Photo by Wynand van Poortvliet

Wealth & Poverty Review Seattle’s Course: Harder Left

The progressive-socialist coalition tightens its grip on the city council. Originally published at City Journal

Three weeks before the elections for Seattle city council, moderate candidates appeared to be poised for victory. An opinion poll from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce showed widespread discontent with the existing council. Voters in every district told pollsters that Seattle was on the “wrong track,” and they expressed an unfavorable opinion of city leadership. According to the conventional wisdom, this would be a “change election” that pitted a slate of moderate, business-backed candidates against progressives and socialists who promised to revive the failed “Amazon tax” and to impose rent control, legalize homeless camping, and even abolish the Seattle Police Department. The business community, united with moderate Democrats, neighborhood groups, and public-safety unions, appeared successfully to have framed the election as a choice between a “dangerous, divisive status quo” and a “return to responsible government.”

But just as ballots were going out, Amazon, believing that victory was within reach, made the mistake of contributing another $1 million to the Chamber’s political action committee—and the entire narrative collapsed. Suddenly, the local election was nationalized, with figures including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren decrying Amazon’s “out-of-control corporate greed” and promoting the message that the Internet retailer was “trying to tilt the Seattle City Council elections in their favor.” The progressive and socialist candidates capitalized on this change, reframing the election as a choice between Amazon and the #Resistance. All substantive criticisms of the council on homelessness, public safety, and economic policy disappeared from public discourse. Within days, the referendum on a failed city council had been transformed into a referendum on corporate power.

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Christopher Rufo

Former Director, Center on Wealth & Poverty
Christopher Rufo is former director of the Discovery Institute’s Center on Wealth & Poverty. He has directed four documentaries for PBS, Netflix, and international television, including his latest film, America Lost, that tells the story of three "forgotten American cities.” Christopher is currently a contributing editor of City Journal, where he covers poverty, homelessness, addiction, crime, and other afflictions. Christopher is a magna cum laude graduate of Georgetown University, Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow, and has appeared on NPR, CNN, ABC, CBS, HLN, and FOX News.