Voices behind Compassion Seattle, ‘Seattle is Dying’ series score new roles in city hall

Dec 16, 2021, 11:31 AM | Updated: 11:38 am
Tim Burgess, Scott Lindsay, Seattle city hall...
Tim Burgess (left) and Scott Lindsay (right). (Photo credits: Seattle Municipal Archives, and 2017 campaign photo)
(Photo credits: Seattle Municipal Archives, and 2017 campaign photo)

Seattle’s latest election saw voters move away from more progressive candidates, and soon, two of the architects behind years of major fundraising efforts and policy proposals toward that end will be working in city hall.

Seattle conservatives aim for influence behind the scenes

The first is former City Councilmember — and former interim mayor — Tim Burgess, who was tagged this week to serve as incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell’s director of strategic initiatives. Burgess left office in 2017, instead turning his attention toward influencing Seattle’s political policies from the private sector. That saw him lead 2019’s “People for Seattle” PAC, which operated as one of the major players behind an attempt in that election cycle to move the council away from left-leaning candidates.

The PAC raised over $655,000, spending those funds to promote more moderate, business-friendly candidates opposing progressives across seven council races. That included support for: Mark Solomon in District 2, Egan Orion in District 3, Alex Pedersen in District 4, Debora Juarez in District 5, Heidi Wills in District 6, and Jim Pugel in District 7. All but two of the candidates supported by the PAC ended up losing their respective races, driven by the perception from voters that large corporations like Amazon had attempted to buy their way into city hall.

Burgess pivoted to a more issue-focused approach in 2021 with the introduction of his proposed “Compassion Seattle” city charter amendment. The measure quickly became a flashpoint for the debate surrounding Seattle’s homelessness crisis, lauded by supporters as a way to quickly stand up more shelter spaces, and decried by opponents as an attempt to codify “inhumane” encampment sweeps.

Although Compassion Seattle was ultimately struck down by a judge for exceeding the scope of what’s permitted in a ballot initiative, for a time, the PAC stood up by Burgess to lead the effort had raised more money than any single candidate across all other races in Seattle in 2021. Among the leading contributors was prominent Donald Trump donor and Goodman Real Estate CEO George Petrie, in addition to a handful of real estate, investment, and property management companies.

Burgess — who formally endorsed Harrell in August — also donated $550 to the incoming mayor’s campaign, as well as another $1,000 to the “Harrell for Seattle” PAC.

Coinciding with Burgess’ exit from city hall in 2017, Scott Lindsay — who previously served as a public safety advisor for former Mayor Ed Murray — mounted an unsuccessful campaign for Seattle City Attorney in that same year, where he lost to incumbent Pete Holmes by a 75% to 24% margin.

Lindsay resurfaced again in 2019 as the author behind a now-infamous report on Seattle’s “prolific offenders,” detailing a litany of repeat criminal offenders cycling through Seattle’s court system. The following month, he was featured prominently in KOMO-TV’s “Seattle is Dying” documentary, and was credited as a co-producer on the follow-up, titled “Fight for the Soul of Seattle.” The series was subsequently panned in a joint letter from a coalition of local homeless advocacy groups, claiming the features were “propaganda from [KOMO parent company] Sinclair, the worldwide right-wing media group dedicated to sowing division and promoting fringe arguments.”

Newly-formed PAC with cast of familiar faces floods money into Seattle City Attorney race

In 2021, Lindsay next served as an officer on a local PAC registered as “Seattle for Common Sense,” pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into supporting Ann Davison’s candidacy for city attorney. The group raised over $377,000, much of which was spent on television ad spots, campaign mailers, and a website highlighting controversial tweets sent by Davison’s opponent, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.

Those efforts proved successful, with Davison set to become Seattle’s first Republican city attorney since Douglas Jewett left office in 1989, and Lindsay tagged to serve as her deputy city attorney. In her announcement of the appointment, Davison lauded him as “a key thought-leader on reforming Seattle’s criminal justice system.”

With Burgess and Lindsay both returning to work in city hall at the start of the new year, their core policies surrounding homelessness, the prosecution of misdemeanors, and more, will likely arrive in tow, having found a mayor and city attorney largely in alignment with the last four years of their work.

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Voices behind Compassion Seattle, ‘Seattle is Dying’ series score new roles in city hall