This election, Seattle can do much to advance progressive causes and elevate visionary leaders. The flip side of the coin is a possible retreat to the comfortable conservatism of decades past. Blaming the poor for being poor, catering to the rich so they can consolidate even more wealth and power, and avoiding grappling with the city’s greatest challenges is not a great tradition to which to return. But that is what moderate candidates offer us like a brilliant discovery this cycle.
The Compassion Seattle ballot measure laid bare the political fault lines before it was struck down by the courts for exceeding the bounds of what a charter amendment can do. An unfunded mandate, Compassion Seattle promised to solve homelessness without raising new revenue by quickly standing up poorly defined “emergency housing” and then clearing parks of encampments. Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, and Republican Ann Davison backed the measure, along with real estate barons and elites that pumped more than a million dollars into the effort. With their ballot measure blocked, Compassion Seattle has pledged to campaign for these candidates as a proxy for their homelessness policy turf war.
Ironically, the candidates obsessed with compassion branding exercises actually appear uninterested in dramatically increasing housing opportunities in Seattle, especially in the wealthiest areas. The candidates talking about building tons of social housing, ending exclusionary zoning, and opening up exclusive neighborhoods to working class people are in fact on the Left, while the “Compassionate” moderates mostly avoid the subject or signal they’d keep exclusionary single-family zoning.
After spending many hours poring over questionnaires, interviewing candidates, and analyzing the race, The Urbanist Elections Committee came to a strong consensus. We see a slate of candidates up to the challenge of facing the interlinked crises around homelessness, climate, housing affordability, and racism. We see hope for a bright future and a better way of doing politics. It starts with Lorena González at the helm in Seattle, with Teresa Mosqueda and Nikkita Oliver on City Council and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy as City Attorney. Likewise, Joe Nguyen, Shukri Olow, Sarah Perry, and Kim-Khánh Văn would push King County to live up to its progressive values. Read on for our full analysis of each race.
Seattle Mayor: Lorena González
Council President González has been a stalwart for our core issues since arriving on City Council six years ago. Her life story — from migrant farm worker family to civil rights attorney to City Council — is inspiring. Her emphasis on ending exclusionary zoning is absolutely crucial as we move through a major update to the Comprehensive Plan and undo decades of inequity: something her opponent is staunchly against. While the primary brought many newcomers to the field, the general election is not about “insider vs outsider.” Instead it’s between two former City Council Presidents: do you want one that will move us forward with progressive vision, putting people first, and removing barriers? Or do you want four more years of obstruction, corporate interests, and regression?
We disagreed with González’s vote to approve the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract in 2018. But we are impressed with her growth since then, including her willingness to admit that it was the wrong call. We believe that González is willing to listen to her constituents, reinvest in the community, and hold police accountable.
González has a vision for a vibrant city and will work on a world class multimodal transportation network with the Move Seattle Levy because mobility justice and climate justice go hand in hand. She gave up her car for transit, and it has made her a better policymaker with a heightened understanding of where we need to improve and what the barriers are. While González is a regular rider of the RapidRide C, Bruce Harrell appears to have left his bus-riding days behind him and answered that his Tesla was his primary mode of transport at the forum we co-hosted.
On homelessness, González opposed the inhumane, unfunded mandate that is Compassion Seattle. She is against encampment sweeps and will focus on funding housing options that work; it is important to note that as City Council President she has been working on funding housing and programs that have unfortunately not been implemented by Mayor Jenny Durkan. With González as mayor, we will have an executive that works with the City Council to stand up programs and get dollars out the door so that the City can actually serve the community. She would proceed with “a human- and trauma-centered approach” focusing on getting folks into affordable and safe homes. Additionally, she would “expand our crisis response team, build more rapid and transitional housing, prioritize mental health services and access to jobs and income, stabilize the human service provider workforce and reform our exclusionary zoning laws.” She understands and is willing to fight to take down every barrier in the way of housing our neighbors.
Harrell offers more of the same failed Durkan administration policies geared toward the suburban set and Downtown powerbrokers. He has promised to carry out Compassion Seattle’s plan with accelerated timelines for rolling out emergency housing that appear even more unrealistic than what the ballot measure pledged. His unflinching commitment to aimless data-mining is meant to distract from the lack of substantive policy stances on key issues. As of mid-September, he is yet to publish a housing vision, let alone a plan. His website doesn’t even mention zoning. He would likely spend the next four years engaging in the same Durkan-esque delay and obstruction.
