Business, labor groups dump big money to reshape Seattle council

Aug 6, 2019, 4:55 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2019, 8:43 am
seattle, king county, ballot, voter turnout...
A King County ballot box. (Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)
(Nick Bowman, MyNorthwest)

Once Tuesday’s primary votes are tabulated, candidates for Seattle City Council will narrow from a crowded 55 candidates to just 14. Only the top two vote-getters in each of the seven districts advance to the November general election.

Endorsements roll in for Seattle City Council

When all is said and done, there could be anywhere from four to seven new faces on the council. Only three incumbents are seeking re-election, Debra Juarez in District 5, Lisa Herbold in District 1, and Kshama Sawant in District 3.

Millions of dollars have poured into the council races, including hundreds of thousands from special interest groups representing business, labor, and more who are hoping to influence the election. Those independent political action committees can collect and spend as much as they want for or against candidates as long as they don’t coordinate their efforts with candidates.

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC — the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, or CASE – has dumped the most money into the council races at nearly $380,000 as of Tuesday morning. Amazon, Puget Sound Energy, the Washington Realtors Association and other business groups are among the contributors.

Chamber Executive Director Maryland Strickland says there’s a lot at stake in this election.

“What’s at stake for the Chamber is the same thing that’s at stake for the voters of Seattle,” Strickland said. “Seattle is a large metropolitan city; it is on a global stage. This is not about ideology. We need a city council that is functional. We need a city council that understands the nuts and bolts of local government, and we need a city council that’s willing to truly partner with the business community and all sectors.”

She says there’s been growing frustration with the council for a while, but it’s really come to the tipping point in the last two years with a lack of visible progress on major issues in the city.

“The things that rise to the top that are concerns for people in Seattle, it comes down to housing affordability, dealing with the homeless crisis, it comes down to basic public safety in neighborhoods and business districts, and then also the whole challenge that we have with transportation both getting in and out of Seattle and getting around Seattle,” Strickland said.

Strickland credits the city for currently working with King County and other groups to create a regional “entity” to address homelessness, which she admits can’t be solved by Seattle alone.

Still, she says there is a lack of visible progress on that and other issues despite increased spending.

“The city of Seattle has a $1 billion a year general fund and that general fund has increased a lot over the past few years, and if you look at how they’re spending their money there seems to be a lack of trust and a lack of credibility with this particular council,” Strickland said pointing to recent polls that show dismal approval numbers for the council.

“I think what people are saying is, ‘You’re spending a lot of money already, let’s see some visible progress and then let’s have a conversation about an actual plan and what you think it would take to implement that plan,’” Strickland added.

The effort to unseat progressives on the city council started during the debate over the now failed head tax when The Seattle Times says pro-business groups saw an opportunity to flip the council.

The Chamber’s PAC – CASE – has spent nearly three times that of the next highest spending independent PAC, Unite Here Local 8 which is associated with union hotel workers. They’ve spent all of their money – about $149,000 — on a single candidate in the District 7 race. District 7 covers the downtown area where most of the hotels are.

The new PAC Moms For Seattle has spent the next highest amount at more than $130,000, which they mostly spent on fliers showing tents and needles close to swing sets in city parks.

This PAC has stirred controversy for not revealing who was behind the PAC right away, and for using and manipulating stock photos of tents in playgrounds in their fliers, rather than taking pictures of their own.

According to The Stranger, the group also seems to have the support of Scott Lindsey, who was behind the recent “System Failure” report detailing the city’s prolific offenders.

The fourth largest spender among the independent PACs is People for Seattle which is co-run by former mayor and long-time City Councilmember Tim Burgess. People for Seattle has spent around $120,000 for and against candidates, including money against incumbent council members Kshama Sawant and Lisa Herbold. This PAC says they want to elect a progressive council that gets back to basics and gets things done for the common good.

Candidates who Eastside businesses endorse

A handful of other groups representing progressives, labor and small business have spent smaller amounts, and the candidates have raised their own contributions, with Sawant bringing in the most money.

At this point Debra Juarez seems to have the most support when it comes to incumbents and independent spending, with most of the other special interest groups backing other candidates in Districts 1 and 3, where Herbold and Sawant serve.

Strickland says at this point there’s just too many candidates running to say how things might shake out in the primary, but she expects it will be a win some, lose some scenario for the Chamber.

Candidates endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce:

Seattle City Council Position 1: Phil Tavel

Seattle City Council Position 2: Mark Solomon

Seattle City Council Position 3: Egan Orion

Seattle City Council Position 4: Alex Pedersen

Seattle City Council Position 5: Debora Juarez

Seattle City Council Position 6: Jay Fathi and Heidi Wills

Seattle City Council Position 7: Michael George and Jim Pugel

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Business, labor groups dump big money to reshape Seattle council