In the Seattle Mayor’s Race, A Flawed Ad Raises Fair Questions

Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell and his supporters have spent several days denouncing his opponent, city council member Lorena González, as “racist” because of an ad she ran featuring a white, female sexual assault survivor. In the ad, the woman—identified only as Caitlyn F.—says she could “never” support Harrell because he defended former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned amid allegations that he sexually assaulted young men, including Black boys, in the 1980s. The ad also notes allegations that Harrell advised a legal client to “discredit” women who raised allegations of sexual harassment at a Seattle nonprofit he represented.

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best. On Tuesday, González conceded this point, pulling the ad and apologizing for centering a white sexual assault survivor instead of survivors of color.

Having said that: The allegations the ad alludes to are both substantive and well-documented. That Harrell questioned whether Murray should be “judged” for “maybe” assaulting his own foster children is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that several of Murray’s alleged victims were young Black men, including one who died of suicide in 2018.

Here is what Harrell had to say on July 17, 2017, hours after González became the first Seattle elected official to call for Murray’s resignation: “The people of Seattle … did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or that maybe didn’t happen. We just don’t know. And I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.” Addressing his council colleagues, he continued. “And I would challenge any of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is, are you doing your job right now?”

Harrell has repeatedly evaded questions about his decision to make a public statement supporting Murray when the allegations came to light. (He eventually joined the rest of the council in calling for Murray to resign.) When Real Change asked him why he defended Murray, he said he didn’t. “I never defended Ed Murray,” Harrell told the paper. “I stated the facts.”

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations made by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club. (The club does not allow women as members but does hire them as waitresses.)

When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the wage theft allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case, Daron Williams, to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget. According to Williams’ contemporaneous notes, Harrell also mentioned that the current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was a supporter of the club, complained about the fact that Williams, who had been on vacation, did not immediately respond to his call, and demanded to know who had initiated the investigation.

Harrell alluded twice in city council meetings to OLS’ “horrible” treatment of an organization currently under investigation in his district, presumably the Royal Esquire Club, and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them. (OLS represents workers making claims against businesses, which means that  their dealings with businesses are often adversarial.)

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines.

In addition to Harrell’s supporters, a number of local right-wing pundits (including FOX’s Brandi Kruse and KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz) have gleefully seized on the ad, using it as another opportunity to discredit González, a frequent target.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Times, which has endorsed Harrell, ran a story on the controversy that dutifully parroted Harrell’s claim that the entire Black community in Seattle is united in outrage on his behalf—an insulting oversimplification that is as exploitative as it is inaccurate.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club, telling the investigator that he had the power to cut their budget.

In general, attack ads provide the opposite of useful information; they’re designed to stir emotion while drawing contrasts, all in the space of 20 to 30 seconds. But the fact that Seattle’s largely white pundit class has spent several days talking among themselves about whether one of two mayoral candidates of color, (a first in Seattle) is “racist” represents a win for Harrell, who continues to evade important questions, including one posed by González’ flawed ad: Why did Harrell support Murray for so long—long after many of his colleagues had demanded his resignation, and what does that say about his judgment?

Why is Harrell’s donor list dominated by big real-estate and corporate interests, including Trump’s largest Washington State donor, and are these the people who will have his ear as mayor?

And, if elected, will Harrell listen to advocates who happen to support different policies than he does (those who disagree with Harrell’s commitment to expand the police force and double down on encampment sweeps, for example)? Or will he continue to respond to substantive criticism by attacking, evading, and shutting critics down?

PubliCola Picks: Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8

Teresa Mosqueda
Image via teamteresa.org

In her first term on the city council, Teresa Mosqueda has distinguished herself as an effective advocate for progressive policies, fighting for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents while championing pro-housing policies—like allowing more housing in Seattle’s exclusive single-family neighborhoods—so that people who work in Seattle can also afford to live here.

After the failure of the so-called “head tax,” which the council passed and quickly repealed under pressure from Amazon and other large businesses, Mosqueda—who voted against the repeal— didn’t denounce her colleagues or spend time grandstanding. Instead, she got busy. Working largely behind the scenes, Mosqueda won consensus for a larger, more ambitious tax plan that spread the burden more broadly among big Seattle businesses but still put Amazon on the hook for tens of millions a year. In its first year, her JumpStart tax withstood a veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan and has provided tens of millions of dollars in relief for people impacted by the COVID pandemic, including rent subsidies, grocery vouchers, and assistance to small businesses and child care providers.

Another telling detail that illustrates the effectiveness of Mosqueda’s firm but collaborative style: Amazon stayed out of this year’s local elections and has not contributed a dime to her nominal competitor.

This year, for the second time in a row, Mayor Jenny Durkan is attempting to siphon revenues from JumpStart to pay for her own budget priorities, even attempting to permanently eliminate the spending plan outlining where the money should go. Mosqueda warded off a similar mayoral effort last year, giving us confidence that the money will continue to go where she and her colleagues intended—toward housing, small-business assistance, and Green New Deal programs to benefit people living in the communities hit hardest by climate change.

