Seattle City Hall sign and steps.
Seattle City Hall. (The Urbanist)

Right-leaning political action committees have spent more than one million dollars to support their aligned Seattle candidates.

Control of the Seattle City Council is on the line and wealthy and powerful special interests are not going to let a good opportunity to tip the scales pass them by. At the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s last count, independent expenditures had reached $1,421,913 across the seven Seattle council races, with the vast majority being spent to support the more conservative candidates — in other words, the candidates that didn’t win The Urbanist endorsement.

The Urbanist endorsed the following slate on the strength of their vision for housing, safety, and climate action:

Meanwhile The Seattle Times, which typically defines the centrist lane, went with a completely different slate, endorsing Rob Saka, Tanya Woo, Joy Hollingsworth, Maritza Rivera, Cathy Moore, Pete Hanning, and Bob Kettle, respectively. The money has poured in to support this more corporate-friendly slate, which is also generally more hesitant to add denser housing in single-family neighborhoods — a perennial pet issue of The Seattle Times editorial board.

Collectively, the money has nearly added up to the $1.5 million money bomb that Amazon dropped in 2019, which pundits declared a dud that backfired by firing up the progressive vote. This time around, centrist boosters have taken pains to launder their cash between different committees for each race, and no one donor has contributed as large of a sum of money. Each committee gets a wholesome sounding name with “Neighbors” at the end even though much of the money is from elites, often from outside the district.

“They’ve apparently learned from that 2019 PR blunder,” Hannah Krieg noted in The Stranger. “The Chamber swore off fundraising when the new CEO took over in 2020, but now the same rich donors who previously dumped their cash into the Chamber’s IE have spread almost $1 million across six IEs branded as ‘[Insert Seattle area here] Neighbors,’ attempting to put a friendly face on Trumpers, real estate tycoons, giant corporations, and wealth-hoarding billionaires. Labor even added its worker money to the corporate pile in a couple races.”

The biggest campaign contributor this cycle is the realtor lobby: “The National Association of Realtors has also taken an interest in Seattle elections, spending $225,781 in support of Woo, Hollingsworth, Rivera and Kettle,” Crosscut‘s Josh Cohen wrote. Real estate mogul George Petrie, Seattle’s leading Trump donor in 2021, is another major donor, spreading $25,000 across four races, supporting Saka, Rivera, Moore, and Kettle.

Local celebrities have also gotten into the mix, with Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic donating in support of Woo and Hollingworth. It appears that one of the fathers of grunge wants Seattle to embrace a squeakier, cleaner image.

What did all this wealthy donor cash pay for? You’ve probably seen the mailers and ads. Some of the campaign literature is so deceptive that it has earned censure from local Democratic groups.

Many of the campaigns went negative, deceptively claiming the opponents of the centrist slate would stand in the way of Seattle hiring 1,400 cops. The main thing standing in the way is simple math, that the Seattle Police Department hasn’t been able to recruit faster than it is losing people, even with generous hiring bonuses and coddling from the mayor. The national shortage of police officers and the bad reputation and low favorability ratings that the Seattle Police Department have earned hasn’t helped either.

Nonetheless, ads trying to resurrect the defund narrative have targeted several candidates, particularly Black progressive candidate ObeySumner — a similar tactic they used against Nikkita Oliver in 2021.

Progressives don’t have the same war chest or arsenal to respond. Union campaign spending is down this cycle, running at about a third of the big spending labor marshaled in 2021, largely in support of mayoral candidate Lorena González. Even where labor is spending, some investments are going to back the centrist Seattle Times candidate, such as in D3 and D5, where MLK Labor Council has endorsed Hollingsworth and Moore.

All in all, the best antidote progressive urbanists have is to organize and mobilize by voting, telling your friends to vote, and helping with a door knock or phone bank. Last-minute progressive surges have carried the day before, and they can again.

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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.