Election 2017: The citywide city council races — a Capitol Hill-centric explainer

November ballots are out and voting has started. CHS election coverage has already given you a Capitol Hill thing or three to think about in the Seattle Mayor’s race pitting Jenny Durkan vs. Cary Moon. Now let’s look at the citywide City Council races. CHS has compiled a rundown on the platforms, positions, and campaign rhetoric of the four candidates for Position 8 and Position 9 with issues particularly relevant to Capitol Hill, the Central District, and District 3 in mind.

The position 8 city council seat—which was recently vacated by former veteran council member and now interim mayor, Tim Burgess—is being contested by Teresa Mosqueda, a former state-level labor union lobbyist, and Jon Grant, former director of the Tenants Union. Meanwhile, former civil rights attorney and current incumbent council member representing the Position 9 citywide seat, Lorena Gonzalez, is being challenged by South Seattle business owner and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami.

POSITION 8

This race has received the most attention and media coverage out of the two city council seats up for grabs. When Burgess announced last December that he wouldn’t seek re election, candidates began piling on to the race. The August primary pushed Mosqueda and Grant through with 31.59 and 26.87% of the vote respectively (Grant beat out Fremont Brewing owner Sara Nelson for second place by five points).

Leading up to the primary, Grant, staked out territory in Seattle’s far left by lambasting the influence of developers and big business in Seattle politics, giving a speech at a Seattle Democratic Socialists of America event at the University of Washington and, eventually, earning their endorsement; along with endorsements from lefty council members Kshama Sawant (District 3 – Capitol Hill) and Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle).

In contrast, Mosqueda positioned herself as a pragmatic and consensus-oriented progressive; she jumped into the race with endorsements from prominent Democrats at the state and federal level such as Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib

(and, more recently, the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson) and Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal,  in addition to local community leaders like Fe Lopez of the Community Police Commission and Jorge Baron with the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project.

The battle lines have been in drawn in similar ways throughout October and September; Grant has attacked Mosqueda for being too cozy with elites in Olympia and Seattle, while Mosqueda has pushed back, touting her progressive credentials and pragmatic approach to public policy.

Housing and Development

On housing and land use, the policy contrasts are some of clearest between the two candidates.

As member of former Mayor Ed Murray’s 25 member Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda (HALA) committee, Grant advocated for rent control, linkage fees, and abstained from the final vote of approval on the committee’s recommendations to create “space to “have a [public] conversation” about “letting private developers off the hook for millions and millions and millions of dollars.” In his campaign platform, Grant calls for taxing corporations to pay for affordable housing and raising city requirements on developers who build in up-zoned parts of Seattle to set aside 25 percent of their units as rent-restricted and ‘affordable’.

Mosqueda has criticized this proposal, arguing that such a high set aside rate would stifle development (which contributes to the city’s market and below market-rate housing stock) and would likely face legal challenges. She’s called for bonding against MHA in-lieu fees so that the city doesn’t have to wait for revenue to trickle in from developers before allocating it to affordable housing, handing city owned surplus land to affordable housing developers, invest in community land trusts, and increase access to low income and senior property tax exemptions. In an editorial that Mosqueda penned back in May, she took a not-so-subtle jab at Grant by deconstructing the feasibility of a 25 percent set aside and running with the headline “We need to get real about affordable housing”. (Grant and Mosqueda both support rent stabilization, addressing speculation in the housing market, and increasing tenant rights)

On zoning—a longstanding hot button issue in Seattle—Mosqueda is onboard with adding density to Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods. While her campaign platform makes no mention of the issue, in an interview with veteran Seattle journalist Erica C. Barnett, she said: “The two-thirds of our city that is zoned for single family use has got to be reevaluated. We cannot create the affordable housing that we need for the folks who are living here, working here, retiring here, and those who are coming here, if we do not go back and add cottages, duplexes, triplexes, and affordable units.” Grant is skeptical of liberalizing Seattle’s zoning, arguing that single family zoning [somehow] keeps landlords from selling properties that house tenants: “If you just allow for a citywide elimination of single family zoning, what’s going to happen is that the first properties to go are going to be rental properties, because if you rezone that area, the landlord who owns those properties will be very quick to sell it off to a developer to build a million-dollar condo or whatever,” he told Barnett.

Mosqueda has also won the endorsement of the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund, the political arm of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance. (She’s also a renter in Queen Anne, while Grant owns a foreclosure home in South Seattle.)

Transit

On transit, both candidates are largely in agreement in what needs to be invested in—though differences show when it comes to their preferred funding sources for currently stagnating or slow moving transit projects. Grant calls for levying impact fees on developers, an employee hours and employee head taxes on businesses to pay for enhancements to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to fully implement the Bicycle Master Plan, achieve Vision Zero, and speed up planned Move Seattle investments. Mosqueda endorses investing in the same infrastructure, but doesn’t name the same potential revenue sources as Grant. (She does explicitly call for expanding the youth bus pass program, unlike Grant.) Similarly, both candidates want to expedite the ST3 timeline, but Grant has said he wants to use the employee hours tax, while Mosqueda stated that the city should explore local levies, bonding, or an income tax to funnel more money to Sound Transit.

