Nicole Thomas-Kennedy is running for Seattle City Attorney. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

Primary results have been a Rorschach test for pundits, with moderates divining a moderate resurgence and lefties seeing progressives well-positioned. Late returns have strongly favored progressives.

The Seattle City Attorney’s race showed the centrist incumbent to be in a weak position and could be a bellwether of the city’s mood. Former public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, who is part of the abolitionist movement aiming to dramatically reorient America’s criminal legal system, has surged past incumbent Pete Holmes in Thursday’s ballot drop and appears headed to the General Election.

Other progressive candidates also gained in Thursday’s drop, suggesting early takes that it was centrist-dominated primary may have jumped the gun.

Update: With Friday’s drop that trend became even more pronounced as Thomas-Kennedy pulled into a 2.4 point lead, and other progressives gaining as well. Holmes conceded the race Friday afternoon after slipping farther out of contention.

Update to the update: After August 11th ballot returns, Thomas-Kennedy’s lead is up to 3.6 points. Nikkita Oliver’s lead is 1319 votes (0.7 points) over Sara Nelson. Bruce Harrell’s lead is down to just 1.9 points as Lorena González has gained.

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy gaining ground

Abolitionist Thomas-Kennedy is in fact gaining ground steadily enough that she could catch up to Republican Ann Davison as King County Elections processes more ballots if Thursday’s trend of progressives taking greater shares continues. Davison ran a hardline tough-on-crime campaign and sent out dramatic campaign ads blaming Holmes for letting felonies go unpunished, claims that are flat out distortion since the City Attorney office only has jurisdiction to charge misdemeanors, not felonies, which are charged by the King County Prosecutor. To defend her campaign claim, Davison rested on the broken windows theory, a discredited idea that locking people up for minor offenses greatly reduces serious crimes and civil unrest. Despite (or perhaps because of) her regressive platform, Davison won the Seattle Times endorsement, helping carry her through the primary. The Stranger and The Urbanist Election Committee both endorsed Thomas-Kennedy.

Ballots had to be postmarked by 8pm Tuesday, but we’ll see another significant drop this afternoon as more ballots make their way though the postal system, a trickle of late arrivals that will continue into early next week, according to King County Elections. Enough uncounted ballots remain that Davison slipping out of first is a real possibility. So far, nearly 134,000 Seattle ballots have been counted, and Wednesday’s drop added 14,714 ballots to the Mayor’s race, while Thursday’s drop added about 30,000. King County Election expects to add about 40,000 ballots in today’s drop and another 35,000 or so next week, The Stranger‘s Rich Smith reported. Monday will be the next drop.

The City Attorney election has lived up to the hype of a nailbiter of a three-way race. Republican Ann Davison started out with a solid early lead and actually gained some in Wednesday’s drop nearly reaching 35%, while Holmes was clinging to just a 551-vote lead over progressive challenger Thomas-Kennedy on Wednesday. Thursday’s drop reversed that trend with Thomas-Kennedy gaining the momentum and leapfrogging Holmes by a point to 33.2% of the total — just 1.3 points behind Davison. Ultimately, late returns heavily favored Thomas-Kennedy, leading her to swipe 36.4% of the vote to Davison’s 32.7%.

However, progressive trends emerging in the Mayoral and two City Council races are clearer.

González and Harrell showdown

Former three-term Councilmember Bruce Harrell and current Council President M. Lorena González will face off in the general election. They pulled far ahead of the rest of the field, with Colleen Echohawk in third and Jessyn Farrell in fourth. The Urbanist Election Committee endorsed Echohawk in the primary but also praised González (hint, hint).

Harrell is on a downward trend from 38% Wednesday to 36.9% Thursday. González, meanwhile, is trending up from 28.6% Wednesday to 29.6% Thursday. Though a distant third, Echohawk is also trending up from 8.6% Wednesday to 9.3% Thursday. Farrell faded slightly, sitting at 7.4%. It seems unlikely González will catch Harrell in the primary, but the margin between them could narrow considerably. Update: On Friday, Harrell’s lead shrank to just 3.6 points, as he lost almost two points and González gained 1.8 points. By August 11th, the lead was just 1.9 points.

