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McDermott announcement expected to set off race to represent Capitol Hill in Congress — UPDATE


(Image: CHS)

The stage is apparently set for the first truly interesting race in decades to represent our Capitol Hill in Congress.

After serving Capitol Hill for 14 terms, Rep. Jim McDermott is reportedly planning to retire.

UPDATE (11:30 AM): McDermott officially announced he would not seek reelection at the end of the year during a media conference in Seattle Monday afternoon. “This was not an easy decision to make. I don’t like to quit,” he said, adding later, “there comes a time when you say to yourself ‘enough.'”

The veteran congressman said he had been thinking about retiring for a long time and decided to make the announcement now to give voters enough time to get to know candidates for the 7th District seat. McDermott wouldn’t name a preferred successor but let out a hearty laugh when asked about his thoughts on a socialist getting elected. “I’d like to see a progressive,” he said.

CD_07Rumors of McDermott’s D.C. exit after 27 years began trickling in over the weekend when he notified media outlets that he was planning to make an “important” announcement Monday. Several reports cited anonymous sources saying it was about the 79-year-old’s retirement.

McDermott is perhaps best known nationally for anti-war statements he made while in Iraq in 2002 just prior to the U.S.-led invasion. On Monday he said he was proud that he stood against the war. “Somebody has to say that stuff and this district gave me the power to do it,” he said.

After a career in politics that spanned four decades, McDermott said it was difficult to distill his work into his proudest accomplishments. He cited his decades-long work on national healthcare reform, local funding for the arts, and earmarking funds for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail that will serve Capitol Hill this year as standout achievements. After leaving Congress, McDermott said he wants to teach and sail.

McDermott ended his official statement by quoting The Lord of the Rings:

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

As the representative from the bluest of blue 7th District, the Democratic Congressman developed reputation for being among the more liberal representatives on the other Capitol Hill.

The 7th District covers the majority of Seattle and Capitol Hill, but leaves out a substantial section of the city south of E Madison. McDermott is a senior member of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which is responsible for writing tax policy.


Walkinshaw and new Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzalez at the Capitol Hill Community Council’s Winter Celebration (Image: CHS)

McDermott’s retirement will set the stage for an intriguing election in November. State Rep. Brady Walkinshaw, who lives on Capitol Hill, announced he was running for McDermott’s seat in December while McDermott was still ostensibly planning to run for reelection. Walkinshaw’s announcement caused some turmoil among local Democrats and may have strained his relationship with some party officials. However, jumping in early, if only by a few weeks, also gave the 31-year-old an important advantage for early fundraising to capitalize on an extremely rare opportunity in Seattle politics.

Walkinshaw thanked McDermott for his years of service in a statement Monday.

From the beginning of this campaign, I made it clear that I have an enormous respect for Congressman Jim McDermott’s progressive values and long history of public service. His leadership on efforts including the creation of our State’s Public Disclosure Commission, our State’s basic health plan, his steadfast devotion for peace, and his recent role in improving foster care services in our country leaves a remarkable legacy.

McDermott is deeply entrenched in Washington state politics. The former U.S. Navy psychiatrist was first elected to the state House in 1970 and served four terms in the state Senate. In 1988 he was elected to Congress and won every reelection race since without any major opposition.

In 2012, McDermott’s main challenger from within the party was a Seattle U-educated lawyer with zero political experience. In that election, McDermott defeated his Republican rival Ron Bemis in a landslide, collecting 80% of the vote. In 2014, McDermott won over GOP candidate Craig Keller with 81% of the vote.

While no other candidate beyond Walkinshaw has publicly joined the race, there are a few names you can probably scratch off the list. In the wake of Reddit rumors last year, area Democrats close to the 60-year-old said Mayor Ed Murray shifted in 2015 to see his role as a big city mayor as the strongest way to move his version of progressive politics forward. City Council incumbent and new Seattle District 3 leader Kshama Sawant doesn’t live in the 7th. 43rd District state representative Jamie Pedersen, meanwhile, has a young family and is unlikely to enter the fray.

McDermott has been a genuine trailblazer for Democrats in the 43rd District, which includes Capitol Hill. In 1970, he was the first-ever Democrat to get elected to the state House from the district, which had been solidly Republican. “It started a really long and eventful political career,” Pedersen said.

Pedersen told CHS he’s expecting a very crowded field and that he likely wouldn’t make an endorsement until after the May filing deadline. “My personal preference would be for someone who can work well with others because I suspect we’ll be entering into a phase of Republican (control),” he said.

UPDATE: The Stranger reports Sawant isn’t ruling out a run — apparently, you can run for a Congressional district you don’t live in.

UPDATE 1:52 PM: Let the jockeying begin:

UPDATE 3:25 PM: Mayor Murray’s statement on McDermott’s retirement recalls the statesman’s place as “the first legislator from the 43rd to be elected by the people of the 7th Congressional District”:

Congressman McDermott has been a fearless progressive voice for more than four decades, advocating for universal health care, reforming foster care and investing in global health. He was one of the few principled members of Congress to actively oppose the invasion of Iraq. As the first Democrat elected from Seattle’s 43rd District to the state Legislature, he was a visionary leader in Olympia who helped create what is now known as Washington’s Basic Health Plan. He was the first legislator from the 43rd to be elected by the people of the 7th Congressional District, and has been a distinguished public servant for the people of Seattle and Washington state.

UPDATE 5:45 PM: King County Council member Joe McDermott addressed expectations he might enter the race in his statement on his non-relative’s retirement:

“I have enormous respect for Jim McDermott,” said McDermott. “Whether it was tackling the HIV/AIDS crisis or Congressman McDermott’s long-term advocacy for health care reform, he has been a true champion for progressive causes. I was honored to receive a call from him yesterday so I could express my appreciation personally. 

“Since his announcement, I have received dozens of calls from constituents and local and national leaders encouraging me to seek this office. I will not take this decision lightly and will be discussing it with my husband and family over the next few days.

“Seattle is the greatest city in the world. My regional experience, progressive values and proven ability to work across the aisle position me to advance the issues important to our city and tackle the obstructionism and dysfunction that have sadly become the hallmarks of Congress.

 “My focus will remain tackling homelessness, ensuring an efficient transit system, and addressing the growing income inequality that threatens our middle class.”

 McDermott, 48, is a third-generation resident of West Seattle, where he lives with his husband Michael. He was elected to the King County Council in 2010 after serving the prior ten years in both chambers of the Washington State Legislature.


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2 thoughts on “McDermott announcement expected to set off race to represent Capitol Hill in Congress — UPDATE

  1. This could be a good way to get Council member Sawant the platform she wants while securing better representation for District 3 on the Council. Our representative is basically dead meat in the Republican controlled House so why not send her there?