Good Luck, Challengers: Seattle Council Members Usually Hang On To Seats

Oct 24, 2013

When you fill out your ballot in the coming days, you should know that the people you elect to the Seattle City Council might just stay there for a long time.

That’s because Seattle City Council incumbents rarely lose. In fact, only five incumbents have lost in the last 20 years. And three of those were elected in the wake of a 2003 scandal in which strip club operators illegally gave campaign money to council members.

This year, incumbents Nick Licata and Sally Bagshaw are expected to continue this winning streak. Licata has been a council member for 15 years; Bagshaw was elected in 2009.

Knute Berger, a writer for Crosscut.com and a longtime Seattle political observer, told The Record’s Steve Scher that one of the reasons incumbents are hard to beat has to do with how council members are elected. Unlike most major cities, Seattle doesn’t elect it’s council members by district.

“We have at-large seats. People come to be known citywide,” Berger said. “It’s very difficult to become known citywide if you’re an unknown.”

One of this year’s longshots is Sam Bellomio, a former activist with Seattle’s Occupy Movement. He said  council members are disconnected from average citizens, and that they’re paid too much.

“I would require their pay be lowered to what the average citizen wage is in Seattle,” Bellomio said. “If Seattle’s doing great, the pay will increase. If the citizens are doing poorly, the pay reduces.”

Bellomio aims to unseat Bagshaw, who chairs the Parks and Neighborhoods Committee, and who hasn’t addressed her opponent’s concern about council member pay. She says her biggest priority moving forward is keeping downtown and other neighborhoods cleaner, healthier and safer.

“I think we’ve such an opportunity right now building on the Center City Initiative to bring our human services providers, our mental health providers and our entire justice system to bear on caring for people,” Bagshaw said. “And also, where we’ve got criminal behavior – addressing it.”

Licata’s challenger is Edwin Fruit, a factory worker in Seattle, and member of the Socialist Workers Party.

Fruit said he’s running for Seattle City Council to provide a voice for working people.

“The source of the problem that working people are facing is the capitalist system,” Fruit said. “How we can move forward is for working people to take political power and run the country in the interest of the vast majority, where we put people before profit.”

Licata currently chairs the committee that oversees Housing, Human Services and Health.

In addition to sponsoring Seattle’s new sick-leave law, Licata notes his accomplishments in helping underserved communities.

“We need progressive legislation that tackles the issue of making Seattle affordable,” Licata told the Seattle Channel. “And we can only do that if we pass laws that require developers to set aside a certain amount of housing for those who make less than $40,000 a year.”