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What message did Seattle voters send in the Aug. 1 primary?

When voters aren’t happy, they typically punish the elected officials in power. It happened two years ago when City Council President Lorena González lost her race for mayor against Bruce Harrell by nearly 20 percentage points.

But after the first ballot count in the Aug. 1 primary election this year, it’s not yet clear what message Seattle voters are sending on the issues they tell pollsters they’re most frustrated about – homelessness and public safety.

There are seven City Council seats on the ballot this year. Forty-five people are vying for these seats. Only three incumbents sought re-election, which means four districts are wide open, adding to the uncertainty.

Among the incumbents, Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6: Ballard area) did the best with over 50% after the first count. Strauss was first elected as a part of a progressive wave in 2019. His closest opponent, Fremont Chamber of Commerce head and former bar owner Pete Hanning, had 29%.

Hanning hopes to draw a contrast on public safety, and promises to make it his top priority, which includes greater support for the Seattle Police Department as well as police reform.

Councilmember Tammy Morales did second best of the incumbents, with 48% after the first count. She represents District 2, which runs from the Chinatown International District down to Beacon Hill.

District 2 voters are among the most progressive in the city. On the issues, Morales, who also won for the first time in 2019, ventures furthest left among the incumbent council members running this year.

She told KUOW she would cut the Seattle police budget, for example, if it were the only way to pay for alternatives to policing and programs to address the root causes of crime. Just this week, Morales voted to support a rent control ordinance sponsored by Socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant. That measure was ultimately defeated 6-2.

Running more to the center in District 2, Tanya Woo, an activist in Chinatown-International District, came in a close second with 45% after first count. Woo is closer to Mayor Bruce Harrell on the issues and supports his policies of clearing homeless encampments and RVs. Nor would she vote to cut the Seattle police budget.

In District 7 which includes downtown, Andrew Lewis earned the fewest votes among the incumbents, with 41% after the first count.

Some election experts say anything below 45% could spell trouble for an incumbent in the general election, but there are still many more votes to be counted in the primary and many months before the general election.

Lewis was also elected in 2019, in part with strong financial support from labor. On election night, challenger and Navy veteran Bob Kettle was at 33%, vowing to crack down on crime and help downtown businesses recover from the pandemic.

The other four council races are open seats, raising even more questions about the future direction of the city. In District 1 in West Seattle, one of the council’s reliably progressive members Lisa Herbold decided not to run.

After the first ballot count Tuesday, climate activist Maren Costa was in the lead with 29%. Tech attorney Rob Saka came in second with 25%, and lawyer and administrative-law judge Phil Tavil with 21%. Either would likely move District 1 more to the center on key issues compared with Herbold.

In District 3, which includes Capitol Hill and the Central area, candidates are vying to replace outgoing socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant. Cannabis business entrepreneur Joy Hollingsworth had 40%. Hollingsworth had the backing of Mayor Bruce Harrell and the Seattle Times. The Stranger’s pick, transit advocate Alex Hudson, was in second with 32%.

In District 4, candidates are vying to replace outgoing Councilmember Alex Pedersen. To his left on the issues, marketing consultant Ron Davis was in the lead with 41%. In second, Maritza Rivera, who runs Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture, had 34%, running a campaign aimed more toward the middle. Small business owner Ken Wilson, running as the most conservative of those three, was in third with 22%.

In the race to replace Council President Debra Juarez in District 5, attorney Cathy Moore was first with 32%. To her left, social equity consultant ChrisTiana ObeySumner had 21%, and community advocate Nilu Jenks earned 19%.

There’s one more big question about where the council could be headed in 2024. At-large Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s seat is not up this year, but she’s running for King County Council. If Mosqueda wins, her Seattle council seat opens up. The City Council would then appoint someone to fill it and a special election would be held sometime next year.

On election night Mosqueda took 55% in her County Council race, and her nearest opponent, Sofia Aragon, was at 40%.

This post has been updated.

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