Seattle City Council

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Seattle City Council
City Council
Seattle City Council Logo.png
Seattle City Council District map.png Map of the seven Districts to go into effect January 2016
President of the Council
Tim BurgessNonpartisan
Since January 9, 2012[1]
Seats Nine
At-large with staggered four-year terms
Last election
November 5, 2013
Meeting place
Seattle City Hall 001.jpg
Seattle City Hall
600 Fourth Avenue, Second floor
Seattle, Washington 98104

The Seattle City Council is the lawmaking body of the city of Seattle. Its nine members are elected to four-year terms in citywide nonpartisan elections. It has the sole responsibility of approving the city's budget, and also develops laws and policies intended to promote the health and safety of Seattle’s residents. The Council passes all legislation related to the City’s police, fire, parks, libraries, and electric, water, solid waste, and drainage utilities.


Election of city council members occur on odd-numbered years, with either four or five councilmembers up for election based on position number. All council members' terms begin January 1. The council positions are officially non-partisan, and the ballot gives no party designations. Party identification is based on candidates' voluntary self-identification.

Position Member Party First elected
1 Jean Godden Democratic 2003
2 Kshama Sawant Socialist Alternative 2013
3 Bruce Harrell Democratic 2007
4 Sally Bagshaw Democratic 2009
5 Tom Rasmussen Democratic 2003
6 Nick Licata Democratic 1997
7 Tim Burgess, Council President Democratic 2007
8 Mike O'Brien Democratic 2009
9 Lorena Gonzalez Democratic 2015


Results of the August 2015 primary election. Size of circle shows total votes cast in each District or Position. Names and percentages given for top two candidates, and incumbent, in each race.[2]

In 2013, a voter-initiative was passed calling for the nine citywide-elected Seattle City Council seats to be divided into seven neighborhood district elected positions and two citywide, at-large seats.[3] The first primary based on this system was held, August 4, 2015 and the first city council election based on districts was held on November 3, 2015.[4]

The neighborhood and city-wide positions are as follows:[5]

Position District Neighborhoods
1 District 1 West and Southwest Seattle: West Seattle, White Center, South Park
2 District 2 Southeast Seattle: Columbia City, Othello, Rainier Beach
3 District 3 Central Seattle: Capitol Hill, Central District, Leschi, Madison Valley, Montlake, Mount Baker
4 District 4 East Lake, Fremont, Sand Point, University District, University Village
5 District 5 North Seattle: Greenwood, Phinney, Lake City, Maple Leaf
6 District 6 Northwest Seattle: Ballard, Greenlake
7 District 7 Downtown, Magnolia, South Lake Union, Queen Anne, Belltown
8 Citywide At-large position, citywide
9 Citywide At-large position, citywide


Seattle was first incorporated as a town by an act of the Territorial Legislature on January 14, 1865. The act was repealed January 18, 1867, after most of the town's leading citizens petitioned for its dissolution. During its first tenure as an incorporated entity, Seattle was governed by a Board of Trustees. Seattle was again incorporated, this time as a City, on December 2, 1869.

The Seattle City Council has taken several forms over the years. During the years of the Washington Territory, Seattle was incorporated by the Territorial Legislature as a town from January 14, 1865 until January 18, 1867 when the legislation was repealed based on a citizens' petition. During this time, Seattle was governed by a Board of Trustees. Seattle was re-incorporated as a city on December 2, 1869. Its original unicameral legislature, known as the Common Council, was elected at-large. At-large election was replaced in 1884 by a system of 14 wards and four members elected at-large.

According to the Seattle City Clerk's website, "In 2013, Seattle voters passed a measure amending our city's charter to establish City Council districts. In 2015, voters will elect seven out of the nine City Council members by district. The remaining two positions will be elected "at-large" (city-wide) in positions 8 and 9."[6]

Historical timeline:[7]

