What’s at stake in the 2023 Seattle City Council elections?

With seven of nine seats up for grabs, here’s how the new Council might address housing, homelessness, public safety, police accountability and more.

a composite of all the seattle city council candidates' headshots

Candidates for Seattle City Council. (Illustration by Valerie Niemeyer)

The new Seattle City Council will enter office in January with a mountain of pressing issues to address, from crime and public safety to housing affordability and homelessness, plus a budget shortfall that could force some hard choices.

And the City Council will largely be new. The seven district Council positions on the nine-member body are up for election (the other two are at-large), and only three incumbents are competing to stay in office. On top of that, at-large Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is running for King County Council and won her primary by 20 points, meaning she’s likely leaving the City Council as well, which would result in another new Councilmember being appointed. 

Voters want change. The most recent Crosscut/Elway Poll of likely voters found 44% of respondents want to significantly change the direction of the City Council. A KOMO News poll shows the current Council’s approval ratings at just 20%.

This election is a contest between Maren Costa and Rob Saka in District 1, incumbent Tammy Morales and Tanya Woo in District 2, Joy Hollingsworth and Alex Hudson in District 3, Ron Davis and Martiza Rivera in District 4, Cathy Moore and ChrisTiana ObeySumner in District 5, incumbent Dan Strauss and Pete Hanning in District 6, and incumbent Andrew Lewis and Bob Kettle in District 7.   

For a quick look at each candidates’ platforms, check out Crosscut’s 2023 Voter Guide.

For a deep dive into how candidates have promised to tackle the city’s big issues in every race, read Crosscut’s district election profiles:

So what will a new City Council do about those pressing problems? The races are all very competitive and it’s tough to guess who will be sitting on the dais next year. But looking at the candidates’ policy positions helps shed light on the future Council’s potential direction for Seattle.

Public safety and policing

Public safety has been the dominant issue this election. Many candidates said it was crime and the current Council’s approach to policing that got them into the race. Voter concern about “crime/drugs/public safety” jumped from 38% to 48% between the Metro Chamber of Commerce’s April and October polls.

Police staffing is actually one of the policy areas with the broadest agreement among candidates. All but three candidates have said they support hiring more police officers. Morales, Hudson and ObeySumner said they think money for police hiring would instead be better spent on police alternatives and upstream investments to tackle root causes. Davis said he supports hiring more officers, but is skeptical of promises to hire 500-600 more, as Mayor Bruce Harrell aims to do, given the slow pace of recruitment so far. The remaining candidates have all said they support Harrell’s hiring goal.

Every candidate in the race said they support some form of police alternative, such as sending non-police responders on mental health calls and nonprofit violence interruption groups. The next Council will likely face tough choices about how to prioritize limited money in the budget between traditional policing and alternatives.

The Council also will have the important task of negotiating and ratifying police accountability measures. The Seattle Police Officers Guild, the union representing officers, is currently negotiating its contract with the city and the outcome is seen as essential for accountability. In 2017, the City Council adopted new measures making it easier to discipline and fire officers for misconduct. In 2018, SPOG’s new contract weakened those measures, yet the Council voted 8-1 to ratify it.

“We are particularly concerned about the SPOG contract,” said Rev. Patricia Hunter, Seattle Community Police Commission co-chair. “This new Council needs to not bargain away accountability of police. … Officers have to be held accountable for their actions that harm the residents of the city.”

Budget and taxes

Though policing and public safety have been the leading talking point this election cycle, how candidates approach a projected budget deficit and consider new local taxes will have a major impact on the Council’s ability to pay for campaign promises.

Seattle is projected to face a $251 million general-fund deficit in 2025. Progressives want the city to levy new taxes to tap into Seattle residents’ vast wealth. Business leaders and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce want city officials to tighten the city’s belt and audit the existing budget to find savings.

The August Crosscut/Elway poll found that 63% of likely voters support some form of new tax on Seattle’s largest businesses and 60% said they support some form of new tax on the city’s wealthiest residents.

Costa, Morales, Hudson, Davis and ObeySumner support new taxes such as a city-level version of the state capital gains tax or an expansion of the Jumpstart payroll tax on big businesses. Saka, Woo, Hollingsworth, Rivera, Strauss and Lewis want to start with a budget audit and find ways to support businesses to grow the existing tax base. They said they would resort to new taxes only as a last resort. Hanning and Kettle similarly want to pursue a budget audit and find ways to support existing and new businesses, but oppose any new city-level taxes.

