Among many other goals (neighborhood representation, “a voice for the people” at City Hall, closer council contact with constituents), one of the aims of district elections, in which every citizen has a council member from their general geographic area, was to reduce the role of money in local politics, by removing some of the barriers to entry that blocked ordinary citizens from running for city council. If candidates have to reach fewer people, the logic went, they shouldn’t have to spend as much money on fancy consultants, citywide mailings, and TV, radio, and print ads.
Did it work? With the filing deadline still more than a month away, it’s obviously too soon to say whether money will cease being the defining characteristic of successful council candidates, but it is clear that in races where incumbents are seeking reelection, challengers are finding it much harder to woo contributors. Chalk that up to the power of incumbency or the desire for some institutional knowledge on a council that will soon be filled with first-timers and political novices.
What’s also clear is that district elections have lowered the barriers to entry at least somewhat: Four years ago, when five incumbents were up for reelection, they drew a total of eight challengers. This year, six council incumbents (excluding the three open seats) have drawn 14 challengers.
(The total often cited as proof that districts shake up the system—40 candidates running in all—ignores the fact that there are open seats, although three of those seats arguably might not be open if it weren’t for district elections.)
Overall, the candidates, including both challengers and incumbents, are generally on par with where comparable contenders were at this time four years ago
I’ll go district by district, look at the money so far, and say what I think the numbers might indicate at this early stage. I’ll point out in advance that I’ve excluded candidates who aren’t likely to go far or raise much money; Alex Tsimerman fans, you can stop reading now.
In District 1, West Seattle, the hasty departure of three-term incumbent Tom Rasmussen has created a vacuum that ten candidates (previously 11) have volunteered to fill, more than a couple of them credible.
West Seattle’s District 1 has drawn 10 candidates … so far.
Shannon Braddock, a legislative aide to West Seattle’s representative on the King County Council, Joe McDermott, brought in $10,880 this month, for a total raised of $19,993, with $8,103 on hand. Lisa Herbold (who—full disclosure—is a longtime friend whom I’m supporting) brought in a comparable $10,324, for a total of $23,273 on hand. Brianna Thomas, a lefty housing advocate who worked on the $15 minimum wage campaign in SeaTac, raised $5,111 in March for a total of $16,034, with $11,576 on hand. And Charles (Chaz) Redmond, the first candidate to declare his intentions, back in late 2013), raised just $900 in March, for a total of $4,134 with $2,679 on hand.
Herbold and Braddock seem like the top contenders in this race, now that business owner Dave Montoure—owner of the West 5 bar and opponent of the $15 minimum—has dropped out.
In Southeast Seattle’s second district, incumbent Bruce Harrell has, as expected, far outraised challenger Tammy Morales, a food-systems advocate and principal at Urban Food Link. This past month, Harrell brought in $17,565, for a total of $96,421 raised with $75,662 on hand. In comparison, Morales raised $4,323 in March, for a total of $28,653 but with just $4,115 on hand. For Morales, success will be a strong showing against fundraising juggernaut Harrell, positioning her to run for an open seat in the future.
In Seattle’s District 3, three are challenging popular incumbent Kshama Sawant.
Over in Capitol Hill and central Seattle’s District 3, the realm of internationally popular Socialist council member Kshama Sawant, challenger Pamela Banks, formerly of the Urban League, raised $17,785 in March—her first month of fundraising—and has $6,460 on hand. Fellow challenger Rod Hearne, former director of the gay-rights group Equal Rights Washington, brought in $9,180 for a total of $30,295, with $14,536 on hand, while self-proclaimed women’s rights advocate Morgan Beach raised $2,587 in March, for a total of $8,406 with $5,340 on hand.
Incumbent Sawant, meanwhile, brought in more money than any of her challengers—$26,998, for a total of $51,329 with $7,677 on hand. Expect Banks to quickly catch up on Sawant in the money race, but remember that even big spending and an endorsement from Sawant’s turncoat colleague Harrell may not be enough to combat Sawant’s cult of personality.
