Dec 10, 2022 - Politics

9 of the most powerful people in Seattle in 2022

Illustration of two rows of dominos falling with text overlaid that reads Power Players Seattle.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Our picks for the most powerful Seattleites of 2022 include a top disinformation researcher, the Kraken king and two couples who have left a deep imprint on the city's culture.

How it works: We skipped some of the obvious choices — like the mayor, the governor and county executive — to highlight people who are shaping the city in more subtle but powerful ways.

A note on methodology: Axios Local's power players are influential people who've made an impact in their community in 2022. Our reporters made selections based on their own expertise and through a reader poll and interviews with influential people.

  • The unscientific list is produced entirely by the Axios Local editorial team and is not influenced by advertising in any way.

Gabriel Teodros and Ijeoma Oluo

A woman in a brightly colored shirt and a man in a hat lean their heads against one another's as they smile slightly at the camera.
Photo: Courtesy of Gabriel Teodros

If a decades-long career in the arts based on collaboration and community is power, Ethiopian American hip-hop artist and DJ Gabriel Teodros and Nigerian American author Ijeoma Oluo have tapped into a limitless lode.

The couple's crowning achievements: Oluo's words on her Substack and in her books, including the best-selling "So You Want to Talk About Race," changed the way people in Seattle and beyond think about racial justice. She has been listed among Seattle's most influential voices.

  • Meanwhile, as a DJ at KEXP, Teodros features local musicians of color who might not be heard on the radio if not for him. The South Seattle musician got his start in 2001 with the group Abyssinian Creole and has since reached an international audience with "Lovework" and "What We Leave Behind."

Plus: The newlyweds have doubled down on helping others, starting the Seattle Artists Relief Fund in spring 2020 that raised $1.1 million to help support local artists.

Catch up: If you're not familiar with their work, start with Oluo's definitive interview of Rachel Dolezal and Teodros' "Light Attracts Light & Everything Else, Too."

What we're watching: Oluo is working on a new book.

Kate Starbird

A woman in a light colored blazer speaks while holding out one of her hands.
Photo: David Ryder/Bloomberg via Getty Images

When Kate Starbird, University of Washington professor and OL Reign legend, started researching how information and momentum spread on the internet, she never imagined it would put her smack in the middle of a threat to democracy.

Their crowning achievements: Starbird and her colleagues at the UW Center for an Informed Public analyzed social media data to identify the kind of misinformation, disinformation and conspiracy theories that proliferated during the pandemic and allowed the narrative of the stolen election to take root. They:

  • Observed bots posting misinformation repeatedly;
  • Watched as disinformation tactics became embedded into the structure of social media platforms;
  • Showed information on the internet can be tactically manipulated and weaponized;
  • Saw how the intentional spread of misinformation changed the discourse on a huge scale and led to the Jan. 6 events.

Yes, and: Since 2020, the center has helped lead the nonpartisan Election Integrity Partnership to detect and address online efforts to discourage voting and delegitimize election results.

What we're watching: How the center expands its election-related work in the run-up to 2024.

  • "We've got to remember we are not going to solve this with one little trick. We are chipping away at the problem," Starbird said.

Tod Leiweke

A man holding a coffee cup talks to people in jerseys outside. The Space Needle is in the background.
Seattle Kraken owner Tod Leiweke speaks with fans in 2021. Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Seattle may not be known as a world-class sports metropolis yet, but that could be just a matter of time thanks to people like Tod Leiweke.

Driving the news: With Seattle set to host the World Cup in 2026 and rumors of a new NBA team, Leiweke may soon realize his mission of bringing the kind of die-hard fandom found in Boston, Pittsburg and Green Bay to the Emerald City.

Biggest moves of 2022: The Sounders and the Kraken have both emerged among the most exciting teams to watch in their respective leagues. That's thanks in large measure to Leiweke, the former CEO of the Seahawks, who recruited Coach Pete Carroll and built momentum behind the 12th man brand, and is now bringing his skills to the two teams he co-owns.

What we're watching: Leiweke wouldn't talk about whether Seattle will get an NBA team (still a sore subject after the Sonics betrayal), but the fact that the convo keeps coming up means something.