Chamber President and CEO Rachel Smith said she thinks the new Council’s approach to city finances and businesses will be key for building a better relationship: “The best-case scenario for me is that the successful candidates, when they get in office, show that they care about the business community as a constituent and stakeholder. We don’t need to be the exclusive stakeholder, but we need to be important to them.”

Katie Wilson said the next Council’s approach to taxes will be deeply consequential for affordable housing, climate projects and other pressing issues. Wilson is general secretary of the progressive political group Seattle Transit Riders Union and was a member of the Revenue Stabilization Workgroup that recommended new taxes the city could pass.

“How do you go about cutting $200 million from the general fund? Well, the answer is, you don’t,” said Wilson. “The natural thing to do is to pillage Jumpstart and redirect that funding to plug the budget hole. All of a sudden you’ve walked back building new housing, not to mention the Green New Deal and everything else.”

Drug crisis

In many ways Seattle’s approach to public drug use is already baked in. The new drug bill authorizing the Seattle city attorney to prosecute public possession passed in September. SPD has started making arrests under the law.

But the fentanyl crisis is worsening and will almost certainly remain an important policy area for the Council, including the potential for future legislation refining the city’s drug policy.

Costa, Morales, Hudson, Davis and ObeySumner have said they oppose arresting people for drug use and instead want to see those resources and energy spent on expanding treatment options to help people. Saka, Woo, Hollingsworth, Rivera, Moore, Strauss, Hanning, Lewis and Kettle said they support arrests for public drug use as one tool while also calling for expanded treatment.

Progressives have called the new law a return to a War-on-Drugs approach that will disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income and homeless people.

Downtown Seattle Association president Jon Scholes said the city’s approach to the drug crisis is essential for Downtown’s continued post-pandemic recovery.

“We need to see more of what we saw over the last couple days: SPD intervening with public drug use Downtown,” said Scholes. “Then people not booked into King County jail are diverted into LEAD.”


Making real progress on homelessness is challenging and expensive, but Seattle voters largely support trying to tackle the issue systemically. Asked to prioritize encampment sweeps or building more affordable housing and providing more mental health services, 55% of Crosscut/Elway poll respondents in August chose housing and services versus 41% who said encampment clearing.

Costa, Morales, Davis and ObeySumner do not support clearing encampments without moving people into shelter or housing. Saka, Woo, Rivera, Strauss, Hanning, Kettle and Lewis said they generally do support the city’s current approach to encampment clearance, which often displaces people without them moving into shelter. Hudson, Hollingsworth and Moore have said it depends on the situation. For example, in an interview with the podcast Hacks and Wonks, Hollingsworth said she wants to connect people to resources, not sweep them, but that if an encampment was next to a school she might reconsider.

Every candidate said they want to see the city build more shelter space and permanently affordable housing. Alison Eisinger, executive director of the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, said she hopes candidates are being realistic about exactly what the city needs.

“We do not currently fund lasting solutions like housing or lifesaving survival solutions like shelter adequately. Not even close. We need both,” she said. “We don’t have time for public officials to delay opening the next shelter or supportive housing, or pretend that there’s a cheap, universal alternative like a big tent. Good services that meet people’s complex needs are effective – but they are not cheap.”


A recent report by the state estimated that Seattle needs to build 112,000 new units of housing over the next 20 years to meet the need. That housing needs to be a mix of subsidized affordable and market-rate apartments, condos and other homes.

“The upcoming City Council has a historic opportunity to make decisions that will shape a generation, and 2024 is pivotal,” said Housing Development Consortium executive director Patience Mabala.

Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan update will dictate where most of that housing can be built. As part of that, the city has presented several options for increasing housing density, with “Alternative 5” allowing for the most apartment buildings and other housing density. 

Marking a shift in Seattle housing politics, every candidate has said they support at least the density levels of Alternative 5, with some important caveats. Costa, Morales, Hudson, Davis and ObeySumner have said they support the city going beyond Alternative 5 to allow even more density.

Saka, Woo, Hollingsworth, Rivera, Moore and Kettle all hedged their support for density, saying it’s important to take a thoughtful or cautious approach, not a one-size-fits-all approach to housing in each neighborhood.

Get registered and vote

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 7. Ballots are due in by mail or dropbox before 8 p.m. on Election Day. Washington allows same-day voter registration, but you need to go to one of six county voting centers to do so. If you’re voting on Election Day, put your ballot in a dropbox.

Voter Guide 2023


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