The race to become the first-ever District 3 Seattle City Councilmember is now down to two.
Citywide incumbent Kshama Sawant and Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle president and CEO Pamela Banks advanced from the initial five-person field in the Aug. 4 primary, as the pair battle on to represent approximately 90,000 people in Madison Park, Montlake, Capitol Hill and the Central Area.
While Sawant handily won the primary tally with less than 52 percent of the vote, Banks said she was right where she wanted to be at this point in the campaign, just shy of 35 percent.
Now, she’ll step away from her post at the Urban League to campaign full-time until Election Day. After serving in that role and canvassing for office at the same time, Banks said the shift “is going to help me mentally and physically.
“I’ve got to get the voters that didn’t vote, out to vote, and to vote for me,” she said.
Sawant was also happy with the results, saying it was both remarkable and noteworthy to have the showing she did, when primary elections typically see low turnout and mostly habitual voters, while more progressive voters typically wait until November to cast a ballot.
District 3 had the highest turnout among the seven new City Council districts, with 23,275 ballots returned. District 6 (Northwest Seattle) was the only other race to eclipse the 20,000-vote mark, with 21,894.
Rod Hearne, the former executive director of Equal Rights Washington, women’s rights advocate Morgan Beach and former reporter and neighborhood activist Lee Carter were eliminated in the top-two primary. Hearne finished third with just shy of 10 percent of the primary tally, while Beach and Carter each garnered approximately 2 percent of the vote.
Hearne said he’ll continue to stay involved with the community. He added that the chance to run for office was “a tremendous thing to do” from a personal-growth perspective.
“I think it really is cool how interested and how involved and how passionate people are about their community and their city and how much they really want to help and make the city better,” Hearne said. “I come away feeling very hopeful that given the interest, the passion, the desire to make positive changes on a grassroots level, that we really will continue to be a great city.”
Change in focus
After running for a citywide position two years ago, when she defeated longtime City Councilmember Richard Conlin, Sawant said the initial experience does make the specter of a grassroots campaign on the district level a bit less daunting.
“Clearly, the magnitude of the campaign you have to run is quite different,” she said.
Even with district elections, Sawant said standing for the interests of her constituents is something that doesn’t change: “It is still a question of, ‘Who are you representing?’”
For some local residents, the hope is now that some key neighborhood issues will get the spotlight as council members take geographical considerations into greater account.
Diane Snell, co-president of the Leschi Community Council, listed off several topics of discussion — from density and housing issues, to concerns about homelessness and public transportation.
However, one of the hyper-local issues she says her neighborhood faces is in regard to moorage and crumbling infrastructure in nearby marinas.
“We had one of our board members go down with her camera, and you know, there’s holes in the wood where you walk, and you could step in up to your knee,” Snell said. “It seems like it’s a huge liability issue.”
Snell also said she and other neighbors aren’t happy with the current state of the parks department and proposals to allow new activities in Frink Park.
“We are a really small neighborhood, but we have a lot of parks which we dearly love and spend a lot of volunteer hours in,” Snell said. “And we’re very concerned by some of the ideas coming out of the parks department.”
Madison Park Community Council president Maurice Cooper said he’s a supporter of district elections but doesn’t think it will necessarily benefit his neighborhood.
In the past, Cooper said, the community council and neighborhood residents were able to approach all nine representatives, with certain projects catching the interest and attention of various councilmembers. Now, with the shift to the district elections, only the two at-large members and the District 3 representative would be as open to their concerns.
“Before, we had access to all the members of the council, and I think the access is going to be actually more limited than more general now,” he said.
Amassing donations, support
For Banks, the biggest surprise of running for office thus far has been the amount of money needed to compete with Sawant’s name recognition after her two-year stint on the council.
As of Aug. 21, the Socialist Alternative candidate had raised more than $250,000, while Banks had amassed approximately $225,000. That puts them first and third among all City Council candidates, while incumbent Tim Burgess has raised $244,716 in his citywide Position 8 race.
In all, the $568,018 spent in District 3 by all five primary candidates is nearly double the amount in the next-priciest district campaign ($267,651 in District 4, Northeast Seattle) and almost $150,000 more than the citywide Position 8 race. With the average contribution size in District 3 nearly level with other districts, the larger total amount of money donated has been a result of more donors: Nearly 3,330 people or organizations have contributed to the race, compared to 2,500 for Position 8, again the next closest.
“You’ve got to do the yard signs, you’ve got to do the ads, you have to do the mailers, you have to get the staff,” Banks said.
Sawant noted the percentage of small donors to her campaign and the absence of corporate donations, which she doesn’t accept: “I think it’s extremely critical to look at where the funds are coming from.”
Sixty-four percent of Sawant’s contributors have given less than $100, while 90 percent have donated less than $400. For Banks, those figures are 23 and 71 percent, respectively.
Banks said she feels her experience and history in the community — from working with small business owners, to her support of Seattle PONY Baseball — is what sets her apart.
“I feel like I’ve walked the talk,” Banks said, “and I’m going to continue to do that at the Urban League, or when I make it as a City Councilwoman.”
For Sawant, the way her campaign “unambiguously and unapologetically” stands with the working class is what makes it different.
“Voters are making it clear they are fed up with corporate politics,” she said.
Ballots for the November general election will be sent to registered voters 20 days prior to Election Day and must be postmarked or returned to a ballot box by 8 p.m. on Nov. 3.
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