“The SECB has real concerns Michael Maddux might work himself into a quaalude stupor and be found parked on some Laurelhurst lawn muttering about how it all could have gone so well for him in Northeast Seattle’s District 4. (The phrase “our very own Rob Ford” was actually thrown around in our meetings.)” – The Stranger Election Control Board, August 2015 Primary
So something interesting happened in Seattle this year, which is that the entire city council was up for election, thanks to a measure passed in 2013 to establish district candidates. The measure established seven districts, with two at-large positions filling out the nine member council. The map below from seattle.gov shows the locations of the new districts.
Stats on the Street has been prepping a deep dive into the election results. Why? Because it’s interesting. Because whether or not young people and people with modest income can afford to keep living here depends on the political response to the current housing crisis. Because being a good citizen involves paying attention to civics. Because the national political system in America is so busted that if you want to do anything it has to be local.
We start in the humble District 4 of Northeast Seattle, home to the University of Washington and the neighborhoods of Wallingford, Eastlake, Ravenna, and Laurelhust, among others. If you’re interested, the official City of Seattle Council District No. 4 precinct map is here, and the offical results can be downloaded here.
The District 4 general election city council race pitted parks activist and Democratic Party operative Michael Maddux against Transportation Choices Coalition Director Rob Johnson. Both ran on urbanist platforms, with some slight differences between the two (obliged to shout out to Mike McGinn’s admittedly hilarious observation, in response to the headlines that “urbanists” carried the election, how absurd it would be for “ruralists” or “sub-urbanists” to run a major American city). Rob Johnson secured big time endorsements from the Sierra Club, King County Labor Council, and the Seattle Bike + Transit Blogs, as well as independent expenditures from the likes of the Chamber of Commerce, Washington Restaurant Association, and Rental Housing Association. Michael Maddux apparently secured a man crush from The Stranger. Both candidates repeatedly referenced the cordial nature of the race, and presented a vision of bikes and transit, density and affordability for an inclusive, livable city. Maddux offered more in the way of progressive taxation, homeless, and LGBT issues, while Johnson offered transportation expertise and reputation as a collaborator.
How it All Went Down
The Seattle Times made a cool interactive map of the results that’s worth a look. I have my own versions of some of their maps, presented here. Mine aren’t interactive, but I had to load the data anyway so here they are why not. As an aside I really like the term “economic fault lines” from the Times — spend enough time poking around the election results and you’ll be convinced that there is quite a divide between inland renters and waterfront homeowners. I mean, if you actually live here and are at least vaguely cognizant of your surroundings you’re probably aware of that divide anyway, but it was certainly born out in the election.
Well, there’s the economic fault line. The results divided on an east/west split, with wealthier, single family neighborhoods closer to Lake Washington preferring Rob Johnson, while less wealthy (although still pretty darn well-off) neighborhoods further from Lake Washington and composed of more renters preferred Michael Maddux. To get a better idea the communities that supported each candidate, I highlighted the precincts with votes most skewed to each candidate, as well as the precincts most divided.
The U-District anchored the Maddux vote and the wealthy Lake Washington neighborhoods anchored the Johnson vote, with Ravenna/Bryant most divided between the two. Because this is Stats on the Street, we have to pound the pavement. Let’s take a look.
A House Divided
I find the differences in land use composition between these neighborhoods quite striking. The U-District, voting Maddux, contains the most commercial activity of the three areas, and the most opportunities for non-SOV travel. Rental housing lines a commercial corridor carrying an almost continuous stream of buses (70x), with knucklehead students wandering into ethnic dining and admittedly quite a few urban poor. A few blocks away lie rows of modest single family houses.
In contrast, Laurelhurst is almost entirely composed of luxurious single family housing, and while technically a bus route runs through the neighborhood, and technically nothing is stopping you from riding a bicycle, during my afternoon stroll I never saw a bus, never saw anybody waiting at a bus stop, never saw a person riding a bicycle. It’s not a stretch to suppose that the clear majority of transportation involves an SOV. I mean, you’d pretty much have to, if you wanted to meet a friend for coffee, work out at the gym, pick up some groceries. Those facilities do not exist in that area, nor does a convenient, non-SOV means of accessing those facilities exist. I really have no idea what it’s like to be rich, but maybe you conduct many of those activities in your home? Maybe the friend comes over for coffee, maybe you work out in a home gym in your garage.
What’s fascinating is that the House Divided neighborhood (in this case I wandered around precinct SEA 46-2231, basically at NE 65th St and 30th Ave NE) is almost halfway between the two alternate urban forms. The housing is more comprised of single family, but neighborhood people congregate at cafes, churches. There’s a branch of the Seattle Public Library. I saw people waiting at bus stops for mildly sporadic service, some people riding bicycles around the neighborhood.
