Jenny Durkan supporters cheered as their candidate appeared around 9 o’clock on Tuesday night. She traded high-fives and gave hugs to those gathered on stage at the Westin Hotel before making her way to the podium.
“The Seattle Times has called the race,” she said to a cacophony of applause and whooping. Having won more than 60 percent of the votes counted in the initial ballot drop, the former U.S. attorney is set to become Seattle’s first woman mayor since 1926. Although there are still many votes left to count, Durkan’s lead all but assures her a victory. “Things aren’t quite official just yet, but thank you so much,” Durkan said to her supporters.
In her speech, Durkan issued a warning to President Trump to “keep your hands off Seattle” and promoted gentleness towards “neighbors in need.” She discussed a pathway to college for all and addressed climate change and healing “the deep wounds of systemic racism,” before ending her speech on a promise to push progressive values during her time as mayor.
Supporters chanted “Jenny, Jenny” as she departed the stage.
The party was the culmination of a dramatic mayoral race that began with 21 candidates. Durkan entered the race after Mayor Ed Murray dropped his re-election bid amid sexual abuse allegations, and despite her late arrival, decisively won the primary. Moon advanced to the general after a close contest for second place, beating out activist Nikkita Oliver by just over one percent of the vote. Since then, Durkan has held advantages in the race, with endorsements from labor unions, big businesses, and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, as well as a substantial fundraising haul. As of November 6, Durkan had raised more than $970,000 from 4,131 individual contributors—the most individual donations received on record. Moon had raised $358,000 and received 1,044 individual contributions.
The new mayor will replace Mayor Tim Burgess on November 28. And for those at the Westin, there was little doubt that the new resident of the seventh floor of City Hall would be Durkan.
Meanwhile, Moon was holding court at Old Stove Brewing, along the glittering Seattle waterfront, where the joyful mood barely shifted with the release of the initial vote tally. The funk from raucous New Orleans brass blared on the speakers, the laughter roared. Maybe it was the beer and the camaraderie, but no one seemed particularly fazed by Durkan’s 21-point, 23,000-vote lead. A few slumped shoulders, maybe. A few attendees rubbing one another’s backs, sympathetically.
“It’s still possible,” someone insisted. “There’s still a little hope.”
“I’m not giving up!” another chimed. “It’s not over yet!”
A reliable Seattle truism is that the late votes lean left; this is something the Moon campaign put into its election-day press release. “We’ve seen up to 10-point gains between election night and final certification in Seattle,” it read. “We will be happy to see Moon at 39.5 % or above tonight.” By night’s end, she was at 39.38.
“All right, so we’re up against really tough odds,” Moon told the room on Tuesday night. “Campaign spending by our opponent broke city election records, outspending us by more than three to one.” At this, the audience booed. But, she said, to wild cheers, “Seattle voters may surprise everyone. Ballot counts may swing in our direction—will swing in our direction in the next few days and we’re not out of this yet.”
Moon spoke for barely a minute or two, and did no press interviews afterward; instead, she walked through the crowd, giving and receiving hug after hug.
“She is a magnificent human being,” said Rebecca Young, a close friend of Moon’s for the past two decades. “I hate phone banking, I hate canvassing, but I’ve done it all for Cary because I believe in her so strongly.” Young is convinced, for instance, that Moon has been doing exactly what it takes to be a politician for as long as she’s known her. “The thing that sort of drives me crazy is when people say, ‘Does she have enough experience?’… She’s been fighting for the Seattle I want to live in for 20 years! … She’s been a political activist, she’s been a community organizer, she’s been a civic leader since the day I met her.”
And if the election goes to Durkan? Young would see that as a sign “that Seattle is not as progressive a city as we think, or certainly I had hoped. I will be supremely disappointed.” To Young, a Durkan administration would be “more of the same. More insider politics. Dirty politics.” She, like Moon, pointed to contributions from large corporations to a political action committee called People for Jenny Durkan. “Money buys politics in the U.S.,” she said, “and Jenny Durkan has bought a lot of this election.”
