Drew Atkins, Mason Bryan and Joe Copeland contributed to this story. Find a full listing of preliminary election results here.
The lead-up to yesterday’s general election – replete with a new district system, blackmail, historic spending, dark money and attack ads – promised the possibility of tectonic shifts in Seattle’s political landscape.
Would Kshama Sawant-style lefties take over the City Council? Would voters, sapped by eye-popping rents and year after year of property tax raises, reject Mayor Ed Murray’s almost $1 billion transportation levy?
If the initial results are any indication, however, this election was only remarkable in how closely it maintained Seattle’s status quo.
A big win for Mayor Ed Murray
In the days leading up to Tuesday night, the campaign to pass the $930 million Move Seattle transportation levy seemed to lose confidence that voters would approve the property tax hike. Sandeep Kaushik, a consultant for the campaign, told Crosscut last weekend that he and his colleagues were “concerned.” Even at the election night party in the Belltown Pub, Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim gave a “fair” sign when asked how she was feeling about the levy’s chances.
But when the preliminary numbers came in – 57 percent in favor – the crowd erupted. Scott Kubly, director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, looked like he might faint. “I’m not shocked,” he claimed. “I’m just excited. It says people have an optimistic view of Seattle.”
Mayor Ed Murray, who arrived shortly after the results were released, resisted declaring victory. “If the current trends continue,” he said, “then the grassroots has spoken and Seattle will get moving again. While the rest of the nation says no, Seattle once again says yes. We can be an affordable city, we can be a livable city, we can be a model for how this country can move forward.”
When Crosscut asked Murray if he was surprised by the preliminary results, he alluded to the large amount of money from the levy’s principle opponent, local businesswoman Faye Garneau, as a major obstacle, implying that the results of Tuesday’s elections were far from a guarantee.
In North Seattle, where Garneau and fellow levy opponent Eugene Wasserman hosted their own campaign party, the mood was much more subdued. "I'm not shedding any tears over it, but I think this will make a better mayor of him," Garneau said of Murray. "He has hopefully learned his lesson, that he has to provide accountability if he's going to ask for so much money."
On the City Council, the "establishment" reigns
The Seattle City Council will look different in the new year. For one, it will be the first majority female council since 1998. But for allies of Councilmember Kshama Sawant, the initial results are not as they’d hoped. While Sawant looks to be positioned to serve another term, pulling in 53 percent of the vote, the “progressive majority” she and citywide candidate Jon Grant often spoke of in press conferences and public forums appears out of reach.
When the ballots dropped at Bar Sue on Capitol Hill – where Grant, the leftist challenger to Council President Tim Burgess, was hosting his campaign party – the air was sucked from the room. One person whispered “No.” Although Burgess was up by 16 percentage points, Grant tried to remain upbeat. “We do not concede!” he said. “There are still thousands and thousands of ballots out there.”
While Grant is likely to gain ground in the coming days, as ballots from the city's notoriously late-voting ultra-left contingent are counted, Burgess has 57 percent of the early votes, well above the 55 percent he had pegged as his magic number. So while he didn’t declare victory, exactly, he seemed satisfied by the preliminary results. “I'm humbled that the people of Seattle have shown they have faith in me," he told Crosscut.