Yesterday evening was Top Two Election Night in the Evergreen State, and one of the positions up for grabs was Seattle City Council #9 (At-Large).
The seat was vacated by Lorena González when she chose to run for Mayor of Seattle. Unlike the other city council seat in this year’s election (#8, held by Teresa Mosqueda), there was stiff competition for this position between three credible candidates: Sara Nelson, Nikita Oliver, and Brianna Thomas.
Nelson is a well-known figure in Seattle politics, having unsuccessfully run in 2017 for the City Council seat now occupied by Mosqueda. As the co-founder of the Fremont Brewing Company and a self-described progressive small business owner, Nelson is focused on the economic recovery of the city in the aftermath of the pandemic. As well as her familiarity with Seattle’s business community, she brings experience as a legislative adviser on the council to the campaign.
Oliver is equally familiar to Seattle’s voters.
They also ran in 2017 – in their case, for Mayor – and narrowly came in third place behind Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon with around 17% of the vote in a hotly contested primary. Oliver’s profile has only grown in recent years, as they have campaigned for solutions to homelessness on behalf of a variety of organizations (including Urban Impact, Union Gospel Mission, and Seattle Urban Academy). They are also a prominent voice in Seattle’s Movement for Black Lives.
The third contender in the race – Brianna Thomas – is another second-time candidate who is intimately familiar with the dynamics of the City Council, thanks to her position as incumbent Council President Lorena González’s chief of staff.
Thomas previously ran for Seattle City Council in 2015, the first cycle in which Seattle had district based elections for most of its council seats. She was eliminated in the Top Two, coming in fourth behind Lisa Herbold, Shannon Braddock, and Philip Tavel. (Herbold prevailed in the general election.)
Last month, polling conducted by Change Research for NPI suggested that Oliver had a strong lead over the other two – 26% to Nelson’s 11% and Thomas’ 6% – but that more importantly, 50% of respondents were not sure yet.
August 3rd was the deadline for those undecided voters to make up their minds, and it seems like many of them swung for Nelson, catapulting her into the lead.
In the initial returns, Nelson’s share of the vote was 42.4% – a huge jump from her showing in the poll. However, she cannot breathe easy yet, as Oliver is only 7% behind her at 35%. Thomas came in at 14%.
If most of Thomas’ voters decide to back Oliver over Nelson in the general election, that could give Oliver a crucial boost in the final round.
While it seems most likely that Nelson and Oliver will be contending in the November runoff, Nelson might not necessarily hold the pole position. Because Seattle and Washington State are vote at home jurisdictions that accept late-arriving ballots, subsequent drops can often change the status of a race days after Election Night. For example, in 2019, Kshama Sawant won back her council seat after trailing her challenger Egan Orion by 12% on election night.