EVERETT — Those leading the Snohomish County Democratic Party wanted badly for Brian Sullivan to be the city’s next mayor.
They gave the Democratic county councilman the party’s sole endorsement and contributed $13,000 to his campaign for the nonpartisan office.
This, combined with the backing of the city’s firefighter, police officer and employee unions, made Sullivan an imposing favorite to grab one of the top two spots in the Aug. 1 primary.
He came up 63 votes shy and no single reason fully explains the setback.
Sullivan appears to have misread the electorate and underestimated his opponents, said current and former party leaders, Democratic office-holders and political consultants in interviews this week.
Voters knew they would get a new face in the office with Mayor Ray Stephanson’s retirement but Sullivan didn’t prove to be new enough for them, they said.
Some viewed Sullivan as more of a Mukilteo guy since that’s where he owns a business and once served as mayor. That DUI he got a couple years ago cost him a few votes. And gender certainly factored in, with voters embracing a chance to elect a female mayor.
As for his opponents, Sullivan may not have fully accounted for the electoral acumen of Franklin and Tuohy. Both are members of the City Council and work in the city. This gave each a thorough knowledge of issues and wellspring of support to tap. Nor can one ignore the impact of Shean Nasin. He received 1,284 votes, or nearly 10 percent, revealing a bloc of voters seeking a total outsider.
And Sullivan played up the partisanship too much, which likely turned off some middle-of-the-road voters, former party leaders said.
Meanwhile, those partisans may have viewed Sullivan as a shoo-in and didn’t work as hard to get him votes in the primary.
“I think we did it again. I think what happened to Hillary Clinton happened to Brian Sullivan,” said Mario Brown, chairman of the Snohomish County Democratic Party. “We as a party didn’t really activate and come out for Brian. If people think you’re going to win, your energy drops.”
Those at the levers of the party machinery may not have realized it because they are new in their positions and not fully versed in what it takes to win an election at any level.
This cadre of leaders, most inspired into action by the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, took over in December. They replaced a core of long-in-the-tooth activists callused from years of administering the organization and electoral battles.
These new party leaders are finding out that simply raging against the politics of President Donald Trump isn’t enough to win elections.
They are struggling to translate their energy into victories as many don’t believe the path to win is by raising gobs of money and knocking on thousands of doors.
They’re finding out their progressive agenda is not necessarily what voters in Everett and elsewhere in the county embrace.
This challenge of trying to harness energy and hone a message is not unique to Snohomish County. Democratic Party leaders at the state and national levels are wrestling with it as well.
“Many of us who are new to leadership inherited a machine in need of some fine-tuning,” said Tina Podlodowski, chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. She and Brown are each in their first year.
As Democrats sort things out around the country, and Sullivan considers his next pursuit in public service in the county, it is easy to forget that the next mayor of Everett will be a Democrat.
Sure, it will not be the person the party originally wanted but she just might be the one it needs at this point in time.