Jenny the Juggernaut




Race for second place in mayor’s race between Moon and Oliver is very close, but Durkan is primary night’s big winner

By George Howland Jr.

On primary election night, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan was beating her closest opponent by 15 points. It was a remarkable showing for a first-time candidate in a 21-person field. Second place in the mayor’s race is very close with urbanist Cary Moon leading educator-lawyer-poet-activist Nikkita Oliver by a mere 1,457 votes out of 90,000 ballots counted. There could be as many as 50,000 votes remaining to be counted.

Before the election, King County Elections Director Julie Wise had predicted a 38 percent turnout of King County’s 1.3 million registered voters. As of election day, only 25 percent of Seattle’s voters had returned their ballots. The county didn’t count all of them last night—only 19 percent. Many more are still going to arrive in the mail. That is why there may be up to 50,000 ballots not yet tabulated.

Jenny Durkan: big business, big labor, big Democrats

Conventional wisdom is that younger, more liberal voters vote later. If this holds true, Durkan’s lead in the mayor’s race may shrink. Even so, Durkan remains the odds-on favorite to win in November’s general election. She has the Seattle establishment behind her: big business, big labor and big Democrats. While some labor and Democratic organizations backed other candidates in the primary, look for Durkan to consolidate their support in the general.

Durkan raised far and away the most money, $458,000, in the primary and she spent it wisely. Her campaign was nearly flawless. She ran as former-President Barack Obama’s U.S. Attorney and as a leader who will fearlessly fight President Donald Trump. It is an image that sells well with Seattle’s voters. She sent effective direct mail that featured pictures of her and Obama and simple homilies about what she’ll do about transportation, homeless, housing, police reform and Trumps’ anti-immigrant actions. She also plastered the Internet with similar messages and images.

No matter who she ends up facing, Durkan will be the only candidate with a truly broad appeal: Republicans, independents, moderates and liberal Democrats will all vote for her. Either Moon or Oliver will have trouble picking up votes from anyone but liberals, urbanists (Moon) and radicals (Oliver).

As if all these advantages weren’t enough, Durkan already has a major independent expenditure committee comprised of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the hospitality industry that will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on her behalf. The biggest donor is Amazon that kicked in $250,000 before the primary. Amazon is not normally a donor to local elections. Therefore, the biggest question in the mayor’s race to date is what has woken the sleeping giant?

In the race for second place in the mayor’s contest, there are a lot of questions remaining besides the final outcome.

Cary Moon: the urbanist loved by The Stranger

Cary Moon is not a well-known public figure. The wonky planner is best-known for founding the People’s Waterfront Coalition, an organization dedicated to tearing down the Alaskan Way Viaduct and not replacing it with a tunnel. Her waterfront plan wasn’t popular at the ballot box—Seattle voted in favor of a new deep-bore tunnel. The cost overruns and delays of the tunnel may have helped raise her stature, but they sure didn’t help former Mayor Mike McGinn, a much better-known tunnel opponent, who only garnered 6,000 votes on primary night.

Moon’s direct mail had a complicated, fuzzy message. On the stump, she talked a lot about foreign investment and speculative finance driving Seattle’s housing crisis.

So why is she in second place? Recent elections have shown that Seattleites will support urbanist candidates. The best examples are former Mayor Mike McGinn and City Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Rob Johnson. Certainly, Moon defined herself as an urbanist in the minds of voters (the other two urbanists in the race were Jessyn Farrell, but her message was even muddier than Moon’s, and McGinn, who was attempting a political comeback).

The other factor touted by analysts like KPCQ’s C.R. Douglas was The Stranger’s endorsement of Moon. He argues that in the 21-person race, many voters who find The Seattle Times’ editorial board too conservative look to the alt-weekly for guidance. In a race this close, it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Nikkita Oliver: a true inspiration

Oliver’s campaign was the most inspiring. Unlike Durkan and Moon, she has no personal fortune. She started with little name recognition and no big-time backers. She is a young, queer, African-American woman who has been involved in grassroots politics, art and education. She built a movement campaign powered by 1,000 volunteers. She depended on turning out voters who don’t usually cast ballots in great numbers: people of color, young voters, the disenfranchised and activists to the left of the Democratic Party. Her achievement was extraordinary—even if she doesn’t make it into the general election.

If Oliver fails to overtake Moon, one questionable electioneering decision may haunt her: she only spent $66,000 of the $120,000 she raised. She should have spent every last dime to make it through the primary. Campaign contributions would have increased exponentially for the general election.

Raising $120,000 in small donations was just one aspect of her remarkable campaign. She held real listening sessions across the city and was clearly part of a social movement for transformative change—not a politician driven by ego and a desire for power. She supported rent control and participatory democracy, opposed the injustice of current law enforcement and imprisonment practices and refused to take corporate campaign donations. If she and the People’s Party of Seattle do not become discouraged and exhausted, they could represent a new political force in the city. On some issues, like the new youth jail and the new Seattle Police Department north precinct, members and allies of the People’s Party have already have played a significant role.

Oliver and the People’s Party may not win this election, but they represent the best hope for Seattle’s future.

Questions, tips, comments:

Award winning journalist George Howland Jr has been hired by Seattle Displacement Coalition to write for Outside City Hall about city politics, housing, homelessness and land use. He is not a member of Seattle Displacement Coalition and no part of his writing serves as a statement of the Coalition’s views. He works under his own editorial direction. The Coalition plays no role in choosing his specific subjects or editing his copy. He has never even been to a Huskies’ football game with the Coalition’s John Fox.


About George Howland Jr

For many years, George Howland Jr has been a Seattle-based journalist.
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