Mosqueda coasts to decisive win

Incumbent Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s share of votes rose to 56.3% Thursday and 58.6% on Friday, adding more than three points from Wednesday. Civil engineer Kenneth Wilson appears to have secured the second spot with 16.5% of the vote, while viaduct-preservationist Kate Martin is at 11.8% as of Friday — both have faded a bit in late returns. All the ink spilled predicting an anti-Council mood seems to have barely effected Mosqueda, who shepherded through the JumpStart Seattle plan raising $214 million per year though a progressive corporate payroll tax for Covid relief, housing, and Green New Deal investments.

Nikkita Oliver to square off with Sara Nelson

In the hotly contested open Seattle City Council Position 9 race, Brewery owner Sara Nelson is leading, with community organizer, artist, and attorney Nikkita Oliver in second. Nelson share grew to 42.8% on Wednesday, but shrank to 42.1% Thursday, suggesting Oliver will narrow the margin. Oliver’s has been on upward trend from 35% Wednesday to 36.5% Thursday. That continued in Friday’s drop with Oliver hitting 39.2%, just 0.8 points back of Nelson, who faded further. By Monday Oliver passed Thomas, and the lead is 0.7 points and 1319 votes, as of August 11th. Brianna Thomas, who is Council President González’s Chief of Staff, is sitting at 13.6% as of Friday’s drop.

If Thomas’ supporters swing toward Oliver, progressives will be in strong position. But if Nelson ends up enticing many of them, then it could be her race to lose. The Urbanist Election Committee endorsed Oliver.

King County results: Lambert in trouble

Looking at King County races, three-term incumbent County Executive Dow Constantine has a healthy lead over challenger Joe Nguyen. But sitting at 53.3% 52.5% 51.9% with the potential to fade further hardly makes him a lock for reelection either. The Urbanist Election Committee endorsed Nguyen. Incumbent King County Councilmember Republican Kathy Lambert (District 3) is in trouble with just 40.8% of the vote and her margin shrinking — it’s at 40.1% as of August 11th. Challenger Sarah Perry will advance and likely prevail in the General.

In another King County Council race longtime conservative incumbent Pete von Reichbauer (District 7) is like Constantine in a strong, but not invincible position, carrying 54.3% 52.7% of the vote. It’s not clear who will face him with brewery owner Dominque Torgerson and Federal Way City Councilmember Lydia Assefa-Dawson neck and neck. Torgerson clung to a 95-vote lead, but in Friday’s drop Assefa-Dawson pulled ahead by 9 votes. Torgerson pulled back ahead Monday and is holding a 54-vote lead as of August 11th.

In the final King County Council race Republican incumbent Reagan Dunn (District 9) is in stronger position with 56.5% of the vote and will face Renton City Councilmember Kim-Khanh Van.

What’s on the line

People are interpreting election results a lot of different ways. The Seattle Times and Post Alley carried columns claiming centrists ascendant and interpreting results as backlash against the City Council. Crosscut columnist Katie Wilson, however, argued progressives were in the better position. Late returns have added credibility to Wilson’s case, but it is fair to say Seattle’s electorate is increasingly polarized.

Tough-on-crime throwback candidates could carry key races for Mayor, City Attorney, and the open City Council seat. That would likely take the wind out of the sails of major progressive reform efforts such as shrinking the role and footprint of the Seattle Police Department, passing progressive tax reform, and ending exclusionary zoning.

But by the same token, bold progressives could also win all of these races. The idea of an abolitionist City Attorney and City Councilmember was unthinkable a decade ago, but the prospect is realer than it ever has been. Wins here could finally shift a long-broken paradigm of arresting our way out of civil unrest and crimes of poverty and instead push us toward investing in public safety alternatives, our social safety net, and our communities in a time of high need.

Visions of what Seattle is all about and where we should chart our future are diverging. That makes this election really interesting, exciting, and, yes, a bit scary too. But with little risk tends to come little reward.

This article has been updated with Friday’s results and once more with returns on August 11th.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.