What's Tony Thinking

Seattle City Council Races: What’s At Stake?


The August 6 primary election in Seattle is fast approaching. They will reduce the present field of 55 candidates to dozen, so they matter big time.

My colleagues at PostAlley.com have been doing a bang-up job of analysis of the overall election and what’s at stake as well, as handicapping the races in each district. Read Sandeep Kaushik’s analysis, followed by Dick Lilly’s (former journalist and Seattle School Board member).

Kaushik argues that the media (mainly The Stranger and Seattle Times) have bought into the conventional but inaccurate framing of the races as progressive versus conservative. The problem with that is that there really are no conservatives in Seattle.

So progressive vs. conservative isn’t really what’s going on. Here’s Sandy:

“Our local media has generally done a poor job of framing what’s actually at stake in the current, hotly contested City Council races. Many of them, in some cases consciously intending to take sides and in others as a result of unconscious bias, have declared the races to be a battle between selfless progressives and self-interested conservatives.

“But looking at the views of candidates and how races are shaking out, that progressives v. conservatives ‘analysis’ and labeling turns out to be shallow, misleading, and more than a little biased in favor of more extreme populist candidates that the media has labelled as the ‘progressive’ side (because, duh, Seattle is a liberal city where 80 percent plus of the electorate considers themselves progressives, and conservatism is indelibly associated with the likes of Donald Trump).

“Add in that there are 55 candidates(!) on the ballot for seven district seats, that it’s summer in Seattle and the weather is actually nice outside, and it’s no wonder that sorting out the Council races before the August 6 primary is confusing. So, before looking at the current state of the individual races, let’s consider, what is the overall election really about.

What we are witnessing is a battle for the soul of Seattle progressivism; between populist left activists who currently dominate the Council, and communitarian progressive pragmatists, who used to.” (Italics added)

While, yes, there are a few actual “conservatives” in Seattle, what’s at stake here is, as Sandy puts it, populist left activists versus communitarian progressive pragmatists. He notes that the populist left has worked hard over ten years now to take control of the Council and aren’t surrendering that hold on the Council Chambers without a pitched battle. Moreover, at this point and despite public disaffection with the City Council, that progressive activist wing stands a good chance of holding their grip on power.

Their champion is, of course, Kshama Sawant, who takes her marching orders from the New York-based Socialist Workers Party. For two terms now Sawant has filled the Council Chambers with her intimidating supporters who shout down anyone who dares disagree with her agenda.

Dick Lilly argues that Sawant’s race is the crucial one. Here’s Lilly:

“Nothing changes if Kshama Sawant is re-elected. Her deliberate high profile makes her the public face of the council. Reaction she sparks drives negative attitudes toward the whole group.”

But she has money and an organization that make her the likely victor, according to Kaushik, despite her polarizing role and being more responsive to outside agendas than to her own district. Voters in her own district have to go to other Council members to get a hearing or even an appointment as Kshama isn’t much concerned with her actual constituents.

There is certain percentage of Seattle progressives who probably regard a vote for Sawant, or those like her, to be a way to burnish their “progressive” credentials. I imagine that’s why The Stranger has chosen to stick with her. But what they may not realize is that they are supporting someone who is as much an obstructionist as, in a different venue, is Mitch McConnell.

After reviewing the other district races, Lilly concludes it is still really about Sawant.

“Nevertheless, that won’t be the most important dynamic going forward. That’s still Sawant if she’s re-elected. She’ll continue to dominate the council, pushing her ideological agenda, intimidating and dragging along other members, filling the chamber with her partisans every time she wants to grandstand on an issue. (Hey, those are citizens, waving signs, and sometimes shouting. What council member on the dais wants to speak against them?)

“Sawant’s personality and loudly articulated positions will continue to symbolize the council for much of the public. That’s why, if Sawant is defeated, no matter what happens in the other six races, public attitudes toward the council will greatly improve and that might make it easier for the council to actually get things done.”

So stay tuned to PostAlley for a perspective on this election that you are not likely to get elsewhere.



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