González will work with the City Council to get important things done, rather than undermine them and play the blame game. González will lead with courage and coalition building, and she will bring us forward by putting people over profits.
Vote González. Visit González’s website.
Seattle City Attorney: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, a former public defender who we endorsed in the primary, has toppled a decade-long incumbent in Pete Holmes. We are excited to continue to support her in the general election. Thomas-Kennedy plans to stop prosecuting almost all misdemeanors and redirect resources towards other functions of the office, such as enforcing city codes against abusive landlords and employers, expanding the victim advocate unit, and engaging in affirmative litigation on behalf of the people of Seattle.
Almost completely ending the City’s practice of prosecuting misdemeanors might sound extreme, but misdemeanors are, definitionally, minor offenses. Often, they are related to poverty or mental health crises. People who are convicted of misdemeanors return to our community in days or months (the maximum sentence length for a gross misdemeanor is 364 days under Washington law) with even fewer resources. A recent study of a district attorney’s office in Massachusetts published this March suggests that declining to prosecute people who have committed a misdemeanor offense can substantially lower the chance that they will interact with the criminal justice system again. And this past year, to lower the jail population during Covid, Baltimore’s State’s Attorney, Marilyn Mosby stopped prosecuting some misdemeanors. Baltimore’s violent crime rate dropped by 20%. Mosby has since announced the change will be permanent. Thomas-Kennedy believes that there are better ways to address harm and better ways to seek justice. We agree.
Thomas-Kennedy faces off against Ann Davison, a tough-on-crime Republican who ran for City Council in 2019 (challenging Debra Juarez from the right) and Lieutenant Governor in 2020. Despite the fact that the City Attorney’s office only has the authority to prosecute misdemeanors, Davison promises to “protect everyday people of Seattle by prosecuting violent crime,” citing crime statistics for felonies such as murder, aggravated assault, rape, and burglary on her campaign website. Davison is aware that the City Attorney cannot prosecute felonies, but believes that low-level crime leads to violent crime. Davison claims little knowledge of the dubious “broken windows” theory she is channeling with her campaign: “That theory gets a lot of flack, I think, and I don’t honestly read about theories,” she told Crosscut. The broken windows theory has been widely disproven, but she doesn’t seem concerned. In short, Davison’s approach is not evidence-based and relies on fear-mongering at the expense of Seattle’s most vulnerable residents.
Primary voters have made it clear that Seattle is ready for a new approach. We have the opportunity to elect a transformational City Attorney who will not prosecute homeless people for stealing food. We should do so.
Seattle City Council Pos. 8: Teresa Mosqueda
Councilmember Mosqueda has made this race an easy decision and exciting endorsement. She has prioritized housing and progressive revenue, is working on legislation for repealing the apartment ban, and is committed to carving up the police budget and serving it up to the community with appropriate services. Mosqueda grabbed nearly 60% of the vote in the primary and will face civil engineer Kenneth Wilson, whose main issue seems to be prioritizing car traffic and whinging about the West Seattle Bridge.
On Council, Mosqueda does an amazing job threading the needle of fighting for progressive causes to support our most marginalized community members, while still being able to actually deliver wins — like with the Jumpstart tax, which saved Seattle from draconian pandemic cuts. This tax is just one mechanism already used to increase social housing, and she looks forward to also utilizing other methods such as expanding capital gains taxes, a graduate income tax with rebates for lower income folks, and a CEO ratio tax to fund social housing so that we can fight displacement and deliver housing. She was a no vote on repealing the 2018 head tax, which showed she was willing to stand up to corporate backlash even if a majority of her colleagues were not at that time.
She sponsored the Racial Equity Toolkit to prove what we all know: that single-family zoning policy is racist and exclusionary. Mayor Durkan dragged her feet and delayed the report for a year and a half, but Mosqueda is still preparing legislation to act on the report and address the 75% of residential land that is off-limits to anyone who can’t afford a mortgage. Mosqueda wants to spread growth around the city, to create a more inclusive and less English-centric process, and to pair anti-displacement and environmental justice efforts with zoning strategies. We’re enamored.
