Over the past few days, the results of Seattle’s recent City Council elections have become increasingly clear. Seattleites have been holding their breath as the votes are counted for several extremely close races. With seven out of nine council seats up for election, this has been a competitive and exciting time for Seattle politics. This opening in leadership is occurring in the midst of several important citywide conversations on issues like the homelessness crisis, gentrification, taxing policies, and more.
The Seattle City Council is made up of nine seats, with seven council members, each representing a specific district of Seattle and two representing the city as a whole. Out of the seven current elections, three races have candidates who have already served one term and four races are open (meaning there are no returning incumbents). Each elected member will serve a four-year term, and can influence everything from budgeting, to utilities, to city parks.
Since the primary elections in August, a few of the races have been especially tight. One of these includes the race for District Three, an area that contains much of Capitol Hill, including The Northwest School. This specific race was between incumbent Kshama Sawant and opposing candidate Egan Orion. Their race ended in excitement and surprise; it was speculated that Orion would win after he pulled ahead by several thousand votes in the first round of counting, but this soon changed. Now near the end of this race, it has become clear that Sawant will reclaim her seat on the council, winning 51.8% of votes. While the results are clear, the closeness of this race makes it important to take a closer look at each of these candidates.
Kshama Sawant has gained a substantial following over her past two terms as District Three’s representative. She is best known for her strong socialist political ideology and vocal critique of big corporations in Seattle. Sawant is the only Seattle council member who is not part of the Democratic party. Rather, she is a member of the Social Alternative Party, a nationwide political entity that advocates for working-class rights and government services. Throughout her term, Sawant has advocated for affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, tax changes to combat wealth inequality, and supporting government-run programs such as transportation and schools. Sawant is most critiqued for her involvement in the Social Alternative Party, as many consider her suggested policy reforms as too radical and unrealistic (especially in terms of taxing large companies and focusing on government-run programs).
The opposing District Three candidate, Egan Orion, was new to politics, but gained quick popularity throughout his campaign. While Orion did not represent a specific political party, he advertised his platform as progressive and pragmatic. His main goals for office were around issues of affordable housing, the homelessness crisis and more community involvement in policy making. In addition to running for council, Orion is the director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Broadway Business Improvement Area, which helps organize local businesses and solve neighborhood issues. His claim to fame is his involvement in creating and helping to run Seattle’s famous Capitol Hill PrideFest. Egan was most criticized for his relationship with Amazon, as many assume that the huge amount of funding he has received from the company would influence his decisions if he took office (in terms of taxing the company, etc.)
One point of controversy concerning the City Council election has been the role of business campaign funding, especially from Amazon. As one of the most prominent companies in our city, Amazon has played a large part in local campaigns by donating almost $1.5 million to several of the running candidates. This was done through a Political Action Committee (PAC), an organization that raises funds privately to be distributed to campaigns. This has sparked tension, especially in the District Three race, as Sawant is known for her strong objections to Amazon’s role in our city). Her concerns focus on Amazon’s (and other large companies’) contribution to a growing wealth divide, and the resulting gentrification of Seattle neighborhoods that pushes out the working class and minority groups from the city.
This election has been an exciting time for our city. With so much going on, it has allowed many to get involved in our local politics. I sat down with Ella F., a current senior at Northwest, who had the opportunity to work on one of the District Three campaigns. This was Ella’s first time working for a political organization, and she was excited to tell me about her experience.
“It’s been good to see a lot of people getting together and caring about a cause, but the volunteering aspect has been difficult [at times]…Overall I liked seeing all the passionate supporters getting together.”
When discussing the specifics of volunteering, Ella explained her responsibilities within the campaign, and the pros and cons of her work.
“Tabling was one of [my jobs], which I did most often. It’s where you’re with one other person trying to flag people down, and try to get them to vote or donate…[This was difficult because] a lot of times people got angry and yelled at me, and you have to stand out in the cold. [I also did] postering, where you walk around and put up posters for the campaign.”
Despite some of the challenges, Ella found her experience to be very valuable, and shared a few of the lessons she learned while working in local politics.
“I learned how important it is to put posters up and get the word out…a lot of people these days aren’t even aware of the campaign, and just getting people to know your candidate’s name is half the battle. The City Council election is not as commonly known as I thought it was. I also learned how hard it is to organize, and get a bunch of random people together; there’s lots of teamwork needed….
To finish, Ella gave some advice for the young people of Seattle: “I think it’s always good from a young age to learn how the political system works. Even if you’re not crazy passionate about it, it’s good to get that awareness.”
While most of us students here at Northwest cannot vote yet, there are many ways to get involved in local politics. Whether it’s putting in work on a campaign like Ella, or simply educating yourself on the current events of Seattle’s political scene, it’s important to stay in the loop about our city. While City Council may seem like a distant branch of local government, their impact on our everyday life is more than one might expect. This group of policy makers and leaders for our city has say on the taxes your family pays, the conduct of the businesses at which you shop, upkeep of the parks in which you walk your dog, and so much more. They also are essential in maintaining equity and justice in our city, such as opposing the institution of youth jails in the city. With many of these elections coming to a close, Seattle’s new City Council is coming together. No matter the results, it’s guaranteed that the city has an exciting future.