms at every opportunity. Vote Herbold.

Read Lisa Herbold’s questionnaire responses here.

D2: Tammy Morales

Tammy Morales earned our endorsement in the primary and cruised to a first place win with more than 50% of the vote. She’s a strong supporter of transit and affordable housing, and she’s backed by a wide progressive coalition. Morales has a vision for incorporating race and social justice into the City’s work, and she has experience implementing that vision as an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and a legislative director in the Texas Legislature.

That said, Morales’ proposal to make each development project go through a displacement analysis seems like a recipe for a logjam. Displacement analysis should happen at a higher level. She’s also been skeptical of congestion pricing. While she has signaled some flexibility here, we worry when an equity lens is lavished on motorists while ignoring people stuck in buses clogged in congestion. Challenging car culture is good for equity given the very high cost of car ownership and our coming climate reckoning.

Her opponent Mark Solomon is running a centrist pro-business campaign. Mayor Jenny Durkan endorsed him and tried to smear Morales as a socialist in order to support his primary chances. Solomon eked through the primary, but, as a yes man for the chamber and the mayor, it’s not clear what he has to offer the working class. Vote Morales.

Read Tammy Morales’ questionnaire responses here.

D3: Kshama Sawant

Councilmember Kshama Sawant is a controversial figure, but it’s clear she’s fighting for the least among us. Sawant pushed the city to raise the minimum wage to $15, which has been a big success, and she has continued to fight for rent control. She’s a reliable vote for safe streets infrastructure like protected bike lanes, and she didn’t just vote for Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) upzones, but also sponsored amendments bumping up capacity in her district.

Egan Orion, on the other hand, doesn’t seem ready for the tough calls a city councilmember has to make. Backed by copious spending from the Amazon-backed Civic Alliance for Sound Economy (CASE) political action committee (PAC), Orion has pleaded ignorance. “I didn’t realize CASE had political positions.” he said. We have news for you, Egan. They do. One example, CASE opposes the head tax on larger employers. Big surprise: Orion does too.

While Orion has staked out some urbanist positions and has tried to run to the left to siphon progressive votes from Sawant, it’s clear when the rubber meets the road, he’s got the back of Big Business well before he has our backs. Sawant, on the other hand, will lead the charge to find progressive tax revenue and stick it out when the fighting gets tough. Vote Sawant.

Read Kshama Sawant’s questionnaire responses here.

D4: Shaun Scott

It’s a tale of two starkly different candidates. One is a social justice urbanist. One is not (and got a pathetic 1.25 stars from CAPE). Vote for the urbanist: Shaun Scott.

Scott wants to end apartment bans that are excluding the working class from wide swaths of Seattle. Alex Pedersen wants to expand apartment bans. Scott supported Sound Transit 3 (ST3) and backs ST4 plans, too. Pedersen opposed ST3 and is silent on ST4. Scott wants to shrink parking requirements to encourage affordable housing and lower our carbon footprint. Pedersen champions increasing parking requirements. Scott supported Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) rezones. Pedersen tried to block them. 

Scott is an avid supporter of the Seattle Green New Deal. Pedersen snipes from the sidelines. Scott supports decongestion pricing. Pedersen does not. Scott backs the downtown streetcar. Pedersen wants to cut it. Scott supports municipal broadband. Pedersen does not–and benefits from Comcast’s political spending. Scott wants a public energy utility to replace fracked-gas-crazy Puget Sound Energy. Pedersen doesn’t and is benefiting from Puget Sound Energy’s campaign spending. Scott supported and still supports the head tax. Pedersen is staunchly opposed–and benefits from Amazon’s half million $1.45 million in political spending this cycle. The list goes on, but by now it should be clear the only responsible vote is a vote for Scott.

Read Shaun Scott’s questionnaire responses here.

D5: Debora Juarez

Councilmember Debora Juarez is a strong advocate for the new light rail station at 130th, making the project a reality after fighting to include it in ST3. She is also pro-density and supports Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones, as well as fighting for sidewalks in her district, specifically in the Bitter Lake and Licton Springs neighborhoods. 

We hope that Juarez learns to advocate for both pedestrians and people biking, rather than pitting the causees against each other. Bike lanes benefit pedestrians too, making streets safer for all users. Juarez failed to stand up for people biking, walking and rolling on NE 35th Street, preferring to mostly duck the topic, but we hope next time around she’ll wade into the fight on the side of safety.

Although we have our issues with Juarez, her opponent, Ann Davison Sattler is no good. Sattler is a member of Safe Seattle, a conservative hate group focused on punishing homeless people, and is against upzones, backyard cottages, bike lanes, and everything urbanist. Vote Juarez.

Read Debora Juarez’s questionnaire responses here.

D6: Dan Strauss

After the primary, we’re left with a choice between former Councilmember Heidi Wills, who despite some progressive window dressing represents the reactionary view in this race, and son of Ballard Dan Strauss. District 6 has not covered itself with glory in this race, particularly on urbanist issues. Still, Strauss is clearly the better candidate of the two and has improved on the trail, in contrast to Wills. He showed up at a claim the lane for climate rally, for example, and has said he’d support congestion pricing if it addresses equity concerns.