LGBTQ

For both candidates, their positions on LGBTQ issues don’t seem to be a major selling point. Neither candidate has devoted a section of their campaign platform to the subject (despite the recent yet steady increase in reported hate crimes in Seattle). In an interview given to Seattle Gay News, Mosqueda mainly discussed how Seattle’s income inequality and housing crisis impacts immigrants, people of color, and LGBTQ people alike. (She also has the endorsement of Debbie Carlsen, Executive Director of LGBTQ Allyship.) Grant’s views on LGBTQ issues— while highly likely in line with mainstream Seattle liberals—haven’t been widely discussed throughout the campaign. This isn’t to say that either candidates stand in opposition to LGBTQ community interests by any stretch; but, seemingly, the issues aren’t a high priority for them in this citywide race.

POSITION 9
This race has been much quieter; probably because the incumbent, Council member Lorena Gonzalez, stands with very strong political footing against her challenger, South Seattle business owner and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami.

Gonzalez won in a 78-percent-of-the-vote landslide against slow-growth activist Bill Bradburd when she was first elected to the city council in 2015, and is expected to win by similar margins this time around. During her almost two years on the city council, she’s earned a reputation for being a competent, thoughtful, and highly progressive council member. She came in first in the 2017 August primary with a whopping 64 percent. In contrast, Murakami took in a little under 20 percent. Gonzalez also has the backing of Seattle’s political establishment, many local media outlets, in addition to a slew of labor unions and progressive advocacy organizations. Murakami has garnered endorsements from The Seattle Times (their editorial board liked Murakami’s intent to reign in city spending and to increase homeowner representation in city hall), as well as the Green Party of Seattle and various community members.

But the David and Goliath-esc scenario hasn’t stopped Murakami from openly criticizing her opponent. Some of the lines of attack Murakami is using against Gonzalez sound familiar: that she’s too close to developers and Seattle’s political establishment (Bradburd, who was also a neighborhood activist, made similar but less direct accusations in 2015). A new one is that Gonzalez has been blind to public safety issues in South Seattle and underrepresented communities, a narrative that Gonzalez contests. “I spend a lot of time in south Seattle … Ms. Murakami’s perception is that I’m not spending enough time with single-family homeowners,” Gonzalez told regional freelance reporter John Stang.

Housing and Development

The two candidates are rough polar opposites on this swath of issues. Gonzalez supports the bulk the HALA recommendations, but believes that more needs to be done. She endorses adding density in Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods to allow duplexes and triplexes and believes that the city council should do more to explore “anti-displacement tools.” She also touts her role in allocating $400,000 for a feasibility study of using city-owned surplus property for affordable housing development, and told The Urbanist that she is flexible on adjusting the MHA affordability requirements depending on localized market and neighborhood circumstances.

In contrast, Murakami fiercely opposes the HALA recommendations as well as adding density to Seattle’s single family neighborhoods, telling Barnett that “the whole thing should be revisited. It was written by developers for developers, and we need community input.” She advocates for increased neighborhood participation in urban planning and individual development projects. In a very illustrative quote given to Barnett, Murakami said : “I want neighbors to have a say in where the density goes, and I want the density to fit into the neighborhood. Let’s take Eastlake, for example. You’ve got houses going up a hillside that all have views, and they’re talking about raising the height limits on everything. Why not just put all the density up against the freeway, not affect the views, and just go much higher than you were planning to along the freeway? Then they get a view and everybody down the hill maintains theirs.”  In other interviews, she’s argued that the housing units produced in up zoned neighborhoods aren’t affordable, and that the up zones don’t help the city’s affordability program. Her campaign platform also calls for raising the MHA affordability requirements to 25 percent, similar to Jon Grant.

Transit

Murakami doesn’t have a designated ‘transit’ section in her campaign platform, though she has said that she wants to use impact fees to fund ST3. She also supports increased Sounder train service to Everett and Tacoma and locating metro transit stations near light rail stations, in addition to building out bike and pedestrian infrastructure near said stations. As for reaching Vision Zero, Murakami wants to increase construction of separated bike lanes, neighborhood greenways, banning non-residents from utilizing neighborhood greenways—in the questionnaire where she said this, Murakami did not explain how this idea would be implemented—and establish pedestrian-only zones, such as on Pike/Pine. (She also wishes that they built parking lots near the existing light rail stations).

Gonzalez hasn’t devoted much of her platform to transit—aside from reiterating her support of ST3—but told The Urbanist that discussions should happen on how Seattle can contribute to ST3 financially; she also said that the City is currently studying a possible “transportation and parking impact fee” for ST3 purposes. Similarly, she’s in favor of exploring ways to incentivize carpooling and transit use, in addition to increasing and expanding metro service to areas that are deprived of frequent public transit and building up bicycle infrastructure. Additionally, she fully supports reaching Vision Zero and prioritizing Safe Routes to School projects.

LGBTQ

While Murakami makes no mention of LGBTQ issues in her campaign platform, Gonzalez points to her writing legislation that banned gay ‘conversion therapy’ in Seattle; legislation that was passed by the city council back in 2016. She doesn’t tout any new proposals for how to better serve Seattle’s LGBTQ communities, but if her legislative record is anything to go by, it illustrates solidarity through effective policy.

Subscribe and support CHS Contributors -- $1/$5/$10 per month

One thought on “Election 2017: The citywide city council races — a Capitol Hill-centric explainer

Leave a Reply