Seattle fights preview battle between Democrats, democratic socialists

Seattle fights preview battle between Democrats, democratic socialists
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A pitched battle between mainstream Democrats and more liberal democratic socialists is roiling Seattle, one of the most progressive cities in the country, in a potential preview of the choice Democratic voters face in picking a presidential nominee.
Amid raging debate over the future of the party in Seattle, a city where President TrumpDonald TrumpKushner lands book deal, slated for release in 2022 Biden moves to undo Trump trade legacy with EU deal Progressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC MORE won just 8 percent of the vote in 2016, both mainstream Democrats and the most liberal candidates find themselves aligning with the president on some issues.
Like Trump, mainstream Democrats led by Mayor Jenny Durkan are campaigning against a socialist candidate, while more liberal candidates consider their most potent enemy to be Amazon, a tech giant targeted by Trump whose growth has changed the face of the city.
Seattle voters will cast ballots in a primary election next month to winnow a field of more than 50 candidates running for council seats in seven districts across the city.
In virtually every one of those races, November’s general election is likely to come down to a choice between a candidate backed by self-described democratic socialists and a candidate aligned with the city’s business community.
Voters who once fostered the Seattle Way – a go-along, get-along style of politics – are now furious with the current council, which has struggled for four years to answer a growing crisis of homelessness, crime in the downtown core and drug addiction.
"There is no part of the city I go to and no community where homelessness is not at the top of mind," Durkan told The Hill in an interview. "Many people can't afford to live here anymore. People are getting priced out, especially communities of color."
In one sign of just how bitter the political atmosphere has become, just three of the seven incumbent City Council members are running for reelection.
“The citizens are simply and completely disgusted with the direction of the city,” said Cindi Laws, a longtime Democratic activist who aligns with the mainstream wing of the party. “In short, people are pissed off.”
A seemingly intractable struggle between the business-friendly progressives and the far-left has consumed Seattle politics. 
An effort to pay for a response to the crisis with a tax on large businesses, a so-called "head tax," failed last year when the council reversed itself in the face of heated opposition from the business community and trade unions. 
Last week, when posters appeared asking residents to use a city-sponsored app to report the location of tents used by the homeless, activists flooded the app with fake reports.
“The messaging is very much anti-homelessness and dehumanizing people who can’t afford to live here anymore,” said Heather Weiner, a Seattle political strategist. “We’ve gone from being the crunchy liberal working-class city to now a city of high-income tech people and people who have been here for decades and who are concerned with protecting their nest eggs, which are their homes.”
The fight is on display in southeast Seattle, once a working-class melting pot of Boeing machinists and Asian and Central American refugees who are increasingly being displaced by tech hipsters. 
In the race for an open seat, Durkan this week endorsed Mark Solomon, a crime prevention coordinator who works for the Seattle Police Department. Durkan told supporters that Solomon’s leading opponent, community organizer Tammy Morales, would be “another socialist” on the council. Morales, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, is backed by Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalWhite House to Democrats: Get ready to go it alone on infrastructure Black Democrats press leaders for reparations vote this month Jayapal to Dems: Ditch bipartisanship, go it alone on infrastructure MORE (D-Wash.), one of the most outspoken and liberal members of Congress.
"At the end of the day, you have to be able to move forward," Durkan told The Hill. "Being a progressive means you actually make progress."
Weiner, who backs Morales, said Durkan’s attacks were “the same language we’re hearing from Trump and the GOP playbook.”
Neither Solomon nor Morales responded to requests for comment.
In a city where the typical council campaign costs less than an average tech worker’s yearly salary, corporate money is playing a larger role. 
After the fight over the head tax, Amazon and other large corporations funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars into a political action committee run by the city’s Chamber of Commerce, and a former council member has formed his own PAC aimed at boosting more business-friendly Democrats.
“Most corporations have not played a big role in Seattle [politics]. Developers are the ones who are most concerned about Seattle politics,” said Nick Licata, a former city councilman who anchored the council’s liberal wing. Amazon founder Jeff BezosJeffrey (Jeff) Preston BezosMacKenzie Scott gives away another .7 billion to charity Press: Even Jeff Bezos should pay income taxes Democrats face new pressure to raise taxes MORE, Licata said, “is getting his revenge.”
Tension between Seattle’s liberal activists and the business community has existed for decades. Winning elections in the city means cobbling together a coalition of business and labor, a mold Durkan followed when she won office with 56 percent of the vote. She is not the first mayor to anger local Democratic groups who wish their executives were more aligned with the city's more progressive neighborhoods.
“If there is a schism here, it would appear that it is between the Democratic Party and our mayor, not between Democrats and socialists,” said Scott Alspach, who heads a local Democratic club.
The tension in some ways mirrors a broader fight for the future of the Democratic Party, one playing out in the presidential nominating contest before rapt audiences in Iowa and New Hampshire.
On the national stage, former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenMellman: Trump voters cling to 2020 tale FDA authorizes another batch of J&J vaccine Cotton warns of China collecting athletes' DNA at 2022 Olympics MORE has warned against embracing the most liberal policies like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. He has chided some of his rivals, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC Zombie Tax punishes farmers to fill DC coffers Progressives threaten to block bipartisan infrastructure proposal MORE (I-Vt.) and Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDemocrats learn hard truths about Capitol breach Harris calls for pathway to citizenship for Dreamers on DACA anniversary Abbott says he'll solicit public donations for border wall MORE (D-Calif.), for pushing the party too far to the left at the expense of more white working class voters to whom he promises to appeal.
The leading liberals, on the other hand, have castigated Biden’s incrementalism on issues like health care, and his pledge to reach across the aisle to rebuild a congenial politics of a previous era. In another parallel, Democrats like Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenProgressives rave over Harrison's start at DNC On The Money: Schumer to trigger reconciliation process on Wednesday | Four states emerge as test case for cutting off jobless benefits Big Tech critic Lina Khan named chair of the FTC MORE (Mass.) have even promised to break up major tech companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google.
Durkan, who has not endorsed a candidate in the race, said she thinks Democratic voters will gravitate more toward candidates like Warren than to candidates like Sanders. The latter has described himself as a democratic socialist and is now battling to be the standard-bearer for progressives after having that lane to himself in the 2016 race.
"As the Democratic field advances, we will see that people understand that you can have strong principled progressive stances and still get things done. I think Bernie Sanders's star will fade," Durkan said. "I think he was lifted up as much by the fact that he wasn't Hillary as he was by his own ability to move people forward."
Licata, the former city council member who frequently found himself outvoted by his more business-friendly colleagues, said the fight in Seattle could presage warnings for the most liberal Democrats running for president.
“The ideas of the strong progressive wing, I think, resonate with many people, but not necessarily the majority of the people,” he said. “Their approach can be easily misrepresented and manipulated by the opposition to scare people. I think that’s what’s happened in Seattle, and I think that could happen on the national level.”