Sea-change: Business-backed candidates open a wide lead in Seattle’s 2021 election

Seattle mayoral candidates Bruce Harrell (left) and Lorena Gonzalez spoke to GeekWire in virtual interviews during the campaign.

Nearly all business-backed, moderate candidates have opened leads in Seattle city races as initial election results indicate a voter pushback on progressive policies.

Nicholas Merriam, CEO and co-founder of the non-profit sea.citi, said if the early results hold, the election presents a huge opportunity for the tech community. His organization works to connect tech sector employees with civic life.

“I think what (the initial results) say is that the business community has a lot to look forward to in collaborating on hard-to-solve problems,” he said. “Tech has a great opportunity to come to the table and be an active participant.”

In initial results Tuesday night, Bruce Harrell, the former city council president, was beating current council president M. Lorena González by 30 percentage points in the mayoral race; Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson held a wide margin over activist attorney Nikkita Oliver for a council seat; and Republican Ann Davison — who was backed by two Democratic former Washington governors — took a commanding lead over police abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy in the race for city attorney.

In every race, candidates debated over the same core set of issues: Seattle’s homelessness situation, crime, and housing affordability. But internal polling showed that the homeless problems and crime — and the city’s approach to both — were likely to move voters toward specific candidates.

Only Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, a progressive, seemed likely to retain her seat over challenger Kenneth Wilson for Seattle City Council position 8. She holds a 53% to 47% over Wilson with thousands of votes still to be counted.

But it is that race where Merriam sees considerable significance, given that Mosqueda is an incumbent who outspent her rival.

“The fact that it is so close after the first ballot drop is interesting,” he said. “This race gives you a good sense of the pulse of the electorate.”

Jon Scholes, president and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association, agreed. He said the mayor’s race, in particular, shows a rebalancing of civic priorities.

“It’s pretty clear that Seattle voters want to see a city hall that works with all of Seattle, including downtown residents and businesses on the issues impacting our city, rather than one that stokes divisiveness,” Scholes said in a statement.

The future of downtown Seattle was a topic of debate this year in the lead up to the election. The city’s urban core and its continued viability as a tech hub has been impacted by a number of factors over the past couple years, including the pandemic that sent workers home, and concerns around public safety.

Merriam said it was unclear how tech workers voted this time around but it seems likely that they did vote in considerable numbers. In sea.citi’s 2021 tech civic survey, 86% of tech workers said they were to vote registered at a Puget Sound address.

Of those, with 95% said they planned to vote in the November 2021 election for mayor, county executive, and other local government offices.

Both mayoral candidates previously sat down, virtually, with GeekWire for a conversation about tech, remote work, challenges facing Seattle and more.

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Civic 2021 election Bruce harrell Jon scholes Lorena gonzalez Nicholas merriam Sea.citi