Seattle City Attorney’s Race is a Culture War

In a year when Seattle elects a new mayor, you might expect the competition for the city’s top office to dominate the discourse. The competition between Bruce Harrell and Mr. Lorena González has certainly generated fodder. Again this week, González released a campaign ad that the Harrell campaign and others condemned as racist.

But pundits and Redditors also focused on another ballot, one with far less cultural cachet in a more normal season of political gossip. For weeks now, the race to become a Seattle city attorney – yes, the city attorney – has sparked intrigue and outrage from almost every corner of our local commentary. While most Seattle election showdowns force voters to analyze different shades of blue, the fight to run the city’s legal office draws closer to the country’s political polarization: one candidate has a Republican background, and the other boasts a program considered radical even by some liberal peers. As State Senator Jamie Pedersen told the AP, “A lot of people have major buyers remorse that these are the choices we have left.”

This is how we got here.

Who are the Seattle City Lawyer Candidates?

Notably, the current city attorney is not either. Pete Holmes, a Democrat in his third term, was unable to fend off two challengers in the almost equally divided August primary. Nicole thomas-kennedy, a former public defender, won 36.4% of the vote. Ann davison, who recently ran for lieutenant governor as a Republican in 2020 and city councilor in 2019 (as Ann Davison Sattler), finished a few points back.

Did you say Davison is a Republican?

The City Lawyer Race is non-partisan, so the private practitioner does not have to declare political affiliation. But Davison did run for lieutenant governor as a Republican in 2020, when Donald Trump chaired the party. She even contributed to a pro-Trump ad, according to Seattle weather.

She has since tried to distance herself from that decision as an “independent thinker”. His website says his failed bid for Seattle city council in 2019 proved that some local Democrats “no longer had room for a pragmatist like me” – a “Dan Evans type of Republican.” He notes that she voted for Obama and Clinton, caucus for Hillary in 2016, and voted for Biden, not Trump, in 2020. No matter where her allegiances really lie, no one disputes that she is on the right. of his opponent.

So Thomas-Kennedy is the most progressive candidate?

That would be an understatement. She presents herself as an abolitionist of the police and prisons.

Wait. The abolition is… great. What exactly is the City of Seattle lawyer doing?

Most people, this electoral cycle has proven, have no idea. David Goldstein, a former Foreigner editor-in-chief and current senior researcher at Civic Ventures, offers a view shared by many who have followed the race closely: the city attorney has little or no authority. Oh.

Let’s go straight to the source for clarity, then. The city lawyer oversees three main divisions, one of which is administration, think HR and accounting. Quite simple. The other two, civil and criminal, are at the heart of the office’s work. The majority of the department’s budget is spent on civil litigation: providing legal advice and representing the city and its officials when, say, the chamber of commerce pursues the new “JumpStart” payroll tax. Yet most conversations during election season focused on the role the city attorney plays in prosecuting misdemeanors, which encompasses a wide range of wrongdoing, from theft to domestic assaults. The shoulder shrugs scary things, basically.

A common misconception is that the city attorney’s office prosecutes crimes such as homicide. It is not. These cases are referred to the King County District Attorney’s Office.

So how could Thomas-Kennedy abolish the police and the prisons?

She could not. At least not overnight, and certainly not alone. Beyond its limited authority over cases, the city attorney’s office has no control over police funding, which many vitriolic commentators might be surprised to learn. This can, however, shape the city’s views and approach to the criminal justice system. In practice, Thomas-Kennedy would use his long-term goal of abolishing prisons as a framework for overhauling the current justice system, or “criminal punishment system,” as she calls it.

In the run-up to primary, Thomas-Kennedy criticized Holmes for being too harsh on petty crime. She wants to stop prosecutions for most crimes, she was told The foreigner, noting that prison sentences have exacerbated the problems of low-income and / or disabled people. She would not seek jail time for someone who steals from the shop or sneaks in while sleeping outside.

His argument is that the city attorney has always exercised his discretion in prosecution. She believes that it is usually those with more resources who avoid penalties for crimes. “City prosecutors alone decide who to criminalize, and these judgments have never been applied in the same way,” says its campaign website. She wants the city to spend its dollars on the civilian side – to support legislation against wage theft and environmental damage, among other societal issues.

But if the crimes don’t‘t to be prosecuted, what will dissuade them? Will Small Businesses Not Suffer?

Welcome to Davison’s line of thought. It wants to crack down on crime in its various forms, seeing petty offenses as a gateway to more serious offenses (although, as mentioned above, some offenses can be quite serious). Its platform is essentially the opposite of that of Thomas-Kennedy.

His approach to elementary school too. Ahead of the August vote, Davison attacked Holmes in a direct mail for allowing crime to “take hold here.” The leaflet said the homicides had “skyrocketed”. A critical reading might conclude that this information betrayed, or perhaps attempted to anchor, the misconception that the city attorney’s office is prosecuting crimes. A generous person might make the connection between an increase in murders and the slippery slope philosophy Davison promotes on his website: the data does not support success in this.

Regardless, Davison campaigned to clean up downtown, an important cause for many small business owners and corporate bigwigs in this city. Former Democratic governors Chris Gregoire and Gary Locke backed her.

Which message resonates the most?

Although Thomas-Kennedy triumphed in the primary, Davison overtook her rival, at least according to the latest poll commissioned by the Northwest Progressive Institute. A survey of 617 Seattle voters conducted by Change Research in mid-October found that 43% of those polled supported Davison, compared to just 24% for Thomas-Kennedy. Yet 30 percent of voters were undecided.

You didn’t mention Thomas-Kennedy’s bad tweets.

The candidate’s Twitter history likely hasn’t helped her cause as she pursues public office. As reported by Seattle weather and documented on numerous Reddit threads, the candidate has repeatedly lambasted cops on the social media platform. During the protests against police brutality in 2020, his account professed a “rabid hatred” for the police, and on Christmas Eve responded to a tweet from Seattle Police Chief Adrian Diaz with, according to one Times editorial, this farewell message: “Eat covid laced shit and quit your [sic] works.”

Thomas-Kennedy says she wouldn’t tweet that way as a municipal lawyer – she didn’t know she was going to run for the job at the time – but she didn’t apologize. Some share his animosity. Others hate him.

It seems like everyone invested in this race is crazy.

Rather. The two candidates have entered the race to overturn the status quo on criminal justice in this city, in completely different ways. Their supporters and detractors reflect the animosity behind their views. Others feel marginalized by such divergent choices. Goldstein calls the contest “an artefact of our electoral system, not a reflection of the will of the voters.”

How could this have been avoided?

Some forms of preferential voting might have encouraged a more diverse group of candidates to run. More fundamentally, voters could have taken the time to read, you know, the powers and responsibilities of the city attorney. And, as always, fewer tweets never hurt anyone.


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