Joe Fitzgibbon

A man in a suit and tie speaks into a microphone in front of a marble wall.
Photo: Legislative Support Services

Joe Fitzgibbon has long been a leader when it comes to climate legislation, chairing the state House's environment committee and sponsoring measures like Washington's new clean-fuel standard. Now, he has an even bigger role at the state Capitol.

Biggest moves of 2022: Fitzgibbon grew more powerful last month when he was named state House majority leader. That's the chamber's No. 2 position, second only to the speaker.

  • He also has chaired the House Democratic Campaign Committee for the past several years, giving him a key role in helping Democrats maintain and grow their majorities in Olympia, including this November.

What we're watching: How much millennial energy the 36-year-old will bring to his new job.

Kamau Chege

A man in a vest over a button up shirt speaks into a microphone, with a projection in the background behind him.
Photo: Courtesy of Washington Community Alliance

Kamau Chege, executive director of Washington Community Alliance, doesn't often take credit for major policy wins, instead citing others who help make change happen.

  • Yes, but: He's established himself as one of the state's leading advocates for progressive policies — a reputation he's been building since high school, when he helped push Washington lawmakers to extend state financial aid to undocumented immigrant students.

Biggest moves of 2022: This year, Chege was a leader in the effort to put ranked-choice voting on Seattle's ballot — a measure that narrowly passed, changing the future of voting in the city.

What we're watching: Whether the Legislature will allow more local jurisdictions to adopt ranked-choice voting, a change Chege and his allies are seeking.

Kurt Fritts

Kurt Fritts, a Democratic political consultant, wields his influence behind the scenes.

  • Even so, you can see his fingerprints in a variety of areas, from the massive spending in 2022 state legislative races to the way the state drew its new legislative district lines last year. (Public records show Fritts was heavily involved in those redistricting discussions.)

Biggest moves of 2022: Fritts manages a large political action committee, New Direction PAC, which spent nearly $6 million this year boosting Democratic candidates in state and local races.

  • The result: In what was expected to be a red wave, Democrats picked up one state House seat and a state Senate seat.

What we're watching: If Democrats can hold onto their statehouse gains made this year — and whether third-party spending by Fritts' PAC and others will continue to break records.

Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi

Two people standing on opposite ends of a countertop in a kitchen of a restaurant, both smiling.
Photo: Amber Fouts

Rachel Yang and her husband, Seif Chirchi, spent the past 15 years serving some of Seattle's best food at their restaurants Joule and Revel.

Yes, but: They've landed on this list not just because of their culinary excellence (they were finalists this year for a national James Beard Award in the "outstanding chef" category), but also because of their work to improve the culture of the restaurant industry.

Their crowning achievements: Yang and Chirchi's company, Relay Restaurant Group, started Chefs and Restaurants Against Sexual Harassment last year to combat some of the mistreatment food workers — especially women — experience.

  • The project has raised money for the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, while producing posters that chefs can hang in their restaurants to set clear anti-harassment policies.
  • A few dozen local restaurants have put up the posters, Yang told Axios.

What we're watching: Whether Yang and Chirchi will finally snag a James Beard Award in 2023 after being nominated at least a dozen times.

Michele Storms

A woman with glasses looks at the camera, smiling.
Photo: Courtesy of the ACLU of Washington

As executive director of the ACLU of Washington, Storms has been a key player in efforts to reform the state's policing laws and limit the reach of government.

Biggest moves of 2022: For the fourth straight year, her organization opposed — and managed to block — statewide data privacy legislation that it argued would give corporations too much leeway.

What we're watching: Storms and the ACLU are working on legislation to protect abortion access, following the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

Michelle Merriweather

Michelle Merriweather left behind a career in corporate sales and marketing to become an influential community advocate and organizer.

  • Now, as president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, she’s focused on helping underserved communities — particularly Black residents.

Biggest moves of 2022: This year, the local Urban League expanded its work on affordable housing, partnering to preserve 354 low-income units. The nonprofit also began operating a shelter at a former Federal Way hotel as part of King County's Health Through Housing initiative.

  • On top of that, Merriweather, who used to work for Starbucks and Coca-Cola, is a co-founder of the Black Future Co-Op Fund, which continued its work fundraising and providing grants for Black-led organizations.

What we're watching: How the Urban League will use a new $7 million grant from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott.

Go deeper: See all 200 of Axios Local's Power Players in 2022


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