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Voters to decide mayor, city council primaries in Seattle on Aug. 3

Seattle holds top-two, nonpartisan primaries for mayor, two at-large city council seats, and city attorney on Aug. 3. Races for the mayor’s office and one city council seat are open. Incumbent City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda and City Attorney Pete Holmes are seeking re-election.

Mayoral primary

Fifteen candidates are on the mayoral primary ballot, with six leading in endorsements, fundraising, or media attention. Four of the six have served in city or state government. Casey Sixkiller is the deputy mayor of Seattle. Lorena González is the city council president. Bruce Harrell was city council president from 2016 to 2017 and from 2018 to 2019. Jessyn Farrell was a state representative from 2013 to 2017.

Colleen Echohawk is the executive director of Chief Seattle Club, an organization providing services to American Indian and Alaska Native people. Andrew Grant Houston, an architect, owns a business and served as Mosqueda’s interim policy manager.

City Council primaries

Seattle has nine city council seats, seven of which are elected by district and two, citywide. The seven district seats were last up for election in 2019. The two at-large seats are up this year.

Position 9 is open as González, the incumbent, is running for mayor. Three of seven candidates have led in endorsements, fundraising, and media attention: Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson, attorney and Creative Justice executive director Nikkita Oliver, and Brianna Thomas, who serves as González’s chief of staff.

Local media outlets have said the position 8 seat is uncompetitive, with Mosqueda, the incumbent, favored to win.

City councilmembers’ endorsees

Five current city councilmembers endorsed in the mayoral race. Mosqueda, Tammy Morales, Lisa Herbold, and Andrew Lewis endorsed González. Dan Strauss endorsed both Echohawk and Farrell. Harrell has the most endorsements from former councilmembers (four).

In the city council position 9 election, Thomas received endorsements from González, Herbold, Strauss, and Lewis. Mosqueda and Morales endorsed Oliver. Five former councilmembers endorsed Nelson.

Two of the three council members who have not endorsed in either race—Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen—were the two candidates who won in 2019 with backing from the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee. They also were the two council members to oppose Seattle’s 2020 ordinance instituting a tax on companies with payrolls of $7 million or more a year. CASE is not active in the 2021 election cycle.

Kshama Sawant, the third council member who has not endorsed, is a member of Socialist Alternative and is the target of a current recall effort.

City attorney election

Incumbent Pete Holmes, Ann Davison, and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy are running. Holmes first took office in 2009. Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz (D) and state Treasurer Mike Pellicciotti (D) are among his endorsers. Davison, an attorney and arbitrator, received endorsements from The Seattle Times and former Gov. Dan Evans (R). She ran for lieutenant governor in 2020 and city council in 2019. Thomas-Kennedy is a former public defender and criminal and eviction attorney. The Stranger endorsed her.



Local papers issue endorsements in Seattle’s Aug. 3 primary elections

In the last two weeks, The Seattle Times and The Stranger have issued endorsements in Seattle’s top-two primary elections taking place on Aug. 3. 

In the mayoral primary, featuring 15 candidates, the Seattle Times endorsed Bruce Harrell. Harrell was on the city council from 2008 to 2019, serving as council president from 2016 to 2017 and from 2018 to 2019. The Stranger endorsed current council president Lorena González, who first joined the council in 2016 and became president last year. Incumbent Mayor Jenny Durkan is not seeking re-election.

In the city council position 9 primary, The Seattle Times endorsed Fremont Brewing co-owner and former council legislative advisor Sara Nelson. The Stranger endorsed Nikkita Oliver, attorney and executive director of Creative Justice. González is the current incumbent. Seven candidates are running to succeed her. 

The position 8 council seat is also up for election this year. Incumbent Teresa Mosqueda is seeking re-election. Local media outlets have described the race as uncompetitive. The other seven city council seats, which are elected by district, were up for election in 2019.

City elections in Seattle are nonpartisan. In both the mayoral and council position 9 election, all candidates leading in campaign finances, endorsements, and media attention have endorsements from elected officials and groups affiliated with the Democratic Party. 

Primary election ballots were mailed to voters on July 14. Ballot drop boxes opened July 15.

Additional reading:

City elections in Seattle, Washington (2021)

Mayoral election in Seattle, Washington (2021)



Recall charges against Seattle school board members dismissed

A King County Superior Court judge on April 19 dismissed recall charges against six of the seven members of the Seattle Public Schools school board in Washington. The hearing on the petitions was held on April 16.

The recall charges were filed against Liza Rankin, Lisa Rivera Smith, Chandra Hampson, Zachary DeWolf, Leslie Harris, and Brandon Hersey in March 2021. District IV representative Erin Dury was not included in the recall effort as she was not a member of the board at the time charges were filed. She was appointed to the position on March 24.

Recall supporters said the board had failed to transition to in-person instruction in a timely manner. Seattle Public Schools started out the 2020-2021 school year in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The board voted on March 24 to move Pre-K through fifth-grade students into in-person instruction starting in April 2021. The school board members did not publicly respond to the recall effort.

