People who voted for Nikkita Oliver in Seattle’s primary election say her run for mayor was a thrilling ride. They’re viewing the general election between Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon with a little less enthusiasm, if not disgust.
Activist Karen Toering, who moved to Seattle in 1999, said in the past, she often felt like political parties wanted to use African-American voters for their own ends. She felt betrayed by Trump and Clinton voters in 2016.
“It certainly propelled my decision to stop voting for people who didn’t believe in me,” she said of the presidential election. “I don’t know how to say this. I feel like white women failed me. And I haven’t been able to trust them ever since.”
Toering said she saw years of social justice organizing coming to fruition in the founding of Seattle’s Peoples Party and Oliver’s candidacy.
“I had a lot of hope. I really believed Nikkita had a really good chance,” Toering said. “Because I knew how many volunteers she had on the ground, I knew the way she was mobilizing. I was in conversations with people who I’m not normally in conversations with, who were voting for her. Even in my own neighborhood, there were Nikkita signs in yards and I was like, ‘Whoa! This person?’”
Toering said she urged friends and acquaintances to support Oliver and donated to her campaign.
“One of the things I did was made the largest political contribution that I’ve ever made," she said. "And that felt very empowering.”
Now Oliver’s supporters are facing a choice between two white women for mayor, Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan. And Marcus Green, founder and editor of the South Seattle Emerald, says the mood among Oliver’s supporters has changed.
“It probably ranges from despondency to obligation,” he said. “Meaning that, okay, well, this is democracy, democracy is messy and a lot of times you don’t always get what you want.”
But Green said the issues that propelled Oliver’s candidacy – like housing, homelessness, police accountability and inequality – still exist.
Green said one of the most striking moments in the election primary came in a conversation with his mother, who has lived in Seattle for 50 years.
She told him she was supporting Oliver but that “this might be the last mayoral election in Seattle that she ever is allowed to vote in because she might be in Kent or Auburn or another city in South King County soon,” Green said. “Property taxes on her home continue to go up, and a lot of her friends, quite frankly, have moved away.”
Green said Oliver’s run galvanized people in the South End. He compared the joyful atmosphere at her campaign launch to a religious revival.
“I’d never seen any kickoff with that level of excitement and exuberance,” he said. “Washington Hall was just packed with a variety of different races, it was intergenerational.”
After Oliver placed third in the August primary, much of her support in South Seattle flowed to Moon in the general election. But it comes with a sense of resignation.
Jesiah Wurtz co-owns Café Red, a coffeehouse next to Othello’s light rail station. He endorsed Oliver in the primary but now there’s a Moon sign in his window.
“We’re not necessarily excited that Moon is our candidate over Oliver,” he said. “However, we do feel this is really our last chance to create a more equitable Seattle before it really just does become a new San Francisco.”
Oliver supporters say they will keep working on the issues that fueled her run. They see the choice of Kirsten Harris-Talley to temporarily fill the spot on the Seattle City Council when Tim Burgess became the interim mayor as one small victory for the Peoples Party. She will hold that seat until election results for Position 8 are certified.
And Toering said that despite feeling tired, she is dismayed at any thought of skipping the Nov. 7 election.
“You know, if you are not voting and your ballot is just sitting there on your dining room table or your side table or wherever you put your mail," she said, "I just want to spank you. I do, I just want to spank you. So I’m going to vote because people died so I could. And the ballot comes to my house."