Image: Jaime Archer

Long-Serving Incumbent vs. Young Underdog

Race to Watch: King County Council, District 2

Councilmember Larry Gossett first earned his seat in 1993, just three years after his challenger, Girmay Zahilay arrived in the United States as an Ethiopian refugee from Sudan with his parents. More than 25 years ago, Gossett ran on housing affordability, access to public transportation, and criminal justice reform—all things he still stands for today, as does his opponent. Zahilay, now 32 years old, also adds climate action to his top priorities. A lawyer and education advocate, he recognizes Gossett paved the way for leaders like himself. Nevertheless he sees a region that requires stronger solutions; “And part of the way that we do that is electing people into office who have new ideas, who are going to bring in new voices, who are going to create the energy and excitement around policy that brings in as many people as possible.”

Gossett has never received less than 80 percent of the general election vote and has a lengthy track record of community building. So despite Zahilay’s strong showing in August’s primary election—he won 56 percent of the vote to Gossett’s 37 percent—he says, “Anytime you’re up against an incumbent, you’re the underdog. And so we take nothing for granted.”

Incumbent Larry Gossett (left) and challenger Girmay Zahilay.

Also on the Ballot

What that measure means in 35 words or less.

Referendum 88: This year the state legislature approved Initiative 1000, which allows state institutions to consider—but not give preferential treatment because of—factors like ethnicity, sex, or age in government employment or public education.

Initiative 976: Tim Eyman, an anti-tax activist currently under investigation for allegedly laundering political contributions, proposes a $30 flat fee for car tabs, which would be a blow to transportation funding.

Open Seating

Parsing the primaries of all those city council races.

This year, all seven of the city’s district seats are up for grabs. In a time when Seattle grapples with titanic growth—of population, the tech industry, and homelessness—who will act as future leaders of our city? Three incumbents (in Districts 1, 3, and 5) are poised to reclaim their positions, according to primary results. Meanwhile, other council races remain close. But it’s not over till it’s…several days after November 5.

► 35% Voter turnout for August’s primary in King County. Seattle clocked in at about 43 percent, the highest showing in a non-even-year national election since 2011.

Primary Election Results

District 1

West Seattle, South Park

50% Lisa Herbold, longtime council aide turned first-term incumbent

32% Phillip Tavel, criminal defense attorney

The takeaway: This is the first time Tavel, a 2015 candidate, has made it this far in the race, but it looks to be an uphill climb against Herbold’s mountain of council experience.

District 2

Southeast Seattle, Georgetown

50% Tammy Morales, community organizer

23% Mark Solomon, security consultant

The takeaway: Solomon was born and raised in this district, specifically Beacon Hill, but Morales built her career, which began in policy-making as a legislative director in Texas, on advocating for communities such as Rainier Beach.

District 3

Central Seattle

37% Kshama Sawant, served on the council since 2014

22% Egan Orion, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce head

The takeaway: Sawant, a Socialist Alternative party member, is one of the more progressive voices on the council—a strength or a vulnerability, depending who you ask. Still, it’ll take a lot for Orion to unseat this incumbent.

District 4

Northeast Seattle

40% Alex Pedersen, former city hall aide

23% Shaun Scott, advocacy journalist and labor organizer

The takeaway: Public housing, a green new deal—Scott, a Democratic Socialist who previously worked for U.S. representative Pramila Jayapal, has a message that tracks with the likes of Bernie Sanders. He’ll still need to overcome Pedersen’s 17-point lead.

District 5

North Seattle

45% Debora Juarez, took office in 2016

27% Ann Davison Sattler, attorney

The takeaway: Juarez, also an attorney, was the first Native American elected to Seattle City Council. Her more conservative challenger, Sattler, has made homelessness her most pressing issue.

District 6

Northwest Seattle

34% Dan Strauss, policy advisor

21% Heidi Wills, small business and nonprofit director

The takeaway: Sixteen years ago, Wills sat on the city council, but was ousted in an ethics scandal she says she’s since learned from. Strauss recently served as councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s senior advisor.

District 7

Pioneer Square to Magnolia

32% Andrew J. Lewis, lawyer at the city attorney’s office

25% Jim Pugel, former interim Seattle police chief

The takeaway: Both Lewis and Pugel have similar priorities, like addressing affordable housing and homelessness. Lewis has the slight edge for having more clarity in his plan.