One area where Councilmember Mosqueda has fallen flat was her vote for the 2018 police contract. She has admitted that that vote was the wrong vote and is “committed to downsizing SPD and investing in alternatives that emphasize community health and safety so fewer folks ever have to interact with armed officers.”
Overall, Mosqueda is the councilmember most poised to shepherd housing reform, progressive revenue, and the Green New Deal through city hall, as her record clearly shows. Seattle is lucky to have her.
Vote Mosqueda. Visit Mosqueda’s website.
Seattle City Council Pos. 9 – Nikkita Oliver
We endorsed Nikkita Oliver in the primary as a once-in-a-generation visionary leader and we do so again for the general election. An organizer, attorney, and executive director of youth diversion program Creative Justice, Oliver rose to prominence when they ran for Mayor in 2017. After police brutalized and tear gassed protesters in 2020, Oliver led a 12,000-strong rally to Seattle City Hall and masterfully held Mayor Jenny Durkan’s feet to the fire, refusing to negotiate behind closed doors and bringing the Mayor’s utter failure out into the light of day.
Since their mayoral run in 2017, Oliver has come back with a sharper platform, particularly with regard to exclusionary zoning. A decidedly pro-housing candidate, Oliver supports raising progressive revenue to build more social housing in spades. They are looking to not just repeal the apartment ban, but use an urban infill strategy like Portland and promote co-ops and community land trusts. Scaled up, such a social housing strategy could be transformational, helping low-income BIPOC families build wealth after being denied opportunities for so many generations.
Oliver has a knack not just for taking bold stances, but also for communicating them to the public — a skill sorely needed on the City Council. They came out clearly against Compassion Seattle demagoguery, for defunding SPD, for investing in BIPOC communities, and for making public transit free. To meet our climate goals, they know Seattle needs to create tons of sustainable housing, to prioritize transit, to complete safe walking and biking networks, and to really design the city for fewer cars instead of just making lofty speeches while continuing the unworkable status quo.
Oliver’s opponent is former legislative aide to Richard Conlin, Sara Nelson. Nelson lacks the oratory, organizing skills, and vision of Oliver, but she is a well-connected White business owner, which is good for 39% in the primary, apparently. Her housing plan is more of the same regressive policies of the past. Apartments go along busy highways and arterials while most of single-family land stays untouched. This is the same playbook we’ve been operating under since the 1990s and it hasn’t worked out well given skyrocketing rents, disparate health outcomes, and widening inequality. Such a conservative approach would dash hopes of creating abundant affordable housing for working class Seattleites and reorienting a deeply inequitable housing system.
On policing, Nelson is even worse and advocates for pouring more money into a deeply dysfunctional and hostile police department. She pays lip service to accountability and is driving a harder bargain during police contract negotiations, but shows no history of actually standing up to the police, unlike her opponent.
Likewise, her homelessness plan packages together some buzzwords but is hollow at its core. Her first suggestion is to reinvent the One Night Count, which she suggests are iffy “guesstimates” — because counting more than 10,000 people spread out across the county is so easy. Nelson says she will end encampments and she backed the pro-sweeps Compassion Seattle ballot measure to write homelessness policy into the City Charter, which makes sense when you see how few cogent ideas are in her campaign plan to actually end encampments — at least without requiring bulldozers, riot police, and a “Seattle Is Dying” style prison island.
Which leaves us here: we need to stop Sara Nelson. And we genuinely think Nikkita Oliver is a visionary of the kind that could transform our city’s politics. Oliver’s primary win shows that a candidate can articulate a clear moral vision of an unabashedly progressive future, do the hard organizing work, and win. We are inspired.
Vote Oliver. Visit the Nikkita For Nine campaign here.
See Oliver’s questionnaire here. Nelson skipped our questionnaire.
King County Executive: Joe Nguyen
Dow Constantine hasn’t faced a strong challenger since winning his seat in 2009, but he’s found one now in State Senator Joe Nguyen. Nearing the end of his first term in the State Senate, Nguyen has distinguished himself more than many first-term senators by making tangible progress on several urgent issues. Overturning the state ban on affirmative action, expanding access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and making progress on holding police accountable to the public they serve — all of these might have not been possible without Nguyen. He’s also been an urbanist voice in the wilderness of the Senate transportation committee, a climate-focused counterbalance to highway-building Chair Steve Hobbs.
