That is, no one has filed to run against the usual suspects: City council members Richard Conlin, Sally Bagshaw, Nick Licata, and Mike O'Brien, who are all up for re-election this year.
Is it unusual to have a slate of four council incumbents and absolutely no challengers? Yes, yes it is*, confirms the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. While the deadline to file for office isn't until May 10, most candidates file in January or early February—at the latest—to get a head start on fundraising. What this means is that we could easily see these four incumbents running unopposed, without anyone** publicly challenging their voting records, their vision for the city, or their stances on issues like bringing high-capacity transit to more parts of Seattle.
And unlike the 2011 city council races, this year's crop of incumbents aren't kicking off their campaigns with ostentatiously fat bank accounts, the kind that scare off challengers. Here's what the incumbents have raised so far, according to current SEEC financial statements:
But if you put your ear to the ground, there aren't even rumblings about challengers entering any these races. So what's going on here? Either everyone in Seattle has collectively agreed that the city council is doing a bang-up job—that every decision coming off the second floor is beyond reproach—or we have a serious problem.
Speaking on background, one political consultant said that no one's approached him about a run for council office, whereas he would (and should) typically have four challengers jockeying for these seats.
That's a shame, because city council seats are one litmus test of a healthy governing body. Election cycles are when we get to fight about, and hone, our vision and priorities for the city. These seats should be challenged and sometimes won by neighborhood advocates, transit activists, nonprofit leaders, and other aspiring politicians who have a bone to pick but not necessarily the big name, deep pockets, or stacked resume of experience that higher positions (like the mayorship) often demand.
Perhaps last year's campaign finance reform measure wasn't enough to dispel the pervasive thought that the City Hall deck is unfairly stacked against challengers.
Maybe we need to be talking more about meaningful election reform, be it through publicly financed campaigns, term limits, district elections, or something else entirely. Yes, those conversations are happening this year at City Hall, but those conversations are best to have when incumbents' jobs are on the line and they're more motivated to explain themselves to voters.
*Tom Rasmussen's 2007 race was the only instance of a city council incumbent running unopposed in the last decade.
**But us poor, tired, overworked journalists.