SEATTLE – America’s most liberal city stands at a difficult crossroads.
For decades, Seattle has been the vanguard of the nation’s progressive movement. It was the first major city to adopt a minimum wage of $ 15 an hour, allow workers in the odd-job economy to join a union, and impose, albeit briefly, a per employee tax on large companies.
Along the way, it saw the explosive growth of a gigantic tech industry that changed the face of a racially and economically diverse population. Neighborhoods once defined by the mix of immigrant populations and blue-collar families are now teeming with new condos, local restaurants have been replaced with high-end pottery shops and campsites filled with those who can no longer afford. to live in their city now border the city two major highways.
As a result of this new growth, median household income in Seattle stands at $ 92,000, up nearly 50% from the previous decade. But the price of a single-family home has more than doubled over the same period, to $ 1 million, according to data from Seattle-based real estate company Zillow.
“There has been so much of a historical imbalance when you look at all aspects of civic engagement, of civil society,” said State Senator Reuven Carlyle (R), who represents a Seattle district. “It’s the subtle undertone that’s quietly prominent.”
Tensions have become so high here between a rising generation of ultra-progressive leaders and activists and the more traditionally liberal Democrats who have dominated city politics for so long that the old Seattle Way of Compromise Politics has been avoided for a policy of protest and purity.
A member of the city council, a self-proclaimed socialist, led a march last year to the mayor’s home Jenny durkanJenny Durkan Exhausting Year Takes Havoc on Nation’s Mayors Most States Biden Won to Meet July 4 COVID-19 Vaccine Target: Analysis Seattle is the first major US city to see 70% of residents fully immunized, says the mayor MORE, whose address is being kept private due to continued death threats related to his past work as a federal prosecutor.
“There are certainly those people who like combat, or who like an enemy or a foil, because that makes good politics. But I don’t think that’s what most Seattleers feel, ”said Rachel Smith, president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. “We do our best in this region when we work as a coalition. “
Now Durkan is retiring after just one term, a remarkably swift end to what seemed like a promising political career. She follows the chief of police, a black woman who resigned last year amid protests over racial injustice in policing, and the principal of Seattle public schools, a Native American woman who resigned. earlier this year two months before his contract expires.
Voters will decide on Tuesday among an overcrowded group of wannabes to replace Durkan, candidates vying to rule what some have called an ungovernable city looking for a way out of the pandemic and the economic inequalities that have come. define the nascent recovery.
“The past year and a half has been monumental for the city, and devastating, and an opportunity for us to do things differently. It’s a big job. It’s a huge and thankless job, ”said Michelle Merriweather, President of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. “I admire those who stand up and say, sign me up for this.”
Seattle voters have opted for change most often in recent years. Since Norm Rice left the mayor’s office after two terms in 1997, a multi-term mayor has not stepped down on his own terms; Rice’s three successors all lost their candidacy for re-election, and now Durkan has decided not to run for a second term.
But this time, the two contenders most likely to advance to a second round in November are relative insiders: polls show Bruce Harrell, a former chairman of the city council, and Lorena Gonzalez, the current board chair, leading the way. of the peloton. Two outsiders, Colleen Echohawk and Jessyn Farrell, remain within striking distance for second place in the second round.
Seattle political observers say Harrell, seen as the more moderate candidate, and Gonzalez, the more progressive of the two, represent different ends of a narrow ideological group – in Emerald City, every viable candidate is a shade very dark blue.
“Anyone running for mayor would be considered incredibly progressive within 30 miles of Seattle, and certainly in most states of the United States. So this is a very concentrated political spectrum here,” said Marco Lowe, Seattle University professor of politics and two-year veteran. municipal governments.
The fact that two people who have already won the municipal elections are now at the top of the rankings, they say, reflects a recognition by voters of the scale and scale of the problems facing the city.