Up in Northeast Seattle’s District 4, incumbent Jean Godden continue to spend money as fast as she raised it, bringing in $15,329 for a total of $63,152, but with just $21,451 on hand. (This month alone, more than $5,100 went to consultant Cathy Allen’s Connections Group, including $3,000 for consulting and thousands more for miscellaneous expenses. Godden spent another $2,000 on a fundraising consultant, McKenna Hartman).
Challenger Rob Johnson, longtime director of Transportation Choices Coalition, raised a comparatively meager $7,901, for a total of $38,293, but had almost as much as Godden—$18,497—on hand. Democratic Party activist and parks advocate Michael Maddux brought in $2,605 for a total of $9,845, with $5,619 on hand.
Further north in District 5, the only district in which no sitting city council members lives, no candidate has massively outraised any other (making the case, I suppose, that districts suppress the influence of money in this one, very specific, instance), four of the seven candidates raised any significant amount of cash.
Sandy Brown, former director of the Church Council of Greater Seattle, raised $7,015 this month for a total of $42,768 with $8,846 on hand. Former mayor Norm Rice’s son, Port of Seattle manager Mian Rice, raised $9,191 in March, for a total of $35,340 with $9,701 on hand. Low-income housing advocate Mercedes Elizalde, meanwhile, raised just $381 this month, for a total of $3,106 with $2,975 on hand; and Planned Parenthood organizer Halei Watkins had the unlucky distinction of being the only person in the race (and one of just a few in all nine races) with a negative balance: $1,770 raised in March, for a total of $9,704 raised, and negative $1,535 on hand.
Mike O’Brien, the incumbent council member and Fremont resident now running in District 6, started raising money in earnest this month after a quiet January and February, raising $21,805 in March to bring his total to $23,814, with $19,702 on hand. His opponent, City Neighborhood Council co-chair Catherine Weatbrook, brought in $8,641, for a total of $9,903, with $6,342 on hand.
In the downtown-to-Magnolia seventh district, council incumbent Sally Bagshaw continues, inexplicably, to draw no opponents, but also continues to raise money at a slow but respectable pace. In March, the downtown resident raised $$8,796, for a total of $52,247, with $24,043 on hand.
In the first of the two citywide council seats, council incumbent Tim Burgess, a formidable fundraiser in his previous, at-large, races, brought in $36,004 this month—more than any other candidate in any race—for total of $115,449, with a whopping $96,493 on hand. (Last time, when he ran at large and did not have a credible opponent, Burgess raised $253,964.) Tenants Union director Jonathan Grant, who is running on an affordable-housing platform, raised a fraction of Burgess’ haul, bringing in $2,485 for a total of $21,127 with $19,358 on hand. John Persak, a lefty longshoreman’s union member, raised $3,160 for a total of $20,690, with $16,024 on hand, and Long Winters frontman John Roderick, who just announced his candidacy early this month, had raised a nominal $300, for a total of $1,000 with $209 on hand.
Finally, in the completely open race for the second at-large seat nine (council member Sally Clark withdrew from the race and subsequently resigned from the council), Mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel, Lorena Gonzalez, raised more than her two leading opponents, though both will likely give her a run for her money. In March, Gonzalez raised $21,003, for a total of $42,108 with $36,108 on hand, while neighborhood gadfly and density opponent Bill Bradburd raised $13,175 for a total of $36,878, with a very competitive $32,268 on hand. EDITED TO ADD: And James Keblas, former director of the city’s office of film and music, has dropped out of the race after just two weeks in it.
None of those numbers count liabilities (debts and obligations that candidates can either repay or forgive by the end of their campaigns), and the candidate rankings are obviously subject to change in the coming months. New candidates may emerge before the May 15 filing deadline, throwing off the dynamics of still-fluid races, and some single-issue candidates may hit their natural fundraising limit. Stay tuned; we still have four months to go before the first city Election Day.