When Council Member Andrew Lewis called The Stranger to announce his run for reelection last January, he marketed himself as a bridge-builder between the two institutional powers in Seattle politics: business and labor. But by the end of his race, one of the City’s most prominent business leaders denied ever endorsing him, the union that got him elected the first go-round completely snubbed him on spending, and the big business PAC that spent nearly $200,000 to support his opponent, Bob Kettle, superimposed his face on a stack of waffles.

So while Lewis said last year that his endorsements and thus his political alignment “defy easy categorization,” one can now clearly categorize him as defeated. Lewis ultimately lost his race to represent Downtown, Queen Anne, and some of Magnolia by less than two percentage points, or just 439 votes. With the unshakeable confidence of a white man with a law degree, he seemed to shrug off the loss. He’s fielding job offers at law firms, and he does not plan to run for any office in the near future.

“It's not my seat or [Kettle]’s seat. It's the people of District Seven’s seat,” Lewis said in an interview with The Stranger. “They get to choose who is doing this work for them for four year intervals. And even though an incredibly small number of them decided to weigh in this time and they barely picked [Kettle], I wish him the best of luck, and I hope he can get some stuff done.”

While Lewis doesn’t dramatize the loss for himself, the story of his narrow defeat can be told in two ways: A thoughtful pragmatist falls victim to a tumultuous political climate, or a spineless ladder-climber missed a rung while trying to play both teams. 

Drugs Dragging Him Down

In one of Lewis's earliest and proudest accomplishments in his term, he led the council in unanimously repealing the City’s drug traffic and prostitution loitering laws, which gave cops clearance to disproportionately harass poor people and people of color. Just three years later, his career would end, in his view, over his surprise vote against a bill to criminalize public drug use. 

After the State Legislature re-criminalized public drug use last May, Seattle City Council conservatives Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson championed a bill that would give the Republican City Attorney the authority to prosecute drug possession and public use as a gross misdemeanor for the first time in the city’s history. 

It seemed as if the council would pass the bill in a June meeting, but Lewis shot it down, despite admitting he fully intended to vote for the bill when he walked into council chambers that day. Seemingly on the verge of tears before his vote, he said that the issue deserved a larger conversation so the City could better plan and pay to divert more cases to keep people with substance abuse disorders in jail. But he didn’t go full abolitionist. After the vote, he convened stakeholders to pass a similar bill that also disappointed anti-carceral progressives.

Still, Lewis saw immediate backlash. Downtown Seattle Association CEO Jon Scholes, one of the supporters Lewis bragged about when he first launched his run for reelection, asked the candidate to remove his name from his website and denied ever endorsing him in the first place. 

Lewis said voters inundated him and his campaign team with questions and complaints about his initial vote during canvassing. He said these voters misunderstood how to solve the issue of addiction due largely to the “bad narratives” perpetuated by TV news, the Seattle Times Editorial Board, and other conservative pundits that make money off viewers’ fear. 

Even if the vote cost him the election, he does not regret it.

“People want anything that looks like action, and criminalizing something looks like action,” he said. “An ordinance is a tool, and if you’re going to have a tool, you need to have a plan to effectuate that tool. I didn’t sign up for the City Council to pass cheap, symbolic ordinances that make people feel like we’re doing something.”

He’s proud of the bill they passed, particularly since, as of November, the Seattle Police Department reportedly arrested fewer than 50 people under the new law and 33 people got diverted to the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program.

But he didn’t have those stats to point to during the campaign, when his opponent used the vote as an example of Lewis’s “waffling.”Lewis rejects his reputation as a flip-flopper. 

“I think that in a lot of these things, the best answer is typically somewhere in the middle,” Lewis said. “And I think that it often disappoints a lot of people who have more extreme preferences when something is a bit more nuanced.” 

Lisa Daugaard, who worked on the drug bill as the architect of LEAD, said people “overlook” his leadership in reaction to a “very chaotic time.” She praised him for his work to fund her program, JustCARE, a field team that runs reformed encampment removals, and the effort to revitalize Third Avenue. 