Joe Nguyen’s record shows that he pushes for progressive change, even when it’s hard, and centers the lived experiences of those who are most frequently underrepresented in government. His championing of a fare-free Metro bus system comes from a place of knowing what impact that would have on places like Burien where he grew up.
Over his tenure, Executive Constantine has done plenty of things that The Urbanist applauds and celebrates, chief among them pushing for continued expansion of our region’s high capacity transit system. But the list of items on which he has not stood up to his own progressive reputation is nearly as long, with his strong support for the new King County juvenile detention facility at the top of that list. More recently, the offer of a loan to the developer of the $1.9 billion Washington State Convention Center expansion at the same time that the County was laying off bus drivers was, to put it lightly, not a good look.
We have also been frustrated with Constantine’s lack of progress on addressing the homelessness crisis countywide, as cities outside Seattle try to opt out of regional solutions. His failed countywide payroll tax push would have raised far less money than Seattle’s parallel proposals from twice the tax base and seemed calibrated to steal Seattle’s thunder and placate big business rather than maximize housing funding.
King County is ready for new leadership. Nguyen has shown himself able to achieve real results for Washingtonians and we are excited to see what he can achieve for King County.
Vote Nguyen. Visit Nguyen’s campaign website here.
King County Council District 3: Sarah Perry
Sarah Perry is a nonprofit leader who has been active in community causes and worked on campaigns in eastern King County for decades. Perry is a member of the Issaquah Kiwanis Club, Sno-Valley and Greater Issaquah Chambers of Commerce, and One-Redmond. She is also familiar with affordable housing creation having led Eastside Housing (now Springbroad Alliance) as executive director. Her husband Bill Ramos represents the 5th Legislative District in the state house.
Perry’s plans include delivering Covid recovery, small business support, improving transit and bike options, prioritizing affordable housing, and investing in mental health care, elder care, and child care. With smart plans and a distinguished career in civic service, Perry is the clear choice for the 3rd District.
In contrast, Kathy Lambert has been an obstacle to progress on the County Council. A big recent example of this was when Lambert tried to impede a commonsense tenant protection package and teamed up with the landlord lobby to spread misinformation. A member of the Skybox 5, Lambert voted to subsidize the multi-billion-dollar Seattle Mariners baseball franchise rather than invest $135 million in public money in affordable housing instead, as some of her colleagues proposed.
Vote Sarah Perry. Visit Sarah Perry’s website here.
King County Council District 5: Shukri Olow
Shukri Olow was the very first of our candidate interviews, and yet at the end of 17+ hours, her energy and vision for serving South King County remained in the top of our minds. Looking to unseat Dave Upthegrove, a progressive council member who we would otherwise have few qualms with, she won us over with the enthusiasm and clarity with which she brings community voice forward. Olow’s campaign centers around four priorities: legal justice reform, human services, resilient businesses, and housing — all of which resonated with our urbanist sensibilities.
It is one thing to have big dreams as a non-incumbent, but Olow also boasts a breadth of experience and a knack for persevering. Olow has the lived experience of growing up in public housing in Kent after coming to the United States as a refugee. In addition, her career has taken her across a range of public institutions and community organizations including Seattle Public Schools, Seattle Housing Authority, and King County, her current position — she knows how to push systems to deliver for the people they serve.
In contrast, Upthegrove appears focused on hanging on to his seat at any cost rather than showing up for communities most in need. The Stranger reported in August that Upthegrove has berated several progressive leaders and accused them of not endorsing him only because he’s a White guy. This kind of entitled behavior cheapens the discourse and is disrespectful to his highly qualified opponent.
Olow’s drive to lead and ability to strategize came through when discussing the impacts of the past year. She boldly leans into the changes that have happened during Covid and wants to keep what have been surprise wins — simplifying and expediting housing — in addition to using what has happened in the past year to show us where the system is broken. We need more advocates and coalition builders like Olow on the King County Council.
Vote Olow. Visit Olow’s website here.
