Aug 4, 2023 - Politics

Backlash to City Council incumbents doesn't materialize in primary

Illustration of a ballot filled in to create a question mark

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Most sitting Seattle City Council members are in strong positions heading into the November election, despite recent polling from business-backed groups that found many voters were dissatisfied with the council.

Driving the news: In the latest ballot counts from Tuesday's primary, Councilmembers Tammy Morales and Dan Strauss each have amassed more than 50% of the vote in their respective races.

  • Councilmember Andrew Lewis was faring worse, capturing 43% of the vote as of Thursday. But post-election night ballot counts have trended his way, making his re-election prospects appear less dire than on Tuesday night, when he was under 41%.
  • Meanwhile, Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda was leading handily in her bid for a seat on the King County Council, capturing about 56% of the vote.

Of note: Because Washington is a vote-by-mail state, ballot counting lasts for several days.

Why it matters: The November election — despite being guaranteed to replace four of the nine members of the City Council — may not bring the sweeping change of direction that some council critics would like to see.

  • Seven council seats are on the ballot this year, while two seats aren't up for election until 2025.

What they're saying: "Voters are obviously not satisfied with their local elected officials, but they're also not in the 'vote the bastards out' kind of mood," political consultant Ben Anderstone told Axios.

Zoom in: The lack of backlash is evident even in some of the races for open seats, where certain candidates who've been critical of the council are lagging, political consultant Crystal Fincher told Axios.

  • In District 4, an independent-expenditure group spent $61,000 to support Maritza Rivera, the deputy director of the city's Office of Arts and Culture who has criticized the current council as too divisive and unwilling to collaborate.
  • In District 1, another outside group spent $40,000 to boost the campaign of attorney Rob Saka, whose website characterizes today's city leaders as full of "well-intended policy ideas that don't actually make progress."
  • While both candidates are advancing to the general election, they trail the more left-leaning candidates in their races by several percentage points — performances Fincher described as "lackluster" given the amount of outside money backing them.

What we're watching: Now that each race has only two candidates, more money is likely to flow into each council contest.

  • The candidates' policy positions are also likely to sharpen now that they know who they're up against in November.

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