Meet the young leaders campaigning for City Council

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As the race for City Council shapes up, the move to district-based elections is playing out in the candidate field. There are significantly more candidates (10 so far in the 1st district alone), a number of them significantly younger and frankly less wealthy than candidates in years past. Coupled with the exodus of long-time councilmembers Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen and Nick Licata, that has left most races wide open.

Here’s a look at the 35-and-under set in this year's Seattle City Council elections.

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Credit: Brianna Thomas LinkedIn

Brianna Thomas, 33, is running in Seattle’s 1st district. She’s the field director for the Washington Housing Alliance, and formerly served as the Field Director for SeaTac’s $15 an hour minimum wage campaign.

Thomas, who calls herself an Army brat, sees a place on the City Council as the "next step in a life of public service.”

So what issue would be first on her plate? Thomas wants to make changes in how Seattle polices its citizens, and how the city itself thinks about the police. Her primary goal, she says, is, “establishing a better relationship with the police in our community. Creating trust on both sides of that conversation.”

On how district elections have changed the game for younger candidates: Thomas says district elections let candidates focus on a much smaller area and give them fewer doors to knock on, making campaigning and balancing a full-time job possible. If only barely.

Thomas describes “midnight runs to the grocery store” as a frequent occurrence after working and then campaigning all evening. She says plenty of times she’ll run into other candidates on late-night grocery runs after burning the candle at both ends.

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Morgan Beach, 28, is running in Seattle's 3rd District, making her an opponent of Kshama Sawant. She works in Development and Stewardship at the American Red Cross and is also volunteer commissioner with the Seattle Women’s Commission.

“Wage equity has been an issue for 30 years," she said. "Every candidate has called it out.” But Beach feels there's a disconnect between the city's positive rhetoric and what it actually does to address the problem. “We don’t always back it up with our public policies,” she said.

Beach is confident she can tackle it. “The single goal of my campaign would be to be the first major city in the U.S. to reach gender pay equity,” she said.

On how district elections have changed the game for younger candidates: “The districting system lowered the barriers,” said Beach. Still, she's wary of falling into the 'young candidate' trap, in which her youth is more exciting to people than her ideas.

“I don’t want people to immediately discount the young people in the race as not viable.”

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Credit: Michael Maddux LinkedIn

Michael Maddux, 33, is running in District 4. A paralegal at Graham Lundberg & Peschel and a parks activist, his goals are to “really tackle rising rents, tackle rising home costs. And costs to do business.” To that end, Maddux points to a growing conversation about evictions in the city of Seattle, saying he wants to “limit the ability for landlords to de facto evict people by raising rent over 100 percent with no notice.”

Maddux points to the Forward Thrust ballot measures of 1968 and ‘70, which used public bonds to  improve regional public utilities like mass transit and low income housing, as legislation he'd like to emulate. He'd also like to create more strategic structural change to the Seattle area. “There’s a lot of patchwork that we do. It’s really just putting band-aids on a gushing wound,” Maddux said.

The City Council candidate and father also said he thinks the redistricting will, "give the councilmembers an opportunity to be closer with their communities.”

On how district elections have changed the game: “We’re getting more people with the perspective of our generation,” Maddux says.

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Halei Watkins, 26, is a Regional Field Organizer at Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, running in the 5th District. She says she was at the National Women’s Political Caucus this year joking about making a run, but after receiving an overwhelmingly positive response the idea, decided to take it more seriously.

“My top priority is tackling basic infrastructure issues,” Watkins says, highlighting a bus system that is sometimes painfully inefficient for her Planned Parenthood volunteers to navigate. “To get from campus to Northgate transit center is about 15-20 minutes. To get from campus to just west of the freeway, on Northgate Way, it’s about 40-45 minutes and a transfer. And that’s only a mile away from the Northgate transit center,” Watkins says.

Sidewalks, which she says are unusable in “about two thirds of our district,” are also on her agenda.

On how district elections have changed the game: "The new districting system allows a new way for the constituents to interact with people in office.” Watkins says. She thinks that for the the 5th District, "which has very long been ignored" its time to be heard.

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Mercedes Elizalde, 28, is running in the 5th District. She works as the Volunteer Programs Coordinator at the Low Income Housing institute and is co-chair of the Seattle Women’s Commission. Elizalde says she is most passionate about housing and homelessness, calling for “broader rent-stabilization legislation.”

She thinks the city isn't asking enough of its property owners with the Multi Family Tax Exemption, a tax credit on residential improvements on multifamily projects in exchange for setting aside 20 percent of the units for low-income households. She feels we're not defining low-income right.  "If developers want the benefit of tax credits, they should be building housing for the portion of renters most in need of housing — those making $44,800 or less," she explains on her website.

Talking to her for a few minutes about this subject can make one feel like they just accidentally walked into a college class they're not prepared for.

Elizalde says the redistricting has made her excited for this election, she feels in the past other neighborhoods around Seattle weren’t always being heard. “City-wide has become downtown centric,” she said.

On how district elections have changed the game: At a recent candidate forum in Bitterlake, Elizalde was thrilled to see a little more diversity. “I wasn’t the only woman and I wasn't the only person of color," she says. "That was a really good feeling.”

“I was initially worried that my age would be a factor. But the kind of reception I got, it’s really clear that’s not an issue for most voters.”

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Jonathan Grant, 32, is running for citywide Position 8. He has been the director of the Tenants Union of Washington State since 2010, and is the only under-35 candidate running for an at-large seat. He saw Nick Licata's departure as his call to action. "Without Nick Licata, there would be a big void for a strong progressive voice," he says. Grant hopes to fill that role, by representing "the interests of low income folks on city council."

The most immediate crisis he sees facing the city: "Skyrocketing housing costs." It's a problem he says demands action now. "We need to be bold and act quickly to address the crisis that we’re in.”

He'd like to see a Principal Reduction Program that would "essentially allow the city to buy the properties that are underwater and have people pay the city back.”

On how district elections have changed the game:  The redistricting didn't effect his decision to run, but he's glad to see it in effect. “It was a referendum on the incumbents in City Hall. Seattle is tired of these middle-of-the-road candidates. And people want candidates to push bold and progressive policies.”


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Cody Olsen

Cody Olsen was an editorial intern with Crosscut. He has a degree in Political Science from WWU, a passion for Journalism and a love for making movies on the side. This past summer he spent a few months traveling around South America and is now a bit of a travel junkie. He can be reached at