Organizations have made their endorsements, big cash has been doled out to some candidates, and oodles of Democracy Vouchers have been collected, all culminating in the voters finally having their official say, and moving two candidates forward to the November General Election.
With ballots for the August 6 top-two primary election mailed out to Seattleites and drop boxes open, here’s a look at each of the District 3 candidate’s biggest strengths and weaknesses to help if you’re still undecided in the race.
Council member Kshama Sawant
Biggest strength: Name recognition/passionate support
As voters get their ballots in D3, chances are the name that will jump out to many voters is Sawant’s given her position not only as a current councilmember, but as one of the most notable politicians in Seattle. This is partly due to the fact that she is the only socialist on the council, which, in turn, has allowed her to earn both thousands of dollars and many eager supporters. As CHS reported Wednesday, Sawant’s campaign boasts the biggest team of staffers and volunteers, which has surely helped with doorbelling across the district. And as endorsement meetings have shown in multiple legislative districts, her supporters can organize well on her behalf to block other candidates.
Biggest weakness: Incumbency
Ask most political science majors and they’ll tell you that incumbency is a major advantage in elections, but in a year when voters are increasingly frustrated with the council, her position could spell trouble. Not only that, but Sawant has been polarizing in her tenure, and voters may just look to move on from this experiment. Also, unlike other candidates, she has a history of council votes and high-profile remarks that some voters could take issue with, and the failed head tax debacle has animated much of this year’s campaign.
Biggest strength: Clear agenda for homelessness.
From the start of the campaign, Bowers has aimed to make his campaign about one of the biggest issues in Seattle, housing affordability and homelessness. He has been talking about adding duplexes and triplexes to every block for months now, and it has caught on, with other candidates adopting the same policy position. All the candidates have talked about the homelessness issue, but no one has made it as central to their campaign as Bowers, and it appears to have paid off. He has returned 301 more Democracy Vouchers than any other candidate, which could be big if he makes it to the general election, as nearly $45,000 will be made open to him if he can surpass this big hurdle. Bowers also deserves an honorable mention because he can apparently make a fine cookie, according to the Stranger.
Biggest weakness: He’s a white man
In a year where voters across the country have been looking to elevate the voices of women and people of color, Bowers’s identity as the only straight white man in the race could serve as a weakness. As he faces off against three women — two of whom are women of color — and two gay men in progressive Seattle, Bowers could be in trouble. However, as we’ve seen playing out at the national level with former Vice President Joe Biden, some anti-Sawant voters may see his identity as a white man and think he is their best chance to defeat the incumbent.
Biggest strength: Endorsements
DeWolf has taken labor endorsements from Sawant, received support from three state lawmakers and the two sitting citywide council members, and county Democrats have rallied around him (and Ami Nguyen) even as several legislative district Democratic parties did not endorse in the primary race. DeWolf has clearly been able to leverage his position as an elected official to foster ties with groups that can deliver voters to his campaign. His labor endorsements specifically have proven him to be a viable candidate for the anti-Sawant crowd looking for a bit of change on the council.
Biggest weakness: Criticism over time as Seattle Public Schools Board member
DeWolf’s decision to run for Seattle City Council less than halfway through his term as a member of the Seattle Public Schools Board has rubbed some the wrong way and others have been frustrated by his tenure so far. A post from mid-June on the Seattle Schools Community Forum, accused him of missing board meetings as well as leaving some early, rarely meeting with his Capitol Hill and Central District constituents, and ignoring his duties. The scathing post reads “he’s a decent person but he’s also an opportunist who appears to be willing to forego responsibility that he asked for.” As CHS previously reported, the Seattle Education Association, the city’s public school teachers union, has endorsed Ami Nguyen and Sawant for the primary.
Biggest strength: Community ties, especially in south Seattle
Ten years as president of the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council. Five years as president of the Mount Baker Community Club. Two years as president of the Cleveland High School PTSA. Vice-chair of the City Neighborhood Council. Member of the Federation of Community Councils. These are the community roles Murakami, a “neighborhood activist,” has held in her 40 years in the district, according to her website. This combined with her failed council run in 2017, in which she lost by 40 percent, could possibly give her the name recognition and community support needed to break through the pack as someone who could deliver solutions.
Biggest weakness: Past controversy
While this district has proven itself to be ultra-progressive, Murakami has gotten herself in trouble over positions she has held that haven’t gelled with voters. More than a decade ago, she opposed efforts to locate Casa Latina on Rainier Avenue, where it would serve primarily Spanish-speaking immigrant workers. Hilary Stern, then-executive director of Casa Latina, wrote in a guest editorial for The Stranger at the time of Murakami’s 2017 run, “She built her opposition on racist and classist fears about Latino immigrant day laborers.” Murakami also unsuccessfully challenged El Centro De La Raza’s proposals for providing services and affordable housing at the light rail station in Beacon Hill.
Biggest strength: Personal story
In most public appearances of the campaign, Nguyen answers questions with examples from her childhood growing up in a racially segregated neighborhood or her time as a public defender. At one forum, asked about gun violence in the district, she called for social services at schools, mentioning the counselors and teachers she had that pushed her to continue her education. This approach has allowed Nguyen to highlight her unique position in a race where she is the only woman of color to rely on government assistance growing up in a low-income neighborhood, which enables her to relate to those with similar experiences.
Biggest weakness: Little name recognition
Nguyen is new to politics, an attribute for which there has been an appetite for recently, and hasn’t fostered the strong community ties that other candidates have over years serving in various organizations. This has left her reliant on a doorbelling campaign that, albeit robust, is being carried out by other candidates, some of whom have more staffers and volunteers to convince voters. That being said, it has proven dividends as she currently sits in second in the race in potential Democracy Voucher value if she makes it past the primary.
Biggest strength: Business support
As CHS has previously reported, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce recently endorsed the head of the Broadway Business Improvement Area, resulting in more than $100,000 being spent on his behalf by the Chamber’s political action committee as part of a final push to get his name out there as a possible alternative to Sawant. Orion has not made as much money with Democracy Vouchers as other candidates, so this could serve as a much-needed and well-timed stimulus going into a primary that is seemingly up-for-grabs.
Biggest weakness: Business support
The other side of this infusion of cash could be a liability for the Pridefest executive director in a district that elected a member of the Socialist Alternative party by a fairly wide margin who then pushed for a tax on big business. Being friendly with corporations, while lucrative, may be seen by voters as the wrong direction for the city, especially in a district that has felt first hand the gentrification and rising housing costs that have come with the rapid growth of companies like Amazon.
Made up your mind? Take the CHS D3 Primary Poll:
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