King County Council District 9: Kim-Khánh Văn
Kim-Khánh Văn presents a clear progressive alternative to Republican stalwart Reagan Dunn. Her family emigrated from Vietnam as refugees when she was six. In her professional life, Văn is an attorney and has served on the Renton City Council since 2019. She has stood up for investments to shelter homeless people during the pandemic, voting no when her colleagues evict 235 people sheltered in the Red Lion Hotel. That leadership suggests to us she’d also stand up to anti-homeless pressure on the King County Council.
We endorsed Equitable Development Initiative program manager Ubax Gardheere in the primary, but were also impressed with Văn’s campaign. The Văn Plan focuses on building more affordable housing and housing the homeless relying on compassionate evidence-based solutions. She promises to fight for more transit service for South King County and investments in safe infrastructure for people walking, rolling, and biking.
Incumbent Reagan Dunn has opposed good policymaking at nearly every turn. He voted against the 2019 King County Parks levy, opposed the necessary changes to the King County Sheriff’s office in 2020, and continues to be a constant nuisance as he opposed a much-needed tenant rights bill that could slow evictions and displacement in unincorporated King County. This opportunity to elect a forward thinking, urbanist-minded representative from District 9 will deeply influence the agenda from the King County Council going forward.
Seattle School Board District 4: Vivian Song Maritz
Our endorsed candidate in the primary, incumbent Erin Dury, didn’t advance. Dury was insightful and we hope she continues to be a strong leader in education. But the show must go on…. and so we endorse Vivian Song Maritz for the general election. Maritz is strong on transportation and mental health services, but lacks the abolitionist lens we would hope to see on the board.
In her questionnaire, Maritz outlined the importance of technology within Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and applauded the district’s ability to provide a device for each student during the pandemic but acknowledged that there were still many improvements to be made to technology access in SPS. With the possibility of more remote learning looming over the district, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on technology access for students.
Her support of the Highly Capable Cohort programs within the district is problematic. In her questionnaire she stated she “would encourage universal testing and expanding the qualification criteria beyond a single standardized test.” Broadening access is a nice thought, but we hope Maritz can evolve her stance on advance placement programs rooted in segregation within the district.
Maritz believes transportation should be a core priority for the district. We appreciate her nod to protected bike corridors as well as continuing to partner with Metro and Sound Transit to provide transit options for students. We see the urbanist potential in Maritz and appreciate her action-oriented answers.
Vote Maritz. Visit Maritz’s website.
Seattle School Board District 5: Michelle Sarju
Michelle Sarju sets the bar for what a school board candidate should be: someone who is passionate about (and has made a career in) child development with the understanding of (and another career in) how public systems operate all while bringing a critical eye to the social inequities that play out in our schools. And that’s just the beginning.
With her background as a midwife and maternal-child health professional, Sarju is intimately familiar with preparing kids from birth until school-age for a system that is ultimately not ready for them. She is persistent on racial equity and addressing the ways our schools perpetuate disparities and lack support for students that need it the most. At a time when the lack of resources in our public systems is an occasion to pin the responsibility on schools *cough* homelessness *cough*, Sarju is insistent that Seattle Public Schools stays in its lane to both focus on serving students and push back on the pressures to take care of the Durkan administration’s problems.
Sarju is here to push the district to adopt policies and programs that reach students on a broader spectrum, whether that is making a system not just about college and boosting partnerships with trades training or phasing out standardized testing. It is here that her most recent professional role — working for the King County Public Health during Covid — gives her the perspective and inspiration to use external partnerships as a key factor in providing resources.
SPS is facing more challenges than ever with the added stress of the pandemic and we need people like Sarju who understand that we must put the mental and emotional health of students at the forefront.
Vote Sarju. Visit Sarju’s website here.
Seattle School Board District 9: Brandon Hersey
The Seattle School District is blessed to have someone like Brandon Hersey serving on its board. Appointed to the position in 2019, Hersey is the only active teacher and the only serving Director with any K-12 experience. Retaining someone with the on-the-ground knowledge of what it takes to be a teacher in a current school provides a wealth of benefits. The low rate of Director compensation is shameful compared to the benefit Hersey provides to the district.
We support his proposal to eliminate the ability of individual PTAs in the district to buy staff, and to shift resources around the district to address systemic inequality. We also support him in making changes to the District’s Highly Capable Cohort program, which he rightly called a racially segregated model. These are big changes that need to happen at Seattle Public Schools, and we think Brandon Hersey is the right person for the job.