  • 1869–1883 – Seven at-large Council members elected for one-year terms.
  • 1884 – Nine Council members elected: three from each of the three wards, elected to two-year terms.
  • 1886 – One ward added, Council reduced to eight members: two elected from each ward for two-years terms.
  • 1890 – The Home Rule Charter established eight wards and bicameral legislature. A Board of Delegates composed of nine at-large members was elected for four-year terms. House of Delegates had 16 members – Two from each ward, elected for two-year terms.
  • 1892 – One ward added to make nine. Both houses to have nine members – all elected from wards.
  • 1896 – New Home Rule Charter reestablished unicameral legislature with nine wards. One Council member elected from each ward for two years and four elected at large for four-year terms.
  • 1905 – Two wards added to make 11. One Council member from each with four at-large – 15 council members total.
  • 1907 – The Charter was amended twice during the year, the first time adding two more wards, increasing the size of Council to 17. Later, another ward was added (to make 14), increasing Council to 18 members.
  • 1910 – The Charter was amended to abolish wards, reduce Council to nine at-large positions elected to three-year terms. This took effect in 1911 and remained constant until 1946. The 1910 Charter amendments also made the elections non-partisan. Prior to that candidates for Council (and other City offices) ran on party tickets.
  • 1946 – The new Charter created the four-year term.
  • 2013 – City voters pass measure changing councilmember elections to a mostly-district-based system.
  • 2015 – First councilmember elections to be held under new district-based system.


The Council chamber

As of September 28, 2010, Councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Richard Conlin, Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien earn $117,533.52 annually. Councilmembers who were re-elected in 2011, Tim Burgess, Sally J. Clark, Jean Godden, Bruce Harrell, and Tom Rasmussen, will earn an annual salary of $119,976.48, effective January 1, 2012. Their salary will remain at this level through December 31, 2015.

Among the nation's 40 largest cities, only Los Angeles pays its council more — $149,000, according to a survey by The Seattle Times. Seattle ranks 23rd in population, according to the Census Bureau. .[8]

Council President[edit]

The Seattle City Council picks amongst its peers a Council President to serve a two-year term, beginning January 1 of the year following an election. The Council President serves as the official head of the City's legislative department. In addition, he/she is tasked with:

  • Establishing of committees and appointment of committee chairs and members.
  • Presiding over meetings of the full council.
  • Assuming the duties and responsibilities of Mayor if the Mayor is absent or incapacitated.

Notable past council members[edit]

  • Charlie Chong, council member 1995–1997, West Seattle populist
  • Arthur A. Denny, council member 1877–1879, leader of the Seattle pioneers known as the Denny Party
  • Bailey Gatzert, council member 1872–1873 and 1877–1878, in between was elected the city's first (and, as of 2015, only) Jewish mayor
  • Hiram Gill, council member 1898–1902, 1904–1910, then mayor. Famous as an "Open Town" advocate, he later allied with "Closed Town" reformers.
  • Bertha Knight Landes, council member 1922–1926, then elected the city's first (and, as of 2015, only) female mayor
  • David Levine, council member 1931–1962
  • Wing Luke, council member 1962–1965, first Asian American elected official in Washington State
  • John Miller, council member 1972–1979, later a Republican congressman
  • A. W. Piper, pioneer, baker, socialist member 1877–1879. Eponym of Pipers Creek and Piper Orchard
  • Norm Rice, council member 1978–1989, then elected the city's first (and, as of 2015, only) African American mayor
  • Peter Steinbrueck, council member 1997–2007, architect
  • Jeanette Williams, council member 1969–1989
  • Henry Yesler, council member 1884–1885, Seattle pioneer, sawmill-owner, and twice mayor


  1. ^ Seattle City Council Minutes Accessed online 7 March 2012
  2. ^ August 4 Special Election results, King County Elections, August 18, 2015 
  3. ^ "SEEC Law & Filer Info" -
  4. ^ "Current and Prior Election Information 1998 - present" - King County Elections -
  5. ^ "Seattle City Council Districts - City Clerk -" -
  6. ^ Seattle City Council Districts, Seattle Office of the City Clerk. Accessed online 24 January 2015.
  7. ^ Seattle City Council Members, 1869–Present Chronological Listing, Seattle City Archives. Accessed online 1 February 2011.
  8. ^

External links[edit]


  • Hugh DeLacy Papers. 1938–1985. 4.87 cubic feet (11 boxes, 1 map tube, 1 package). Contains records from DeLacy's service with the Seattle City Council from 1938–1939.
  • Frederick G. Hamley Papers. 1933–1963. 6.83 cubic feet. Contains records from Hamley's service with the Seattle City Council from 1935–1936.
  • Austin E. Griffiths Papers. 1891–1952. 11.73 cubic feet (25 boxes). Contains records from Griffiths' career as Settle city councilman from 1910–1913.