With Ed Murray jettisoning his re-election campaign and former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan jumping into the mix of Seattle candidates for mayor, voters are left with more than a dozen choices, many of whom are vying for the same voting blocs. Is there a clear front-runner?
Only in theory.
Top Tier Seattle Candidates
Jenny Durkan (Former US Attorney)
Pros: She’s fiercely smart and politically savvy (you don’t become a U.S. Attorney without some level of political skills). She’s quick on her feet, which, as someone who hasn’t run campaigns before, will come in handy. She comes off as a more mainstream Democrat than her opponents.
Cons: She lacks campaign infrastructure that she’d have already if she held political office. She’s running in a crowded campaign with candidates with higher name recognition than her.
Demographic support: In theory, she should easily pick up the former Murray supporters. She’s perceived as a mainstream liberal and the “adult in the room.” There is undoubtedly momentum to support female candidates, particularly due to President Donald Trump’s horrifying rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Mike McGinn (former Mayor of Seattle)
Pros: He’s got exceptionally high name recognition and has a strong brand as a reliably Progressive candidate. In most interactions, he’s exceptionally likeable and friendly. He also delivers substance: he has ideas (whether or not you like them remains to be seen).
Cons: Despite his likeability on an individual basis, he wasn’t liked when he was mayor. There were many stories and rumors about how difficult he was to work with. Will that bite him this campaign? But his biggest downside is he’s a former mayor and I haven’t heard people clamoring to have him back in the position.
Demographic support: My sense is he’ll appeal to older Progressives and his previous supporters who voted for him over Murray.
Nikkita Oliver (activist, teacher, and lawyer)
Pros: Her brand is clearly defined: she’s a Seattle Progressive who will fight against corporate interests and big money to make the city one for the people, not just the rich. If tapped properly, she has the organizational support of Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Her key demographic is usually well-organized and Seattle has an appetite for grass roots campaigns if they are inspirational.
Cons: She has interesting ideas, but is not media savvy like Sawant. Oliver complains of lack of media coverage (which is demonstrably untrue) as a means to spark interest in the activist community who feel a chip on their shoulder as victims of corporate media. If she chooses to play victim and ignore media coverage, most people won’t hear her message. Sawant is absolutely brilliant at commanding the narrative and getting media coverage while still pushing her deeply-held beliefs. Oliver should adopt that strategy.
Demographic support: The activist community should easily pick Oliver over any of the other candidates.
Bob Hasegawa (State Senator)
Pros: He’s polished, currently holds elective office (which means not only does he know how to run a campaign, he goes into the race with higher-than-normal name recognition), and his politics make him very appealing to Bernie Sanders fans and, in particular, union supporters (which should help him financially).
Cons: He may be long-serving, but there’s reason to believe he’s benefited from a lack of serious challengers. He’s also going after some of the same voting base that McGinn and Oliver are competing for. He is not a very dynamic speaker.
Demographic support: McGinn and Oliver voters, unions, Bernie Sanders fans.
Second Tier Seattle Candidates
Cary Moon (activist and engineer)
Pros: She’s been a meaningful activist in the Seattle community and her message of bringing different stakeholders to the table should get your attention. She has some moderate name recognition in the activist community.
Cons: She seems remarkably unprepared and unpolished when answering basic questions about issues concerning Seattle voters (watch her last virtual Town Hall event or hear her interview with Seattle’s Morning News). She’s not nearly as dynamic as the most Progressive opponents (Oliver and McGinn) she’s facing. She’s uninspiring and has a legally untenable disdain for speech she finds hateful.
Demographic support: She’s competing with McGinn and Oliver, both of whom are way more exciting candidates than Moon.
Michael Harris (activist and filmmaker)
Pros: He’s charismatic and can be a clear communicator. He’s been effective at telling us why some of Murray or McGinn’s policies haven’t worked. He seems like a moderate Democrat.
Cons: He announced his candidacy live on Jason and Burns but wasn’t able to clearly articulate his particular vision for the City. If he can do this effectively, he has the capacity of being an underdog candidate for those Seattle voters annoyed by candidates driven purely by ideology. He believes hate speech isn’t Constitutionally protected — he is wrong. He has virtually no name recognition.
Demographic support: He’s should be an attractive candidate to the same folks who like Durkan or Hasegawa. If he can get his name out there, he poses a legitimate threat.
Lorena Gonzalez (City Councilmember and lawyer)
Pros: While seriously considering a run, she hasn’t announced yet. With that said, she’d be a contender due to her background on the city council. She’s smart, a great public speaker, and has shown a willingness to debate people she disagrees with. She also knows how to run a successful political campaign. She is part of the establishment (also a con).
Cons: She’s very married to an ideological belief system that sometimes makes her look foolish. She can also be cagey when asked to back up her positions. Her name recognition has suffered, somewhat, thanks to more media savvy and well-covered colleagues on the council. She was a strong Murray supporter, which can hurt her if his popularity is as low as we all think it is. She is part of the establishment (also a pro).
Demographic support: If you liked Murray, you’ll like her. She has activist support and may pull votes from supporters of Oliver and Moon, who both may be seen as long-shot candidates (which is accurate only to say about Moon at this point).
Third Tier Seattle Candidates
The remaining Seattle candidates for mayor, which include “Safe Seattle” leader Harley Lever and Libertarian Casey Carlisle, have such low name recognition, it’s hard to imagine they can level meaningful campaigns at this point. But, with the right infrastructure and some financial support, they shouldn’t be counted out just yet. If they play it right, the more established candidates could damage each other, while these other candidates quietly earn support.