Back in the primary, we wrote that “you may remember Heidi Wills from the way her first term on city council ended back in 2003. We will remember that she named three additional types of golf (foot, frisbee, and mini) when asked for alternative uses for the Jefferson Park golf course.” Wills continues to push a harebrained elevated trail option to solve the Burke-Gilman Trail’s Missing Link without a clear funding plan. Wills has also suggested that if single-family homeowners don’t want growth, the neighborhood plans should respect that–a recipe for inaction and racial exclusion. As “a committed advocate for the Chamber of Commerce and for reactionary homeowners” we said “that simply won’t work for us.” That assessment still stands. 

Alas, Strauss prefers the Leary Way alignment for Missing Link in a nod to industrial businesses that tug hard on his Son of Ballard heartstrings. Even with this new wavering voice, the city council must not waver in supporting the safer South Shilshole alignment. And while both candidates are wary of a new head tax, Strauss has taken pains to identify himself with Mike O’Brien’s priorities if not his tactics. He’s also the only one of the two candidates open to a safe injection site in Ballard, which shows guts we commend (even if we fear it’ll never happen). We’d prefer Mike O’Brien, of course, but you can’t always get what you want. Vote Strauss.

Read Dan Strauss’ questionnaire responses here.
Read Heidi Wills’ questionnaire here.

D7: Andrew Lewis

District 7 should be a hotbed of progressive urban policy discussion, with South Lake Union, Uptown, Denny Triangle, Belltown, and Downtown taking on a huge percentage of Seattle’s population growth. Instead, Queen Anne and Magnolia have dominated the issues for most of the campaign, and none of the candidates that won the primary election appear to be real urbanist champions. But the choice between Andrew Lewis and Jim Pugel is an easy one.

Andrew Lewis is a car-free renter who lives in Uptown. Jim Pugel is a former Seattle Police Department chief who has shifted his campaign after the primary to NIMBY dogwhistles around out-of-control growth in Queen Anne and concerns about bike lanes. Andrew Lewis has not engaged in this rhetoric. He’s a fourplex enthusiast, actually.

While Lewis has stated he did not support the head tax and would not support bringing it back, he does appear more committed to fixing Seattle’s incredibly regressive tax structure than his opponent. And while his position on the Center City Connector (opposing it) is puzzling given his supposed positions on other transit investments, he has stated he would move the project to completion. 

Without question Lewis is the better candidate to be a champion for climate change on the city council, supporting the Green New Deal with concrete details, supporting cross-laminated timber in new buildings, and advocating for the rapid expansion of our transit and bike lane network. Vote Lewis.

Read Andrew Lewis’ questionnaire responses here.
Read Jim Pugel’s questionnaire responses here.

Port of Seattle

Commissioner Position 2: Sam Cho

The Urbanist endorses Sam Cho for Port Position 2. Preeti Shridhar was our preferred candidate in the primary but in the general, Cho is clearly the best choice. Cho has the backing of labor and we expect he’ll be a strong advocate for working class interests on the port commission. He also would be the only commissioner of color and the only commissioner that doesn’t live in Seattle.

With that said, we hope Cho comes around on his car-centric view of mobility and saves his political capital for big ideas that would meaningfully address our biggest crises. He opposed tolling on Airport Drive in our questionnaire and congestion pricing. During our interview, he supported high-speed rail but said he wouldn’t support using right-of-way on I-5. His biggest idea was expanding port facilities in Moses Lake to get freight out of congestion. Sometimes it seems like we’ll do anything to keep people sitting in traffic in their private vehicles.

The future of freight mobility depends on getting people out of cars. Sea-Tac Airport is nearing capacity without the ability to expand. Transportation is the number one cause of emissions in Seattle. Any sustainable future, with free flowing freight, depends on getting people out of their cars and candidates that oppose tolling are fundamentally unserious about this reality.

Cho’s opponent is the epitome of a milquetoast moderate. As mayor of Bellevue, he didn’t distinguish himself. So, yes, vote for Cho. He’s young, smart, and ambitious. Hopefully he’ll come around on real policy solutions.

Read Sam Cho’s questionnaire responses here.

Commissioner Position 5: Fred Felleman

The Urbanist endorses Fred Fellman in Port Position 5. The Urbanist declined to endorse in this race during the primary mostly because we were not able to interview him. But he did complete The Urbanist questionnaire and his answers match his reputation as an environmentalist. Fellman voiced support for critical policy solutions like: tolling Airport Drive, HB 1110 (cleaning up transportation fuels), and electrical infrastructure allowing docked ships to run on electricity rather than engines. Felleman should also receive the most credit for the establishment of the port’s Energy and Sustainability Committee, which is meant to hold the port accountable to its climate goals.

Felleman’s opponent brings virtually nothing to the debate and skipped our questionnaire. 

