A marriage equality organizer and progressive fundraiser is building his campaign to challenge Kshama Sawant in the race to represent Seattle Council District 3.
Rod Hearne told CHS he will enter the race after he filed his campaign paperwork on Tuesday. The former director of Equal Rights Washington told CHS he had been exploring a run in district for months.
“I think I have a good shot at it,” Hearne said. “I’m very, very motived in the new year to get going.”
Hearne, 47, has never run for office, but comes into the race with political experience as a Democratic fundraiser and director of ERW, a group that played a key role in winning statewide marriage equality in 2012.
“I’ve always been a more behind the scenes supporter. A coalition builder, not a front a man,” he said.
The Capitol Hill resident said his decision to step into the limelight was significantly influenced by the block-by-block campaigning now possible under the new district elections. Also appealing, Hearne said, was the opportunity to challenge Sawant under a new voter base.
While Sawant has filed to run in District 3, that’s not set in stone. She could opt to challenge a sitting City Council member for one of two at-large seats after priming District 3 for an ally candidate. The Stranger reported Sawant is considering taking on Sally Clark for one of the at-large seats, leaving District 3 open for fellow Socialist Alternative member Jess Spear. Spear was trounced in her race for a seat in Olympia against incumbent Frank Chopp this fall.
UPDATE: Sawant quickly dispelled the idea she intends to run at-large Wednesday morning by telling The Stranger she is “definitely” running in District 3. Staffer Jeff Upthegrove, apparently fueled by “enthusasium,” was the source of the misinformation.
Philip Locker, political director for the Sawant camp, told CHS Sawant’s intention is to run in District 3, but all options were still on the table. He said Spear is still contemplating her next move within Socialist Alternative.
Hearne will have his work cut out for him if Sawant does in fact run in District 3, where she enjoys a 61% favorability rating. Socialist Alternative already got an early jump on the ground game as well, launching a Sawant-focused newsletter last month. Still, Hearne thinks his record as a coalition builder will appeal to voters who are turned off by Sawant’s ideological approach.
“It’s not going to be a matter of left, right, socialist … It’s going to be ‘solve issues for my district,’” Hearne said. “A lot issues aren’t on the political spectrum.”
Integrating the district’s new public transportation systems, addressing Capitol Hill crime, and exploring city-owned broadband are the issues Hearne said he most wants to tackle. He’s hoping those issues will be central to his campaign as well.
“I’m not really framing things in terms of Kshama Sawant, I really want to run for the district,” he said.
As for other potential candidates, ACLU attorney and pot law author Alison Holcomb is out leaving a hole that sent anti-Sawant camps scrambling to recruit a suitable and willing candidate. It’s anyone’s guess if another major candidate will enter the race. The deadline to file for the November election isn’t until May 15th, so there’s still plenty of time to jump in.
Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District BIA, was rumored to be strongly considering a run. On Tuesday, Blakeney told CHS he had “no plans to hop into the race this year.”
Political consultant Sandeep Kaushik said Democrats can win District 3 by finding a candidate steeped in progressive credentials and with a proven track record to build coalitions. By Kaushik’s estimation, there are two types of viable candidates: the populist progressive and the “communitarian” progressive (think of the 2012 mayoral race between Mike McGinn and Ed Murray.)
“Populist progressives are very good at playing the politics of symbolism. They embody the values their constituents share,” Kaushik said. “Communitarian progressives (can be) just as progressive, but different. They’re trying to reach consensus.”
43rd District Democrats chair Scott Forbes said he agreed.
“There’s room to run on (Sawant’s) left as a practical progressive,” Forbes said, but conceded the task would be easier said than done. “Whoever runs against Sawant is going to get painted as running to the right of her, whether they are or not.”
In addition to proving herself as willing and able to go toe to toe with the status quo on the current Seattle City Council, Sawant’s $15 per hour minimum wage victory runs deep in the progressive district never mind how many area business owners she freaked out in the process.
With Hearne now in the race and Sawant possibly pursuing a higher profile seat, it may open the door for more candidates to emerge in the coming months. Forbes speculated that several candidates were waiting for someone else to absorb the first socialist blows.
“Socialist Alternative have a fill-in-the-blank smear campaign ready,” Forbes said. “There’s an advantage to being a the second candidate to declare.”
Maybe Forbes is that candidate? “I’m not really planning on running for District 3,” he said. We’ll let you parse that statement. Forbes lives in Montlake and will be stepping down as chair of the 43rd Democrats this month to focus on his new job as a patent attorney.
Seattle District 3 includes Capitol Hill, First Hill and the Central District as well as the heavily residential, homeowner-dominated neighborhoods of Madison Park, Madrona, and Montlake.
As Hearne starts revving up his campaign machine, Locker said Socialist Alternative are ready to launch an “unprecedented” ground game in the coming weeks.
“We have no doubt they will eventually find someone to take up the mantle of corporate interests and run against Kshama,” Locker said prior to Hearne’s announcement. “The main reason Kshama will be re-elected is because of her proven track record in one short year.”
Expect to hear more from Hearne in the coming weeks on his track record, as well as his deep roots in District 3 (his great-grandparents lived in Madrona). “This is my natural habitat. I care very deeply about it,” he said.
Friends, it’s true. I’m running for Seattle City Council in the 3rd District.
I’m very excited to try to make Seattle’s new district system work, not just for the people of the 3rd, but for the city as a whole. I’m energized to walk door-to-door over the next several months getting to know my neighbors and meet new friends. In the next few days I’ll be putting up a website with all the trimmings, and I’ll keep you up-to-date on what’s going on.
I want to thank the many friends who’ve been providing me with advice and insights. It’s going to be a tremendous year for the city, and I look forward to making a new path forward together. More tomorrow!