Seat­tle pol­i­tics has some­times been char­ac­ter­ized as a divide between “Seat­tle nice” and “less­er ver­sus more Seattle.”

It’s just not that sim­ple any­more. Seat­tle has 410,000+ reg­is­tered vot­ers, and we seem to have elect­ed a new may­or tonight with less than 33% vot­er turnout thus far. Maybe we’ll hit 40% by Thurs­day, but by any mea­sure, this is a ter­ri­ble vot­er turnout for a city that thinks of itself as a har­bin­ger of things to come. It’s hard to be a leader when a major­i­ty of the vot­ers decide to sit on the side­lines and watch.

Seat­tleites have reject­ed the incum­bent may­or, but retained all the City Coun­cil incum­bents. King Coun­ty vot­ers retained all the incum­bents – the exec­u­tive, the coun­ty coun­cil, and the Port of Seat­tle commissioners.

Seat­tle vot­ers also turned down Propo­si­tion 1, which would use prop­er­ty tax­es to finance city coun­cil cam­paigns, a mea­sure sup­port­ed by all nine City Coun­cil incum­bents. At the same time, they said yes to Seat­tle’s oth­er bal­lot mea­sure, Char­ter Amend­ment 19, to adopt dis­trict elec­tions for City Council.

Seat­tle up until now has been one of only three major Amer­i­can cities with the at-large coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tion (Colum­bus, Ohio and Port­land, Ore­gon are the oth­er two). Now Seat­tle joins the likes of Boston, Min­neapo­lis, San Fran­cis­co, and Den­ver as a mem­ber of the dis­trict club. Why did vot­ers go for dis­tricts now after hav­ing reject­ed them sev­er­al times, most recent­ly in 2003?

Per­haps the suc­cess of Char­ter Amend­ment 19 is the result of twen­ty years of the Growth Man­age­ment Act leav­ing neigh­bor­hoods denser and more con­gest­ed, with no viable pub­lic tran­sit options in place or in the works. And maybe vot­ers found Amend­ment 19 appeal­ing because the City Coun­cil is so con­sumed with meet­ings with itself and with the neigh­bor­hood and dis­trict coun­cils, there is no time left for meet­ings with ordi­nary cit­i­zens who won­der why they can’t get a side­walk built.

Who knows? But the vot­ers might sense what Char­ter 19 sup­port­ers believe (full dis­clo­sure: I endorsed Char­ter Amend­ment 19): that we’re not a lit­tle or provin­cial city any­more. We can­not choose to be less­er than who we are.

We don’t want our city coun­cil mem­bers play­ing “Seat­tle nice” and just being nice to get along, with­out debat­ing what’s good for the city.

In fact, it’s time for the city coun­cil mem­bers to be talk­ing about what they think about the “less­er ver­sus more Seat­tle” choice, and to let us know where they stand. Progress comes when we are hon­est about what we wish to create.

When it came to pub­lic financ­ing for cam­paigns, the peo­ple have giv­en a resound­ing “no” to Propo­si­tion 1, at least so far.

Why would pro­gres­sive Seat­tle reject a pub­lic cam­paign financ­ing ini­tia­tive in the wake of Cit­i­zens Unit­ed and unlim­it­ed inde­pen­dent expen­di­tures? Maybe there is a sense we should be tack­ling oth­er city-wide prob­lems with prop­er­ty tax dol­lars. Maybe it’s a way of say­ing the vot­ers want cam­paigns to be waged on the ground with­in a dis­trict, instead of going on TV to run city-wide.

Today the vot­ers also had the chance to put two more peo­ple of col­or on the Seat­tle City Coun­cil, but once again it didn’t hap­pen. Some of these can­di­dates will hope­ful­ly give it anoth­er try once dis­trict elec­tions go into effect.

Tomor­row there will be time to ana­lyze how the pas­sage of a $15 min­i­mum wage in the City of Sea-Tac might find its way into Seat­tle pol­i­tics. There will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exam­ine new trans­porta­tion solu­tions for our city.

But tonight, this city’s vot­ers – the ones who showed up and vot­ed – have shift­ed gears and said they want a new may­or with new ideas and new ways of doing the city’s busi­ness. It’s not easy to make the choice to tell the incum­bent it’s time to move on. It’s also not so nice. But Seat­tle wants to move forward.

Seattle’s future pre­vailed over Seat­tle nice.

About the author

Gael Tarleton is an NPI Advisory Councilmember and former Washington State Representative who led two Russian subsidiaries during the 1990s and lserved as a senior defense intelligence analyst on Soviet strategic nuclear programs at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency from 1981-1990. She served on NPI's board from its inception through 2021.

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