Despite Felleman’s environmental credibility, he could still show more leadership and ambition. To be honest, many of his accomplishments, such as a few solar panels, feel small bore and lacking the urgency the climate crisis demands. We also continue to find the Port at odds with regional sustainability goals. Port commissioners need to be more outspoken in regards to expanding sustainable transportation better utilizing port lands. We hope Felleman pushes the commission to become even more ambitious in his next term.

Read Fred Felleman’s questionnaire responses here.

King County

Council Position 2: Girmay Zahilay

Girmay Zahilay exudes an interest in representing his constituents and making the King County Council more relevant to District 2. Despite Zahilay’s praise for the incumbent, Larry Gossett, implicit in the newcomer’s campaign is some kind of criticism of the sitting councilmember. The thrust of Zahilay’s campaign is that he will be more connected and engaged with constituents.

We’re inclined to agree: he seems to feel the urgency of issues facing his community (we’re talking about Skyway–look it up)—and so we’re betting he’ll be bolder on things like housing affordability. He has a default equity analysis seemingly built into his thinking, which we really need in our elected officials, particularly if they’re going to be bold–we can’t risk our good ideas having dire consequences for disadvantaged groups because we didn’t think them through enough, but we also can’t wait to make big changes. We hope he’ll grow to the level of nuance he’ll need to get things done at the county level given competing city perspectives.

And on transit, Zahilay is clearly all in on the need for good bus service, although his hesitancy regarding Transportation Benefit Districts makes us a little nervous. Car tabs are how we pay for transit, Girmay—until you figure out something better (or Tim Eyman blows it up). We are hopeful that his run brings another smart, engaged person into elected office. Vote Zahilay.

Read Girmay Zahilay’s questionnaire responses here.

Council Position 4: Abigail Doerr

We endorsed Doerr for this position back in August, despite warm fuzzy feelings for incumbent Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and we’ve seen nothing since then to suggest a change of opinion is in order.

Through her recent work as the Campaign Director for Yes on 1631, the statewide carbon emissions fee initiative, Doerr understands what’s at stake for future generations and the pressing need to act on climate now. She gets the urgency and impressed us with her vision to pass a bold countywide climate plan.

While Kohl-Welles, who was a State Senator and Representative before her term on King County Council, has a good track record on urbanist issues, and we appreciated many of her responses, she does not seem to approach legislating with the urgency required by the climate catastrophe. Time is ticking. We need bold climate action, and we need a King County Councilmember who is pushing ahead rather than complacent with the status quo.

As a car-free renter and a climate and transportation advocate, we believe Doerr will add a different perspective and sense of purpose and urgency to a sleepy King County Council. We are confident that she will elevate urbanist issues on a county level. Vote Doerr.

Read Abigail Doerr’s questionnaire responses here. 
Read Jeanne Kohl-Welles’ questionnaire responses here.

Council Position 6: Claudia Balducci

Councilmember Claudia Balducci is the walking, biking, and transit advocate that the Eastside, and King County, deserves. As the chair of Sound Transit’s system expansion committee, she is guiding the generational decisions being made on behalf of future light rail riders. 

King County also plays a huge role in expanding the regional trail network, expanding options for car-free travel in the county. The King County parks levy passed this year will design or construct 16 new regional trail connections and county council oversight will be needed to guide these investments.

Balducci is also the chair of the King County Council’s regional transit committee, which will be tasked with making key decisions around the METRO CONNECTS long-range plan, including making up for the City of Seattle’s broken promises around the RapidRide network.

We’re not even going to mention her opponent, Bill Hirt, except to say that he opposes light rail—that’s all you need to know. Vote Balducci

Council District 8: Joe McDermott

There are a lot of things we disagree with incumbent Councilmember Joe McDermott on. For one, he is a strong supporter of a light rail tunnel in West Seattle, a potential billion dollar add that could delay light rail beyond an already long timeline. 

We were also disappointed that he did not stand with fellow councilmembers in choosing to fund affordable housing to the maximum extent possible rather than giving those dollars away to the billionaire owner of Seattle’s baseball franchise. His vote was the deciding one not to send the issue to voters, as well.

McDermott should be a firebrand on the county council, but more frequently he’s just a wet blanket. But his opponent is a Safe Seattle acolyte who talks about the “homeless industrial complex” and should not be allowed within ten city blocks of a county council seat. 

We will give credit for bringing up the issue of fare enforcement on Sound Transit and its negative impacts more frequently in recent months. And he has supported other funding sources to add money to affordable housing, though nowhere near the level required. We’re hoping in his next term he finds a clearer voice for climate issues, public transit expansion, and housing. Vote McDermott.

The Urbanist Election Board is composed of Michael Austin, Hayley Bonsteel, Keiko Budech, Anna Minard, Owen Pickford, Ryan Packer, Doug Trumm, and Rian Watt.

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Elections Committee

The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting urbanism, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live. The Elections Committee consists of community volunteers and staff members of The Urbanist and is a standing body representing the political values of our organization.