When dismissing the petition, Judge Mafé Rajul said the decision to close schools was a “discretionary act and members of a school board cannot be recalled unless they arbitrarily or unreasonably exercised such discretion.” She said the school board members had not acted arbitrarily or unreasonably when they voted to close the schools.

If the recall charges had been approved, recall supporters would have had to collect signatures equal to 25% of the votes cast in the last election for each official.

Rankin, Rivera Smith, and Hampson were first elected to four-year terms on the board on November 5, 2019. Harris was re-elected to the board in the same election. DeWolf was re-elected to the board on November 7, 2017, and Hersey was appointed to the board on September 18, 2019. The school district is holding a regular election on November 2 for the seats held by DeWolf, Hersey, and Dury.

In 2020, Ballotpedia covered a total of 226 recall efforts against 272 elected officials. Of the 49 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 29 were recalled for a rate of 59%. That was higher than the 52% rate for 2019 recalls but lower than the 63% rate for 2018 recalls.

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Washington Supreme Court sets timeline for appeal of recall petition against Seattle councilmember

The Washington Supreme Court will consider the appeal of a recall petition against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant before the end of the year. Sawant filed an appeal in October after a superior court judge certified that four of the six grounds in the recall petition against her were legally sufficient to move the recall forward to the signature-gathering phase. On November 12, the Washington Supreme Court issued a timeline for the appeal: Sawant’s opening brief is due to the court by November 23, petitioners’ response is due on December 3, and Sawant’s reply is due by December 10. The court expects to rule on the appeal by January 7, 2021.

Sawant represents District 3 on the Seattle City Council. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and upon her election in 2013 was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years. She was first elected to the council as an at-large member in 2013, when she beat four-term Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin 50.9% to 49.1%. When the council transitioned to district-based voting at the 2015 election, Sawant was re-elected to the council as the member for District 3. She won re-election to the District 3 seat in 2019 by 4.1 percentage points—51.8% to challenger Egan Orion’s 47.7%. A total of 42,956 votes were cast in the 2019 District 3 election, with Sawant receiving 22,263 votes, Orion receiving 20,488, and the remainder being cast for write-in candidates.

The recall against Sawant was initiated on August 18, 2020, when lead petitioner Ernie Lou submitted a formal recall petition to the King County Elections Office. Before a recall petition can move to the signature-gathering phase, Washington law dictates that a judicial review must find legally sufficient grounds for recall under the Washington Constitution. On September 16, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers certified four of the six grounds for recall contained in the petition. Sawant subsequently appealed the decision to the Washington Supreme Court. If Sawant’s appeal is unsuccessful, petitioners would be required to gather over 10,700 signatures from registered voters to get the recall on the ballot, which equals 25% of the total votes cast in the last District 3 election held in 2019.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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Washington State Supreme Court overrules recall petition against Seattle mayor

On October 8, 2020, the Washington State Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling which allowed a recall effort against Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (D).

The supreme court’s unanimous order read, “The allegations in this case are deeply troubling and our review requires that we treat the factual allegations as true. Nevertheless, after carefully considering the issues presented, the court concludes that the recall charges presented in this case are factually and legally insufficient.”

Elliott Grace, Harvey, Alan Meekins Jr., Courtney Scott, Leah Solomon, and Charlie Stone organized the recall effort.

The Washington Constitution allows for the recall of elected officials if they violate their oath of office or “in commission of some act or acts of malfeasance or misfeasance while in office.” To put a recall on the ballot, recall supporters have 180 days to collect valid signatures equal to 25% of the total vote for the office in the last regular election.

Organizers in the recall effort against Durkan began filing paperwork on June 15, 2020.

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Roberts ruled on July 10, 2020, that petitioners could begin gathering signatures. Roberts dismissed six of the seven charges as insufficient for a recall election. The second charge was found to be sufficient grounds for the recall effort to move forward. Recall organizers had until January 6, 2021, to gather about 54,000 valid signatures in order to put the recall election on the ballot.

The second charge of the recall petition said, “Mayor Durkan endangered the peace and safety of the community and violated her duties under RCW 35.18.200, Seattle Charter Art. V, Sec. 2, SMC 10.02.010A, and her oath to uphold US Const., Amends. 1 and 4, Washington Constitution, Art. 1 Sec. 3-5, when she failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department when using crowd control measures during a public health emergency.”

The state of Washington selects its state supreme court justices through nonpartisan elections. Of the nine members on the supreme court, five have been appointed by Democratic governors to fill vacancies on the court.

The terms of justices Raquel Montoya-Lewis, Charles W. Johnson, and Debra Stephens will expire on January 10, 2021. Additionally, Justice G. Helen Whitener was appointed to fill the vacancy created by Justice Charlie Wiggins’ retirement in March of 2020, so she will face retention election this year. The four seats are up for nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020.

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