by Marcus Harrison Green (featured image by Alex Garland)
As a number of local media outlets pile up the mea-culpas for overlooking of her campaign, Tammy Morales appears as oblivious to their new found discovery of her candidacy as they once did of her. It wasn’t so much that they left her for dead, as much as they never knew she was alive.
At a table this week in Columbia City’s Salted Sea, Morales’s subdued composure does not reflect that Friday’s vote tally shows this first-time candidate just 378 votes shy of incumbent Bruce Harrell in Seattle’s District 2 City Council election.
Her current situation is a vast turnaround from where she stood after August’s primary election, in which Harrell took more than 62% of the vote in a three -way race. It was that percentage that led most local political punditry to prematurely crown Harrell as unbeatable.
But a funny thing happened on the road to inevitability. As it stands today, with more than 2000 ballots yet to be counted and the vote trending in her direction, the Seward park resident and mother of three finds herself on the verge of an upset almost no one saw coming. Well, at least no one who lived outside of District 2.
“I think it’s frustrating that the mainstream media wasn’t paying attention to this race until two days ago,” Morales said. “I’ve been (in District 2) running a campaign for the last year. I hear: ‘Where did she come from? She’s been flying under the radar.’ No I haven’t.”
Morales says the lack of attention to the district, which includes a large swath of South Seattle and the International District, was due in part to laziness of the mainstream media, and the consistent neglect it imparts upon this part of the city.
“I was speaking with a TV reporter on Friday at the Hillman City Collaboratory and he told me, ‘I’ve never been this far south of Columbia City,’” says Morales.
Morales shares that when the piece on the race finally aired, Josh Feit of PubliCola , who offered analysis on the race, was featured more prominently than she was,. Having a white male “speak on her behalf” made her feel “marginalized” as both a woman and resident of the area.
“It underscores what’s wrong with media when it comes to this area, period. They don’t care unless there’s either something negative they can report on, or in this case, if there’s a horse race,” she continued. “Providing this area’s constituency with substantive political coverage so they can make informed decisions never appeared to be a priority for them.”
Morales says that in one case, early on in the race, a prominent local political website never once interviewed her before endorsing her opponent.
Even as much of the local media plays catch up, she says they are missing yet another important story: This race isn’t about what her opponent did wrong, but about what her campaign began doing right.
Going from 24.66% in the primary election in August, to nearly double that in the general, is attributable to many factors she says, including the low voter turnout often customary of summer primary elections, as well as the small number of candidate’s forums held in the district, “District 5 had something like 15,”she says. But the greatest strength of her campaign may have been in pounding on every door in the district.
“I think I struggled a little bit initially to find my voice. I know in my heart who I am, but I had a hard time articulating that. I’m not sure what happened, but as the race went on I think I got better at communicating where I was coming from.” She says. This is something seconded by those residents in the area who were eventually won over by her campaign.
“What changed, in my mind, was that after the primary Tammy decided to shed caution and moderation and articulate an unapologetic call for affordable housing and good jobs…” says Jonathan Rosenblum, a local labor activist and community organizer. “I saw things begin to turn after (she) showed up in the rain last month to support the tenants who were fighting slumlord Carl Haglund. Afterwards, I heard a lot of neighbors talk about how we need to be represented by leaders who aren’t afraid to take a stand for justice – not just in City Hall, but in our neighborhoods. Her message began to resonate with more District 2 voters.”
“You don’t make up almost 25 percentage points in two and a half months by doing nothing except praying to the political gods for a miracle,” says political consultant Michael Charles, who is just coming off working on city council member Tim Burgess’ campaign.
Charles sees the District 2 race as a fulfillment of what Seattle’s move to select city council seats by geographic location promised: The ability for a candidate to be competitive without having a huge war chest.
“Money is nice, but it isn’t enough by itself to win anymore. I had a fraction of what my opponent had,” says Morales, who didn’t have a campaign manager until two months left in the election, and who also utilized social media to get her message of economic opportunity and an affordable city across. “I also had a smaller margin of error. I knew that I was going to have to beat him in the ground game. That means I had to go into businesses and get on door steps. I couldn’t afford 800 yard signs every 20 feet in the valley. Thankfully signs don’t vote, people do.”
The former food policy consultant says she hopes she can carry that message to city hall after the final results come in. Should she win, her victory would be somewhat historic in city politics. She would not only join newly elected council member Lorena Gonzalez as the first Latinos on the council, but her election would also mean that women would outnumber men on the council six to three.
Even if she should lose, she plans to continue to be actively involved in community enrichment as an organizer, and continue to push her opponent in policy areas.
“A municipal broadband advocate came up to me at my election party and said, ‘Municipal broadband is equity issue, and yes it’s hard and expensive to implement but other communities are managing to figure it out. Harrell would have never voted for that had you not pushed,’” said Morales. She cites this as one of the proudest of her campaign, and reaffirmed that no matter the outcome, the effort has not been in vain.
Morales waits, with the rest of the community, on pins and needles for results to come on votes cast over the last month. While current media coverage focuses on the neck-and-neck quality of the race, some feel that this distracts from the real story developing in District 2.
“When each day’s new ballot counts provide the opportunity for a new story about what the results mean. It’s all a bit silly. Tammy Morales’ vote totals have been going up, or she’s been gaining on Harrell. No she hasn’t! All the votes have been cast already—we’re just uncovering the result in slow-motion.” Says Jonathan Lawson, a Hillman City resident and climate activist.
“Whether it’s Harrell or Morales who ends up coming out of District 2, they’ll be representing a district where almost half of the residents voted against them. Whoever wins this race is going to need to find a way to convince that other half they are the right person for the job. The way (District) 2 is constituted, that’s not going to be an easy task,” says Charles.
With the latest vote tally scheduled to be announced this afternoon at 4:30pm, District 2 residents will soon have a clearer picture of just who ends up responsible for that task.