Girmay Zahilay ahead of Larry Gossett in King County Council District 2 race
by Aaron Burkhalter
Candidates Tammy Morales and Mark Solomon will advance to the general election in the race for Seattle City Council’s District 2 seat, which represents Southeast Seattle. After the first tally of ballots for the Aug. 6 primary, the two candidates stood out in a crowd of seven people who had filed for the position previously held by three-term incumbent Bruce Harrell, who declined to run for a fourth term.
The nine-member Seattle City Council is made up of seven members representing seven geographic districts of the city and two at-large members. All seven district seats are on the ballot this year, and the top two candidates from the primary election will appear on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election.
Morales and Solomon led the District 2 race with margins that will be difficult to overcome by the other five candidates as King County continues to count ballots. Morales was far ahead with 44.7 percent of votes, with Solomon at 24.6 percent. Ari Hoffman came in third with 13.5 percent. Candidates Phyllis Porter, Christopher Peguero, Omari Tahir-Garrett, and Henry Dennison all garnered less than 7 percent support from voters.
Morales is an economic justice advocate with experience as a legislative director in the Texas House of Representatives and has worked for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and the Rainier Beach Action Coalition. Morales previously ran for the same position in 2015, losing to Harrell by just a couple hundred votes.
Solomon served active duty with the Air Force for seven years and has worked with the Seattle Police Department for nearly 30 years as a crime prevention coordinator.
Also in this primary, newcomer Girmay Zahilay garnered 52.1 percent of the vote in his race for King County Council District 2 — which represents Southeast Seattle, Skyway, and the Central District — against longtime incumbent and civil rights leader Larry Gossett, who has run unopposed for years. Skyway is unincorporated, making this seat the only local representation for that community
The candidates for the Seattle City Council waded into the ongoing debate among Seattle residents over homelessness. A vocal contingent in the area has pushed tougher laws against people who are unsheltered and an emphasis on public safety.
At the same time, these races were caught between the public campaign financing model that Seattle voters passed in 2015 and the growing use of independent political action committees (PACs) that have injected hundreds of thousands of dollars into these campaigns.
The results are in
At a campaign party at Bang Bang Kitchen on Othello Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Way South, Morales’ supporters exploded to see her early and significant lead, a full 20 percentage points ahead of Solomon.
Morales hugged her husband and supporters as people in the crowded restaurant shouted “Tammy! Tammy! Tammy!”
“This is just the first step,” Morales said. “There’s three more months of campaigning.”
Solomon echoed that sentiment at his home on Beacon Hill, where family and supporters gathered in his back yard to take in the results.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Solomon said, noting that he will spend the next several months knocking on doors and pursuing community engagement. “Very appreciative of the neighborhood engagement.”
Ahead of the election, voters in the South End received PAC-funded attack mailers against Morales, calling her divisive and pairing images of her with those of tents and needles. Morales’ supporters decried the mailers and equated them to negative attacks conservatives have lobbed at progressive female politicians in Congress.
“We are seeing this on the national level, and I’m hoping we do not allow that type of politics become acceptable here in Seattle,” said Alexis Oliver-Turla, diversity co-chair with the Women’s Political Caucus of Washington and a supporter of Morales.
Solomon distanced himself from the mailers, saying that the negativity does not reflect his personality or approach to campaigning or politics. He added that these are funded and created without coordination with his campaign.
“If you’re going to advocate for me, advocate for me,” he said. “And you can do that without dragging somebody else down.”
Morales saw it as a local example of the toxic politics at play on the national stage.
“On the one hand, given the Trumpian era we are in, I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was,” she said.
Educator and writer Cliff Cawthon celebrated Morales’ win and saw her success as an answer to the negativity and fearmongering that has become a hallmark of city council races across the city, where progressive candidates are linked with rising homelessness and crime.
“This is going to be a race for the soul of the South End,” Cawthon said. “What she represents is a progressive approach to address how inequitable development, how inequitable this city has become.”
Lance Randall, director of economic development at SouthEast Effective Development (SEED), similarly saw Solomon as an answer to negativity, praising his ability to work with a broad collection of voices and work from the middle, not being pulled into extremes.
“I think Mark is going to be a really thoughtful councilmember,” Randall said.
Supporters on both sides argued that their candidate was able to defend the South End against the growing gentrification that is pushing the community out of the city.
This was one of just seven City Council races on voter ballots. All three incumbents running for re-election are leading in their races, Lisa Herbold in District 1 (West Seattle), Kshama Sawant in District 3 (Central District and Capitol Hill), and Debora Juarez in District 5 (North Seattle). Alex Pedersen leads in District 4 (University District, Wallingford, and Ravenna), Dan Strauss in District 6 (Ballard, Fremont, and Greenlake), and Andrew Lewis in District 7 (Downtown, Queen Anne, and Magnolia).
Featured Image: Tammy Morales celebrates her early lead in the race for the Seattle City Council District 2 seat Aug. 6 at Bang Bang Kitchen on Othello Street. (Photo: Aaron Burkhalter)