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Which Seattle candidates made the list of tech company endorsements?

New development in Seattle's South Lake Union neighborhood was spurred largely by the rise of the tech industry in the area. (Ted Eytan, Flickr

Washington’s tech industry is speaking up ahead of the November general election, focusing on Seattle City Council races with a series of endorsements.

Amazon contributes over $1 million to PAC aimed at Seattle council races

This is the first time the Washington Technology Industry Association has opted to engage in political races and support candidates.

“Generally speaking, we are an apolitical organization, we’re neither Republican nor Democrat,” said WTIA CEO Michael Schutzler. “We are involved in local politics now because we want to work with the leadership of cities and the counties in a way that is constructive and productive. So what you are seeing is a reflection of the employee will to actively engage with our local governments so that we build a really successful economy for everybody.”

The WTIA is a consortium of 1,100 technology companies in Washington. Its members include big names such as Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Zillow, and Expedia. But also smaller tech businesses, or companies like Nordstrom which employs a significant tech workforce. It acts as a co-op serving the growth of the local tech industry.

While the WTIA is “apolitical,” it has decided to address the 2019 Seattle City Council race with endorsements for each district. It initially made endorsements before the council primary in August. All but one of its favored candidates made it through — Michael George for District 7. With the current lineup of endorsements, released this week, the WTIA is now backing Jim Pugel for the D7 position.

“He has a lot more experience in government functions than the other candidate,” Schutzler said. “But it’s also really clear that Jim understands how to collaborate with multiple organizations and multiple sectors, and the only support of substance for Andrew (Lewis) is just one group, and that is largely one labor group that has driven most of his fundraising. There is just a much wider group of organizations and different sectors of the economy that support Jim.”

WTIA endorsements

Ahead of the 2019 general election, the WTIA is endorsing these Seattle council candidates:

Councilmember Debora Juarez is the only incumbent on the list. The other two incumbents, District 1 Lisa Herbold and District 3 Kshama Sawant, are not endorsed.

The WTIA interviewed 18 council candidates, initially. The association promotes that its endorsement priorities are candidates who support cultivating new talent, informed public policies, and a thriving tech community. But if there is one primary theme among its list of endorsed candidates, it’s that they collaborate and work across diverse groups with varying perspectives.

“Crucially, Phil also has experience brokering complex negotiations and bringing people together to solve problems,” the WTIA states about District 1 candidate Phil Tavel.

“Mark also earned high marks for working successfully with groups holding diverse perspectives. His ability to reach agreement on gun safety measures among organizations with disparate views on gun control demonstrated his ability to broker complex  negotiations,” it says about District 2 candidate Mark Solomon.

If there is one standout endorsement, it’s Egan Orion for District 3. Orion faces incumbent Kshama Sawant, who the association argues is “hostile” toward tech. WTIA’s full endorsement for Orion reads:

District 3, which includes Capitol Hill, the Central District, and Madison Park, ​is currently represented by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Many believe it is time for a change in that district given the council member’s hostility towards the business community, and the tech industry, specifically. We believe District 3 needs a council member who has deep ties to the community, is able to engage with a broad range of stakeholder groups, and has grit. No other  candidate encapsulates that more than Egan Orion.

Egan has been a fixture in his community for over a decade and is perhaps most well known for saving ​Pridefest​ーan event that Egan continues to manage and is a banner event  for Seattle. We were impressed with Egan’s strong family and personal ties to his district, tech knowledge, and his strong desire to engage small business. We believe Egan will focus on getting things done for his city and his district, and, unlike the incumbent, focus less on self-branding for higher office. ​WTIA endorses Egan Orion for District 3.

Why is tech interested in the Seattle City Council?

Schutzler says that the WTIA began getting involved with the political world during Seattle’s last election, when now Mayor Jenny Durkan was running for office. It was the first time the association considered evaluating candidates in the city where most of the tech industry operates.

“The city faces very significant challenges,” Schutzler said. “Probably just shy of 90 percent of the tech companies in the state of Washington are in the Puget Sound, and of those the vast majority are in downtown Seattle. The people who work in tech, live and work in the city. Those really significant challenges the city faces – homelessness and housing, transportation, and transit – are of significant interest to the people who live and work in the city. And we just happen to be a much larger percentage of the workforce now than we were 10 years ago.”

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