Vote Hersey. Visit Hersey’s website here.
Seattle Port Commission Pos. 1: Ryan Calkins
Ryan Calkins has been a welcome progressive voice on the Port of Seattle Commission since he was first elected four years ago. We’re glad to have a Commissioner who comes at Port policy from an angle of accelerating how the agency responds to climate change. Calkins recognizes how damaging a new cruise ship terminal at Terminal 46 would be to our region’s environmental health. He recognizes that the Port needs to do a lot more to address the impacts from ground transportation to the Port’s busiest facilities. He was an outspoken advocate for passing the Low Carbon Fuel Standard during this past state legislative session, a goal that was achieved.
We are hopeful that with even more progressive leadership arriving on the Commission next year, that progress can be ramped up even more. We recognize that the Port, like an obscenely large cruise ship, takes a while to turn around. Nevertheless, we remain worried about advocacy at the Port for projects like the Puget Sound Gateway highway expansion project that have the potential to advance Port goals at the expense of overburdened communities and our region as a whole.
Ryan Calkins’ urbanist compass points in exactly the right direction, and we’re excited for him to continue using it in his role.
Vote Calkins. Visit Calkin’s website here.
Seattle Port Commission Pos. 3: Hamdi Mohamed
We believe it’s time for fresh energy on the Port Commission and we appreciate challenger Hamdi Mohamed’s community-driven approach to continuing the good work that Commissioner Calkins has spearheaded. Mohamed, whose mother worked in service at Sea-Tac when their family arrived as refugees from Somalia, served as Deputy District Director for Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal and as a policy advisor to the King County Office of Equity and Social Justice.
Mohamed smartly highlighted the importance of bike connections to the airport and noted the absurdity of a plan that treats paving a nearby park for a new employee parking lot as a serious option, which had incumbent Bowman backpedaling. Sea-Tac, by the way, already contains America’s largest parking structure at 13,000 parking spots. It’s time for a change at the port.
Vote Mohamed. Visit Mohamed’s website here.
Seattle Port Commission Pos. 4: Toshiko Hasegawa
Toshiko Grace Hasegawa is a breath of fresh air and deserves your vote. Incumbent Peter Steinbrueck has a history of opposing urbanist priorities (in fact he’s made a career of it as a consultant) and it’s high time he hung it up.
Toshiko comes from a political family with strong union ties, the daughter of State Senator Bob Hasegawa. She seemed a little green or noncommittal on some issues, but we were impressed by her strong backing for high-speed rail and greening the seaport. Plus, she proposed an intriguing idea of using the Port to land bank properties to clear the way for high-speed rail. The Port has bragged of beating its climate goals, but, since it doesn’t count emissions from the fuels burned for planes, ships, trucks, and cars reaching its terminal, it’s a pretty hollow boast. Moreover, the Port pipes in recovered landfill gas from long distance to meet its climate goals, which unfortunately encourages us to keep pipelines we should be phasing out and results in methane leakage that cancels out some of the climate gain. We need redoubled efforts rather than backslapping, and Hasegawa seemed to get that. For example, she noted the importance of safe bike lanes, even in industrial SoDo, and that the Port should collaborate with Seattle in implementing its bike master plan.
Steinbrueck claimed to be a climate champion, but actions speak louder than words, no matter the decibels. Steinbrueck has led the charge trying to kill a key protected bike lane on West Marginal Way, proposing an expensive, unfunded, inferior sidewalk alternative that preserves car lanes. He represents the last gasp of lesser-Seattle style politics, popular during his stint on Seattle City Council from 1997 to 2008 — a fruitless era.
Vote Hasegawa and don’t look back. Get plugged into Hasegawa’s campaign here.
The Urbanist Elections Committee consists of Hayley Bonsteel, Lizzy Jessup, Ryan Packer, Maya Ramakrishnan, Jazmine Smith, Doug Trumm, Rian Watt, and Frances Wolfe.
Voter information: The General Election voting period starts October 15th; ballots must be postmarked by 8pm November 2nd. For voter information or to register to vote, visit the State election website. Peruse our questionnaires here.
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