Robert Cruickshank, a staffer during the Mike McGinn administration, said that he supported McGinn during the primary, but that he was thrilled when Moon went on to the general. “It sounds trite,” Cruickshank said, but he believes Moon really is “running because she really cares about making this city a better place. … It’s not driven by a desire to build a political career. It’s not driven by a desire to build a resume. … It’s because she looks around the city, and sees people can’t afford to live here anymore and that eats away at her. … And she runs because she’s like, ‘well, shoot, maybe I can do something about it.’ ”
Sharon Maeda, a longtime Seattle activist and now station manager at Rainier Valley Radio, agrees. She believes that Moon is an excellent listener, and “she’s ready, she’s got a team ready to solve the problem of homelessness, to solve a lot of these issues” with an eye to social justice.
She feels, by contrast, that if Durkan takes office, “It’s gonna be more of Ed Murray … an autocratic, controlling mayor who’s gonna make decisions that may or may not be helpful to the average person. And in four years, Seattle could be even worse than we are now in terms of equity. I’m very concerned about that.”
The crowd began to thin as Maeda spoke, and drafts of cool air started making their way back into the room. Maeda said she’s positive the large gap between the two candidates will close over the next few days, but “if we can make that much up, I’m not sure.”
One early supporter of Moon didn’t make it to the party along the waterfront. Ryan Wagstaff, 18, had voted for Moon in the primary, but ended up voting for Durkan in the general election and spent his Tuesday night at the latter candidate’s party. He says that he first considered switching his allegiance in September after taking a candidate quiz on Facebook, which told him that his views on homelessness, transportation, and education aligned more with Durkan’s campaign. Then he heard her speak at a forum in which candidates were asked how they had fought to advance LGBTQ rights. That sealed it. “Since Jenny Durkan is actually a queer woman, I do believe she would be for my equality as a queer person,” said Wagstaff, a freshman at the University of Washington on a Greater Seattle Business Association scholarship geared towards LGBTQ students.
But Wagstaff doesn’t agree with Durkan on everything. He’s passionate about ending youth incarceration, but he believes that Durkan’s stance on reducing juvenile detention without altogether stopping it in an embrace of restorative justice doesn’t go far enough. Yet he’s willing to make a concession since he supports most of her positions. “Hopefully she’ll grow from it and learn from whatever mistakes that may be or whenever she gets called out,” Wallstaff said.
Other supporters pointed to what they saw as Durkan’s business acumen and political savviness as a major part of her appeal. Those voters said that they craved order and decisive policies to address the city’s rising homelessness and lack of affordability.
Clinton Jessee, a 43-year-old who has lived in Seattle since the late 1990s and currently lives in Section 8 subsidized housing, was a loud presence at the Durkan affair. His sparkling gray suit was adorned with a home-made pin that read, “I voted for wonder woman Jenny Durkan,” and featured a picture of Durkan’s face atop Wonder Woman’s body.
A city tour guide with an affinity for costumes, Jessee attended rallies during last year’s presidential campaign dressed as a pro-Hillary Clinton superhero he created called “Captain Hillster.” After Donald Trump was elected president, Jessee decided that he would commit the rest of his life to ensuring that “qualified, capable women get my attention first, both as a supporter and as a voter.” He said he became involved in Durkan’s campaign when she announced that she would be running in May.
“I had a little bit of PTSD coming in here,” Jessee admitted as he recalled the 2016 election. “A year ago I was in my superhero costume and it all went bad,” he lamented. But he was encouraged by Durkan’s lead in the race.
In keeping with the promise that he made to himself last year, Jessee had spent the entire week before election day phone banking and waving Durkan signs on the streets. He was one part of a late offensive from the campaign that included last-minute phone banking and get out the vote events. A parallel campaign from Jenny for Seattle included a quiz “Cary Moon Vs. Cary Moon” that was intended to underscore what the PAC called Moon’s “shifted policy positions.”
Durkan delivered her closing arguments in a Friday press conference aimed at labor unions, Teamsters, firefighters, and small business owners. And over the weekend she accepted an endorsement from the Indonesian community group, Kawama Seattle, at IndoCafe, where she discussed her plans to curtail homelessness and to build more affordable housing. Selvie Turangan, a 50-year-old caregiver who attended Durkan’s election night party, showed off a photo of her family posing with Durkan at the restaurant. “She’s a strong woman,” Turangan said.
She and her husband Nico, an Uber driver, have 12- and 13-year-old children who they hope will be granted two years of free community college tuition, as is promised in Durkan’s platform.
After the first vote drop, Selvie joined the end of the line of supporters on stage as they prepared for Durkan to deliver her speech. When Durkan finally entered the stage, she stopped to embrace Selvie, who then lifted her arms in victory.