Voters will decide the candidates to fill seven city council seats this November, the end result affecting Seattle’s policy trajectory for the next four years.

After successfully backing Jenny Durkan’s first mayoral bid and fighting last year’s head tax that would have impacted more than 300 big businesses in the city, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political action committee is in the early stage of identifying council candidates that have plans for fixing Seattle’s biggest issues with existing revenue.

Many candidates for the 2019 city council election emerged in late 2018, but the filing deadline isn’t until May 17, which is when the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy will likely announce its endorsements, said John Murray, a partner with the Monument Advocacy lobbying firm that works with CASE and the chamber.

“Seattle is Seattle, so the candidates are still going to be progressive,” Murray said.

CASE spent around $50,000 to commission a survey by EMC Research of 1,050 potential 2019 voters that gauged public opinion about the current city council, the biggest issues that need to be addressed in Seattle and whether more taxation is needed to address homelessness.

The phone survey — conducted from Dec. 6-20 — found 52 percent of respondents favored a change in the makeup of the council while 39 percent felt it deserved credit for the progress it’s made. Fifty-two percent disapproved of the job the council is doing while 43 percent approved.

Councilmembers Rob Johnson, Mike O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw and Bruce Harrell are not seeking reelection this year.

CASE is all but certain to back challengers to District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant and District 1 Councilmember Lisa Herbold, both of whom have spoken critically about online retail giant Amazon’s impact on the city.

Herbold co-chaired the Progressive Revenue Taskforce on Housing and Homelessness with Councilmember Lorena González that formed in late 2017 to evaluate the potential for an employee-hours (head) tax that could generate between $25 million and $75 million annually.

The task force produced a report last March calling for a head tax that would generate $75 million annually to increase affordable housing and homeless services, which the council advanced for consideration last May.

When Durkan made it clear she would veto the legislation, the council ended up voting unanimously to cut the tax in half as proposed by the mayor, from $500 per employee to $275 per employee for businesses reporting more than $20 million in taxable gross receipts. Gonzalez, who is not up for election this year, introduced the amendment, saying it was in line with “political realities.”

A No Tax of Jobs coalition began a signature-gathering campaign to place a referendum on last November’s ballot to repeal the tax. Amazon, Kroger (Fred Meyer/QFC), Albertsons, Howard S. Wright Companies, Starbucks and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. each pledged $25,000 to the campaign, which Murray also worked on.

CASE backed Durkan’s 2017 campaign with more than $600,000 in financial support through an independent expenditure campaign, which included $325,000 from Amazon, $75,000 from Vulcan and $25,000 from Starbucks.

Less than a month after its passage, the city council voted 7-2 to repeal the head tax last June. Sawant, who had pushed the legislation as an Amazon tax, and freshman Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda cast the dissenting votes.

Murray criticized Herbold’s traveling to New York with Mosqueda in January to share Amazon’s impact on Seattle at a summit of unions and community groups, when the company was considering expanding there. Amazon ended up cancelling those plans last month and walking away from billions in government subsidies. 

Murray said the fight against the head tax wasn’t because people didn’t want better access to affordable housing and homeless services, but because people didn’t believe the city council was competently addressing the crisis with the resources it already had.

“It’s not a revenue problem,” he said. “It’s a spending problem and an accountability problem.”

The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and CASE partly funded a survey conducted in March 2018, ahead of the head tax vote, that found 80 percent of the 800 respondents likely to vote in 2019 were very or somewhat dissatisfied with how the council had addressed the cost of housing, 83 percent were dissatisfied with how the council addressed homelessness and 55 percent were unhappy about perceived high taxes. Only 29 percent believed more taxes were needed to address homelessness. That survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

The recently released survey commissioned by CASE and conducted by EMC Research has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent, and 70 percent of those respondents said they felt city government has enough money to address the homelessness issue.

Those surveyed could choose two issues facing Seattle they were “most frustrated or concerned about,” and homelessness made the top-three at 50 percent, followed by 38 percent who identified traffic/congestion/public transportation/infrastructure. Twenty-three percent identified affordable housing as a frustration or concern.

The top-two issues for respondents in District 3 were homelessness (40 percent) and affordable housing (29 percent).

Respondents were asked about their political views on a scale of one to seven, with one being very liberal and seven being very conservative. Sixty-two percent identified as 1-3 and 22 percent as 5-7.

Homelessness, transportation infrastructure and public safety will be the three major areas of focus for the chamber and CASE this year, Murray said, and candidates with good ideas about solving these problems are most likely to receive endorsements.

Murray said the chamber is taking seriously a recent report compiled by former Mayor Ed Murray’s public safety advisor and former candidate for city attorney Scott Lindsay — “System Failure: Report on Prolific Offenders in Seattle’s Criminal Justice System” — that concludes the system is broken, tracking the cycle of people going from jail to homelessness, particularly due to issues surrounding addiction. Crosscut’s David Kroman wrote a detailed summary of Lindsay’s report, which was released shortly after the journalist found one in five people in Seattle booked into jail are homeless.

Alicia Teel, vice president of marketing and communications for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, said meetings are being set with candidates as they come up, and the process involves a questionnaire and interview process.

A number of first-time candidates are taking advantage of the City of Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program, which allows each registered voter to make $100 in campaign contributions.

During her re-election announcement in late January, Sawant said she would not be using the program, as she expected her campaign to be attacked by corporate political action committees, specifically calling out Amazon’s $350,000 in support for the mayor in 2017.

According to filings with Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission, the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy currently has about $408,000 in contributions.

Sawant raised and spent more than $480,000 during her 2015 re-election campaign, while Herbold raised around $126,000 that year.