Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan continues to give off signs that she is not happy enough in the demanding job to be certain to run again in 2021, when her first term expires. The other important factor in these musical chairs is whether a Democrat defeats President Trump in 2020, opening up federal jobs for ambitious Seattle politicians.
One of the first dominoes likely to tumble, if Trump loses, would be Gov. Jay Inslee, whose audition for a cabinet position (energy or interior) went well in his presidential-primary run. Assume that Inslee is reelected governor in 2020, pretty much a sure thing, and D.C. comes calling with a good job. If Inslee resigns before May, 2021, there would be a special gubernatorial election in November, 2021; if Inslee resigns after May 2021, then the special election would be 2022. Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib would serve in the interim, and might be a good candidate for governor, running as a temporary incumbent. (Sly question: might other Democrats jump into the race against the popular Habib?)
The three likely Democratic candidates for governor would be Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the favorite, but maybe headed for a federal job himself; lands commissioner Hilary Franz (who has statewide fame); and King County Executive Dow Constantine (who has executive experience). Republicans would be a long-shot, but at least the GOP candidate would not wear the Trump albatross, and the off-year election would depress voter turnout (big turnout is typically a Democratic advantage).
Meanwhile, back at the Seattle City Council ranch, there are at least two councilmembers who seem to aspire to being mayor. One is Teresa Mosqueda, who would be labor’s choice and is relatively popular with her colleagues. The other is Lorena Gonzalez, who started to run for state attorney general before Inslee’s decision to run for reelection froze aspirant Bob Ferguson in the A-G post, and kept Franz in her current post.
But play this game out with me. Trump loses and Mayor Durkan gets a nice federal judicial offer, so she resigns. The new mayor is automatically the council president, pretty much lined up for Gonzalez. That means Gonzalez could run for mayor in 2021/22 as an incumbent.
Here’s the language from the Municipal Code on mayoral vacancy:
“A person who thus succeeds to fill a vacancy in an elective office shall hold such office until a successor is elected and qualified. Such successor shall be elected at the next regular municipal general election or at a special election held in concert with the next state general election, whichever occurs first, and shall hold the office for the remainder of the unexpired term and until a successor is elected and qualified; provided, should a vacancy in an elective office occur after the filings for elective office have closed for the next regular municipal general election or state general election, no successor for the unexpired term shall be elected until the next succeeding regular municipal general election or state general election, whichever occurs first.”
It may be that when the City Council picks its new president, succeeding Bruce Harrell, and normally serving two years, we will surreptitiously elect the new Seattle Mayor. By the same token, the pressure on Durkan to stay in her mayoral job, fending off the left-leaning and divisive Gonzalez, will intensify.