Seattle City Council Incumbents Defend Their Seats

Incumbency trumps all in next month’s election—with one possible exception.

By Johnathon Fitzpatrick September 21, 2011 Published in the October 2011 issue of Seattle Met

NO RETIREMENTS. No resignations. No open seats. The 2011 fight for the Seattle City Council is all about dethroning the incumbents.

They came into power during the 2003 (Jean Godden, Tom Rasmussen) and 2007 (Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell) elections as upstart challengers and appointees bucking the status quo. (Incumbent Sally Clark was appointed in 2006.) The newbies reshaped the council into a more liberal and progressive body, but they had learned from the losses of their predecessors and, come reelection time, amassed weighty fundraising coffers to ward off the onslaught of challengers.

Tom Rasmussen, unopposed in his previous election, will cruise through against a political nobody, accountant Dale Pusey. His $300,000 war chest scared off serious opponents.

Former Seattle police officer Tim Burgess has never had to endure a primary election. Now he’s set to easily defeat his opponent, architect David Schraer. And his $200,000 will likely just lay groundwork for his mayoral bid two years from now.

Sally Clark has enjoyed a 50-point margin of victory in four elections and looks set to win this election handily.

Bruce Harrell, a long shot in 2007, caught a break in his first general election when his opponent was arrested for DUI two weeks before Election Day. This year: more good luck, when his only opponent became the sole-surviving antitunnel candidate, rendered irrelevant by the pro-tunnel primary vote.

The glaring exception to those steamrolling campaigns is Jean Godden. The two-termer has never enjoyed an easy ride. In her first primary she barely made the top two—with just 175 votes to spare—and was then elected with fewer than 6,000 votes. Since those two squeakers, Godden, who turns 80 this month, has had to hold off three challengers in every primary—including this year, when she only garnered 43 percent of the vote.

It’ll take more than money to defend her throne against challenger Bobby Forch.

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