So we saw the fault lines, saw the results, what some of these neighborhoods look like. We can also look at not only which candidate carried each precinct, but in which areas people were more likely to vote.
Wow, so the University of Washington pretty much wrecks the color scale on the map. Registered voters living on or near campus were extremely unlikely to vote in the election. Some of the dark purple precincts were even under 10% voter turnout. Let’s see what the picture looks like without the seldom-voting UW students.
Overall the wealthier, eastern half of the district was more likely to vote. It’s interesting, however, that a pocket of Wallingford up from Lake Union also saw voter turnout around 50%. Even with the UW itself truncated from the map, the U-District still accounts for the lowest voting population.
If you were paying attention to the last set of maps you may have noticed a similarity between the voter turnout maps and the candidate preference maps…
The Michael Maddux Problem
Let me put it this way: it appears as though Michael Maddux was most popular with people who didn’t vote. Rob Johnson actually won fewer precincts than Maddux, but the precincts he won saw turnout of 48%, in comparison to 37% in the precincts that Maddux won. Also for what it’s worth there was apparently one precinct in Ravenna with a tie.
|Winner||# of Precincts||Average Turnout|
In fact, not only did Maddux tend to win precincts with lower turnout, he won almost every single precinct with a turnout lower than 40%, often authoritatively so. In contrast, Johnson was on average slightly preferred within precincts of turnout 40-60%, although with a wide range for any individual precinct.
But What Does it Mean?
I mean, it’s somewhat impressive that Michael Maddux won as many votes as he did. I think somewhere Maddux half-jokingly claimed to have won the votes per dollar contest, citywide. Rob Johnson was very much the candidate of money in this race, between independent expenditures and also appealing more to the wealthy single family homeowners who dominate the eastern neighborhoods of District 4, but this was ultimately a very close race. Not to diminish the Maddux campaign apparatus, but I wonder about The Stranger effect: how many people, much like the Stats on the Street Editorial Board, basically just do whatever The Stranger tells them to do? How powerful was their endorsement? (When I asked a coworker who lives in Roosevelt about this race he said, “I don’t remember. Whoever was in The Stranger.” When I asked a techie who lives in Ravenna he said, “I’m waiting for an app to disrupt the civic process” ZING that didn’t actually happen.)
In fairness I think The Stranger was biased against Rob Johnson from the start. While I’ve never met Rob, his style in photographs is undeniably preppy, and I think that ‘preppiness’ is basically the opposite of The Stranger’s aesthetic. In contrast, Michael Maddux looks like somebody who would either work for The Stranger outright, or at the very least be a folk hero to The Stranger’s staff (he may be the latter). I shudder to think how they would describe the Stats on the Street Editorial Board. (“It’s a bit upsetting that this alleged urbanist, renter, and civic egghead comes across as a suburban dad on his way to the golf course”…)
Much like basically all the races, though, this one appears to have been decided on the district economic fault lines. It would be a bit simplistic to say that Rob Johnson won the higher income homeowners, Michael Maddux won the lower income renters, and Johnson won the race because the HOs were more likely to vote, but not that far from the truth. Here’s what makes that interesting, though: neither candidate really offered to tend to the concerns of wealthy homeowners.
These are both “urbanist” candidates. Both of these guys think that transit is good, bikes are good, walkable neighborhoods are good. The neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Windermere, View Ridge, though, tend toward suburban character over urban: big houses, lawns, privacy, and frequent trips by private automobile. Neither candidate offered neighborhood preservationist policies, at least not to my knowledge. Let’s face it, if you own a home in Laurelhurst and are concerned primarily with your own self interest, then you want nothing to change. You don’t want upzones, you don’t want transit, you don’t want property tax levies, you don’t want students and renters, you don’t want homeless camps; you want to keep the messiness of the city at arm’s length. (The Stats on the Street Editorial Board would argue that there is an intersection between anybody’s own self interest and the aggregate public interest, but whatever.)
It may simply be that, lacking a choice to represent their self interest, the Lake Washington neighborhoods chose the candidate who seemed more conservative, which was obviously Rob Johnson. It could also be that they thought Johnson presented a more credible urbanist vision, but given the citywide reaction to HALA by the SF homeowners I’d be surprised if that was a widespread sentiment.
Could Maddux have won this race? I don’t know exactly what his get-out-the-vote activities were, but he was certainly preferred in lower income neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more renters: precisely the neighborhoods with lower voter turnout. It’s interesting to speculate whether a more aggressive voter turnout approach in places like Wallingford, the U-District, and Eastlake could have swung the election.
Regardless, though, Rob Johnson narrowly defeated Michael Maddux and will represent District 4 on the Seattle City Council. So congratulations to Rob and we look forward to his tenure!