An already complicated race for the Seattle City Council District 4 seat got a little more confusing on Thursday when incumbent Councilmember Rob Johnson announced his resignation, effective April 6. Johnson had already announced that he would not be running for reelection this fall, but his decision to step down early came as a surprise, as he had given no previous indication that he would not satisfy the remainder of his term.
This news should placate the folks who clamored for Johnson to step down immediately after he announced his plan to take a job as a transportation advisor with Seattle’s new NHL franchise, citing this new job as a conflict of interest with his position on the Council. Johnson says that his early resignation has nothing to do with the new job, and that he merely wants to spend more time with his family. He will, however, start working with Seattle’s NHL team next month, rather than in 2020, as he had originally announced.
Once Johnson vacates his seat, the remaining Councilmembers will have 20 days to find a replacement to represent District 4 until a new Councilmember is elected in November’s general election and that race is certified on November 26.
If this process sounds familiar, that’s because Seattle went through something similar in October 2017, after Ed Murray stepped down as Mayor, and Councilmember Tim Burgess took his position, leaving Burgess’ seat on the Council empty. 16 people applied to fill that seat (I was one of them), which was eventually occupied for just over a month by Kirsten Harris-Talley.
Applicants to fill Johnson’s seat can begin filing their paperwork on March 25, and the Council will begin reviewing applications on April 6. The Burgess vacancy brought a wide array of candidates, ranging from highly-qualified activists to nutty blowhards (I like to think I was somewhere in between), and there’s no reason to think that the same won’t be true this time. There’s more at stake in filling Johnson’s seat than there was for Burgess’, however. Not only will the temporary Councilmember serve for over half a year, they will participate in writing the city’s 2020 budget.
Council President Bruce Harrell released a memo on Thursday stating that he would like the Council to choose an experienced candidate who can “hit the ground running.” He also stated that he would like the replacement to agree “not to seek election to the Council this year,” which would seemingly disqualify the nine candidates who have already filed to run for the District 4 position (one of whom, Abel Pacheco, applied to replace Burgess in 2017). There is, however, nothing in the City Charter precluding a temporary Council appointee from running for the seat to which they were appointed.
Since only Councilmembers vote to fill Council vacancies, the residents of District 4 have virtually no say as to who will represent them for the next seven months. However, if you would like to hear from the candidates, there will be a public forum (format TBD) held sometime between April 10 and April 19. Stay tuned.