“Almost anything helpful that happened from 2020-2023 in downtown neighborhoods with respect to public safety was because Lewis pushed hard for it,” Daugaard told The Stranger in a text. 

Labor Democrat

But to say the drug bill or KOMO cost him 400 votes paints Lewis as a pragmatist, torn down by the ill-informed mouth-breathers at the neighborhood watch. The narrative ignores the reality that his wobbliness also disappointed his old allies in labor, particularly UNITE HERE! Local 8. 

Lewis, a self-proclaimed “labor democrat,” owes his 2019 win to that union, which represents more than 4,000 hospitality workers in Washington and Oregon. The union paid its members to canvas for him, and they spent a total of $890,000 supporting him. That’s an incredible contribution from a union of their size. 

However, in his most recent election UNITE HERE! Local 8 gave $16,000 to a candidate in every race except for Lewis’s, even supporting his more conservative colleague, Council Member Dan Strauss. In such a tight race, $16,000 could have made the difference for Lewis.

Stefan Moritz, Secretary-Treasurer at UNITE HERE! Local 8, said the union chose not to spend any money on Lewis this election because he “disappointed” them and did not prove to be the labor “leader” he advertised himself to be in 2019. 

Lewis told The Stranger he disagreed with Moritz’s characterization of his four years in office. He and former Council Member Lisa Herbold led the charge on a package of protections for gig economy workers. However, he betrayed workers when he cast the deciding vote on an amendment, supported by big business, to exclude workers from apps where customers pre-schedule services. Though he told The Stranger he would eventually write a bill to include those workers, he said that the council decided to give the smaller subset of workers more protections rather than fuss over retroactively bringing more of them into the fold.

Still, not every worker or union thinks Lewis is corporate scum. Nicole Grant, a journeyman electrician with IBEW 46 and former Executive Director of the MLK Labor Council, sang Lewis’s praises for passing the parks levy. In the summer of 2022, Mayor Bruce Harrell announced a proposal to double the parks levy. Lewis pushed for even more money to shovel into community centers, decarbonization, and the parks equity fund. It’s one of Lewis’s proudest achievements.

Additionally, SEIU 775 and UFCW 3000 rewarded Lewis with $300 donations, the maximum amount donors can give directly to a candidate. As for Independent Expenditures, where unions can dump in as much money as they want, a mix of real estate and labor donors under the “Energize Washington” banner raised $44,000 to support him. 

That’s Showbiz

But when you lose an election by 439 votes, you would drive yourself crazy thinking about all the small things you could have done to win. Lewis said he’s proud of all the affordable housing he helped build with JumpStart, his legislation to reduce the cost of building permanent supportive housing, and getting the Cinerama into nonprofit ownership. 

He’s spending more time with his family than agonizing over an election that politicos called a wash for progressives. Michael Fertakis, Principal at Upper Left Strategies, who consulted on Lewis’s campaign, said politicos anticipated backlash against the more left candidates because the media presents a strong anti-council narrative. That translates into approval rates of just 20%. For comparison, President Joe Biden scores higher, and he’s literally funding genocide right now. But, hey, it’s better than Congress’ 15%. 

So, predictably, the pendulum swung, and after four years of a nominally progressive council, voters filled City Hall with centrists and conservatives.

Now, voters have a majority to support the carceral solutions that “look like action,” as Lewis said of the original drug bill. So, “Is this like, a fuck-around-and-find-out moment for conservatives?” I asked Lewis. 

Lewis cleared his throat with a few old adages, “politicians campaign in poetry, but govern in prose,” and “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

While he thinks that the candidates were “earnest” in their beliefs during the campaign, he’s not convinced all of them are as “rigidly ideological” as some believe. A very Lewis thing to say, considering the previous 1,500 words. 

“It won’t just be Jonathan Choe and the Seattle Ed Board giving them information,” he said. The new council will have access to a strong central staff, field experts, the advocates who show up at City Hall every week, and, of course, Lewis, in his unending quest for nuance, said he’s just a phone call away. He hopes they take in all the new information and keep an open mind.