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.