It’s no surprise that Capitol Hill leans hard to left in local elections. In 2015, socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant decisively won reelection against Urban League CEO Pamela Banks with roughly a ten point margin, and lefty Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders had a solid base of support on Capitol Hill during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
The November 2017 general election results complicate this picture — but only slightly. Thanks to Phil Gardner, regional Democratic strategist, CHS has access to detailed visualizations of the final precinct-level voting data from the 2017 local general election. (November’s final election results were finalized on November 28th, according to King County Elections.) Gardner looked at voting data from the citywide Position 8 city council, mayoral, and King County Sheriff’s races.Broadly, the results of the city council and mayoral races illustrate a recurring phenomenon in recent Seattle municipal elections: the wealthier and whiter Seattle neighborhoods with idyllic views voted for so-called “establishment” candidates. The Volunteer Park, Madison Valley, Madrona, and Leschi neighborhoods all voted firmly for Mayor Jenny Durkan and Council member Teresa Mosqueda over civic activist Cary Moon and former Tenants Union director Jon Grant. In one Madrona precinct (SEA 37-1914), both Durkan and Mosqueda won with 67% of the precinct’s 318 votes. However, there are also many waterfront precincts where Durkan won with over 70 and 80% while Mosqueda won with a more modest 56 points.
During the campaign season, both Moon and Grant pitched themselves as progressive outsiders not beholden to corporate interests who would shake up the status-quo at city hall, and played up their lack of support from Seattle’s political establishment. (Grant, in particular, positioned himself as an adversarial leftist activist; he courted the endorsement of the Seattle chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and routinely made statements like “we’re going up against the political class.”)
Durkan, in contrast, ran a campaign on stability and policy continuity with her disgraced predecessor, former Mayor Ed Murray, while Mosqueda touted not only her progressive credentials but her political pragmatism.
In the Capitol Hill and Central District interior, however, this differentiation is less black and white. Moon dominated the Capitol Hill urban core, the Central District, along with precincts in Eastlake by 10 and 20 point margins. In contrast, Mosqueda largely swept Capitol Hill and Central District with the exception of a few precincts near Cal Anderson Park, E Olive Way, Bellevue Avenue, and a precinct encompassing Garfield High School. Even in the few precincts that Grant won, his winning margin was slim—usually between two and five points.
— Phil Gardner (@gardnerphil) November 30, 2017
Gardner and local political commentators have a few ideas as to why Mosqueda rallied Capitol Hill and Central District voters who also voted for ‘outsider’ candidate Moon. “The common ‘establishment liberal’ vs. ‘outsider progressive’ voting pattern is still evident here, but it’s much less dramatic than it has been in other citywide contests,” Gardner wrote via email. “It’s because Mosqueda found a way to appeal to a slice of ‘outsider progressive’ voters in these neighborhoods a lot more effectively than Durkan managed to do.”
“I think most of the credit goes to Mosqueda for managing to show voters convincingly that she didn’t neatly fall into one of these two molds,” he added, referring to the “establishment” and “anti-establishment” Seattle political tropes.
Ben Anderstone, local political consultant and commentator, largely agrees: “Teresa Mosqueda did a lot better among left-winged Seattleites than Jenny Durkan did. This isn’t a shock; Mosqueda is a labor activist with strong social justice credibility. Even if Grant may have run to the left ideologically, Mosqueda had a strong chance of having more extensive progressive credentials,” he wrote via email.
Both Anderstone and Gardner point to The Seattle Times Editorial Board endorsement of Jon Grant in the general election as complicating the traditional geographic voting patterns of Capitol Hill and central Seattle, arguing that more moderate and conservative voters in waterfront neighborhoods may have opted for Grant, bringing down Mosqueda’s margins in those precincts despite being natural “establishment candidate” in the general election race.
“Grant’s Seattle Times endorsement very clearly earned him a lot of votes from moderate and conservative Seattle voters he would otherwise have been unlikely to receive,” said Anderstone.
As for the King County Sheriff’s race, the verdict was near unanimous: Capitol Hill and central Seattle voters are not a fan of Sheriff John Urquhart. His former opponent and Sheriff-elect Mitzi Johanknecht dominated nearly all central Seattle precincts with between 58 and 86%. The only exceptions was precinct SEA 43-1992, which covers a portion of the arboretum and Broadmoor Golf Club just west of Madison Valley, where Urquhart won with 58% of 334 votes.
Anderstone attributes this anomaly to the character and voting history of the precinct. “It was the only precinct in Seattle to vote for Mitt Romney and, prior to Barack Obama in 2008, had never voted for a Democrat for President. Considering Johanknecht’s focus on more left-leaning issues, Broadmoor voting Urquhart isn’t a surprise at all,” he said.
“The 4-to-1 margin for Johanknecht on Capitol Hill isn’t a shock, either. A lot of voters in that neighborhood are looking for “the most progressive” candidate. In some races (like Grant vs. Mosqueda), that mantle is hotly contested. And while Urquhart was arguably to Johanknecht’s left on some issues, like safe injection sites, left-leaning groups (and the Stranger) were pretty uniformly supportive. That’s the magical formula for driving up margins in places like urban Capitol Hill and the Central District,” he added in explaining Capitol Hill’s resolute endorsement of Johanknecht.
Anderson also noted that Urquhart’s voter pamphlets emphasized “government efficiency and ‘bread and butter’ law enforcement issues,” which would appeal to older, more conservative Seattle voters, while Johanknecht focused on issues like police accountability.
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On the macro level, the county-wide election results for the sheriff’s race more closely resemble traditional partisan geographic divides in the region; Johanknecht drew her base of support from Seattle and pockets of the eastside, while Urquhart won southeast King County handily. “The map of the King County Sheriff’s race mirrors very closely the typical pattern you’d see across King County for a down ballot Democrat vs. Republican contest (with Mitzi’s support coming from Democratic areas and Urquhart’s coming from Republican areas),” Gardner wrote.
Several allegations of sexual assault have swirled around Sheriff Urquhart in the run-up to and after his defeat at the ballot box. Numerous local and state-level elected officials rescinded their endorsements of Urquhart’s reelection bid after new allegations surfaced that Urquhart threatened to publicize is accuser’s medical records to discredit her.