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Analysis: What to expect from a new Seattle mayor, change afoot in the suburbs and other election takeaways

A man in a black coat and blue jeans deposits a ballot in a King County elections drop box.
Ted S. Warren
The Associated Press file
A man puts a ballot in a King County Elections drop box at a library in Seattle's White Center neighborhood in 2020.

ED RONCO: I'm Ed Ronco. It looks like it's increasingly likely Bruce Harrell will be the next mayor of Seattle. He's up by nearly 39,000 votes over Lorena González, the current City Council president. What will a Harrell City Hall look like? KNKX reporter Lilly Ana Fowler is with me this afternoon for a little election analysis. Lilly, you have been on the phone.

FOWLER: I have. Yeah, so I talked to Crystal Fincher about the possibility of Bruce Harrell administration. She's a political consultant, and we talked about what voters might have been thinking as they chose the city's next mayor.

FINCHER: They voted for someone who seems pretty ideologically consistent with the incumbent right now. I think Lorena González would have substantively been different than Jenny Durkan and certainly has more of left-leaning policies. But Bruce Harrell is not further to the right of Durkan, and they actually seem pretty consistent. It will be interesting to really think through, like, how is a Harrell administration looking different than a Durkan administration? I don't know that anyone has a clear answer to that right now.

RONCO: Political consultant Crystal Fincher there. And Lilly, I know González has said there are still ballots to be counted despite a big deficit for her. Let's talk about the much-discussed city attorney's race and a couple of City Council seats up for grabs as well. The more progressive candidates on the ballot in Seattle didn't do so hot last night. What do we see there?

FOWLER: Right. In the city attorney's race, we had abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, and she's behind her Republican opponent, Ann Davison. In the race for a City Council seat, Nikkita Oliver is losing to their more business-friendly opponent, Sara Nelson. Experts seem to think there's a number of factors at play here, the age of voters. We had many more older voters cast their ballot than younger voters, for example. Also, these were citywide races, not district-based races. Fincher points out that in district-based races, you can go door to door and communicate with people and reach most people that way, if you have a good ground game. In citywide races, it's just not possible to reach everyone that way, and progressives were simply outspent.

FINCHER: But again, I feel like we're having this big conversation about everything but the biggest elephant in the middle of the room: When spending is, you know, hundreds of thousands of dollars to the low five figures on direct communication, direct voter communication, you rarely see that prevail.

FOWLER: Yeah. So what she means by direct communication: I mean, she's talking about ads, mailers, flyers. You know, I saw a big ad against Nicole Thomas-Kennedy right on the front page of the Seattle Times, and she's saying her opponents just couldn't spend that same kind of money.

RONCO: Hard to fight back against that kind of that kind of spending. OK, to the rest of the region. Seattle, of course, not the only city that held an election yesterday, and there are some big contests in suburbs throughout our area.

FOWLER: Yeah. Crystal and I talked about that a little bit. She said Seattle is different than most places politically.

FINCHER: Suburbs are a little different than Seattle in that they include Republicans regularly, and a lot of the races are more ideologically diverse. You know, even someone like Ann Davison is using, you know, progressive sayings and buzzwords and definitely appealing to the more progressive Seattle electorate, even if they're in the moderate lane.

FOWLER: Yeah. So Crystal mentioned a couple of interesting races in other places. It looks like Burien's first Latino mayor, Jimmy Matta, for example, he's heading for reelection. And in Bellingham, there's a Black Lives Matter activist named Kristina Michele Martens running for City Council there, who could become one of the first Black women elected to office in Whatcom County. And then there's races in SeaTac, where we have a number of progressive candidates, some of whom are people of color, BIPOC, who could be elected. And that's a very diverse suburb where they've been slow to catch up. And now it looks like they might be just doing that.

RONCO: Yeah. And, of course, more numbers expected as we go through the the coming days. Right?

FOWLER: Right.

RONCO: KNKX's Lillyana Fowler with some election analysis this afternoon. Thank you.

FOWLER: Thank you.

RONCO: There's a lot more to unspool, of course, and we will be looking at other races around the region throughout not only this afternoon, but also the days ahead.

Lilly Ana Fowler covers social justice issues investigating inequality with an emphasis on labor and immigration. Story tips can be sent to
Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.