“Voters will be content with experienced candidates. They don’t want new candidates coming in, ”said Heather Weiner, a progressive activist who supports Gonzalez. “The problem then becomes: how do you solve a problem like the one in Seattle? Do you want to fix the underlying issues or do you want to put a BandAid in it? “
Harrell has the backing of an older generation of Seattle-area progressives, including Rice, former Gov. Gary Locke (D) and Rep. Adam smithDavid (Adam) Adam Smith China Expanding Nuclear Power Rapidly: Should the United States Be Worried? House panel wants F-35 respiratory issues investigated Senate panel adds B to Biden defense budget MORE (D), whose district has been redesigned to include parts of southern Seattle. Gonzalez is supported by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila Jayapal Congress must lower the age of Medicare to save the lives of older Americans. (D), whose district includes most of the city, and a younger generation of state legislators and city council members.
His. Bernie sandersBernie SandersDemocrats say they have the voices to push forward with .5T budget measure Millennium Momentum means trouble for GOP Briahna Joy Gray: White House thinks extended student loan hiatus is “bad” look “MORE (I-Vt.), Who won the City of Seattle but lost the Washington State Democratic primary to Joe bidenJoe Biden First Lady Leaves Walter Reed After Biden Foot Procedure Supports Efforts To Budget In Immigration MyPillow CEO To Remove Ads From Fox News MORE in 2020, argues Gonzalez. The same goes for many of Seattle’s larger unions, which still carry enormous clout in a city that is still home to thousands of longshoremen working in ports and machinists working on Boeing lines.
A political action committee funded by these unions recently purchased 20,000 pounds of one-ounce packages of dried cherries to send to voters. Gonzalez, the daughter of migrant farm workers, started picking cherries when she was 8 years old.
The main contest and a potential showdown between Harrell and Gonzalez in November will test how comfortable Seattle voters are with running a changing city.
The rising cost of living has led to an explosion in homelessness, similar to other major cities in the country, and debates over how to house the homeless and how to enforce safety public (Asked in a questionnaire of candidates by the Seattle Times if they supported by funding the police, Harrell said no; Gonzalez said maybe). Two large homeless camps were cleared along Interstate 90 last week after at least five people were arrested for throwing debris on the freeway, damaging several cars.
The pandemic and racial unrest also took a toll on the city’s downtown core, emptying the businesses that once defined some of Seattle’s most iconic neighborhoods.
Some candidates, both for mayor and city council, have asked voters if they have had enough, an implicit appeal to mainstream Democratic voters who might be uncomfortable with the more progressive turn of recent years. . These voters could gravitate towards Harrell, according to some observers, rather than towards Gonzalez.
“Lorena has a game plan, it’s her strength, but I don’t think people feel comfortable with it,” said Nick Licata, who represented the more liberal wing of the city council where he was. served five terms. “People talk about moderates or compromises as losers on both sides, whereas you can win on both sides when we talk about building communities.”
Carlyle, the state senator, supports Harrell. He says the rise of an uncompromising progressive left mirrors a similar rise to the right, embodied by the former president Donald trumpDonald Trump CEOMyPillow to remove ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders push for protection of indigenous lands Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to leave MORE and his supporters.
“We are at a time when there is unease with the extremes of politics, represented by Trump on the right and represented by the left approach to ideological rigidity,” Carlyle said. “This extreme left movement gives an important voice, but they do not move a millimeter on the problems. They are not interested in collaboration. They see words like negotiation and collaboration as euphemisms for compromise with corporate interests. “
Gonzalez’s supporters say her approach – she helped lead a confrontation with Amazon and other big companies over the per employee tax, known as the head tax, which exploded in 2018 – represents the the deeper change Seattle needs. (Harrell, then a member of city council, also voted for both the tax and its repeal)
“The problem is, we have enormous wealth in our city that is accumulated at the top. And rather than point up [at the problem], people are pointing fingers, ”Weiner said. “We saw a push from the House [of Commerce] and other interests trying to scare off crime, homelessness, using those fear triggers to get people to vote more conservatively.
The new mayor, observers say, will have to marry the disparate and divergent factions of mainstream Democrats who surround Seattle’s waterfront neighborhoods and the progressives who form the central core to chart a new course forward.
“The tug-of-war between downtown and the neighborhoods continues, but there is now a real question about how we see the return of downtown. Because unlike other places, I thought one of the keys we had as a city was a bustling downtown, ”said Alec Stephens, a Democratic activist and civil rights lawyer who supports Harrell. The next mayor “will have to be able to muster a large number of dissenting voices to determine how we move forward.”