After four years on the council, Mosqueda has such an impressive list of accomplishments it’s easy to forget she’s just wrapping up her freshman term. To rattle off just a few: Passing the city’s first-ever Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees minimum working standards and wages for domestic employees like housekeepers, cooks, and in-home care providers; securing funds for affordable housing and shelter, including hotel-based shelters, during COVID; and sponsoring policy changes that encourage affordable housing on surplus land owned by the city.

Mosqueda knows we can’t get to a carbon-free future by taking baby steps like electrifying the city’s motor pool. Mosqueda is the council’s champion for getting rid of exclusionary single-family zoning, which pushes lower-income people out of the city and contributes to climate-killing suburban sprawl. Early in her term, in the midst of a NIMBY backlash against her urbanist colleague Rob Johnson, she championed the Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning plan, which has allowed denser development in more areas while funding thousands of units of new affordable housing.

Recently, Mosqueda caught flak for sponsoring legislation to change the name of the city’s most common zoning to “neighborhood residential,” a largely symbolic acknowledgement that the city’s current “single-family” areas have historically allowed many different types of housing. NIMBYs upset by that cosmetic change, watch out: In her second term, we expect Mosqueda will be deeply involved in reshaping the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides what kind of development is allowed throughout the city, and to join other pro-housing advocates on the council to end exclusionary zoning.

Mosqueda’s opponent, Kenneth Wilson, is a civil engineer who received 16 percent of the vote in an 11-way primary in which he did not campaign. Raised to visibility by his second-place finish, Wilson has spent his time in the spotlight showing exactly how out of his league he is. Asked how he would help people who are at risk of being displaced stay in Seattle, he said they could move to somewhere like Angle Lake, a suburb 20 miles south of the city. Asked to summarize why he’s running for office, Wilson said he was motivated by crime and “ghetto-style paintings everywhere.” And, asked how he would prevent displacement among homeowners in the Central District, Wilson talked about college kids getting kicked out of rental houses in Wallingford.

Mosqueda is a standout leader in Seattle with a record of collaborating to move progressive policies forward. The choice in the race for City Council Position 8 is clear. PubilCola picks Teresa Mosqueda.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

SPD Hasn’t Fully Complied With 2017 Anti-Bias Law; Durkan Says City Has Never Done “Sweeps”; Meth Cleanup Further Delays Shelter Opening

1. In several recent campaign debates, mayoral candidate (and 12-year city council veteran) Bruce Harrell has pointed to a 2017 bias-free policing ordinance he sponsored as proof of his commitment to police reform. During a debate hosted by the ACLU of Washington last week, his opponent, current city council president Lorena González, countered that the ordinance—which requires anti the Seattle Police Department to conduct anti-bias training and collect data about stops and detentions—didn’t “result in a less-biased police force.”

One important detail neither candidate mentioned is that SPD still hasn’t fulfilled all the requirements of the four-year-old law. In a response to a query from City Councilmember Lisa Herbold, interim SPD chief Adrian Diaz informed the council in July that his department hasn’t been collecting data from all traffic stops, as the 2017 law requires. Instead, his department has only collected data on “Terry stops” (also known as stop-and-frisks), in which an officer detains someone who they suspect of “criminal activity.” SPD classifies roughly 70 percent of all stops and detentions as Terry stops.

Data released by SPD in January revealed that Indigenous people are nine times more likely to be stopped by police than white people, and Black people seven times more likely. In contrast, officers were more likely to find a weapon on a white person during a Terry stop than on people from any other racial or ethnic group.

SPD has not collected data on other common types of stops, including traffic citations. The four-year delay in following the letter of the law, Diaz wrote, came down to outdated reporting protocols: According to Diaz, SPD’s traffic unit only keeps paper records of their stops, warnings and citations. As a result, Diaz wrote, the department “does not have a complete count or description” of the citations and warnings its officers have issued, nor does it have complete demographic data about the people they’ve stopped.

According to Diaz, SPD was able to find a “work-around” to collect data about Terry stops, as required by the federal consent decree but not for other types of stops, leaving the department in compliance with the federal court’s orders but out of compliance with a city law. For now, Diaz said the department pieced together an imperfect system for manually collecting data from paper records, supplemented by the limited data about traffic stops collected by the Seattle Municipal Court. Based on that “imperfect data,” SPD estimates that it has conducted 52,764 traffic stops since 2015. According to that incomplete data, only 17 percent of drivers stopped were Black—likely an undercount, given that Black people account for roughly 30 percent of the department’s Terry stops.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who has led the push to get SPD to comply with the data collection and reporting requirements of the 2017 ordinance, noted that the council asked the department in November 2020 to produce data on all traffic stops by July of this year. If SPD has made any progress toward that goal, “we don’t have evidence of that, because we still haven’t received a report on the data,” Herbold said. SPD has not yet responded to Herbold’s or PubliCola’s inquiries about when the department began to work toward full compliance with the 2017 law.

2. With the mayoral election just weeks away, outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan asserted at a recent homelessness town hall discussion that, “in four years, we’ve never really done a sweep,” because the city does outreach and offers “housing” before it removes encampments. (The HOPE team offers shelter, not housing.)

The counterfactual comment prompted panelist Tiffani McCoy, the advocacy director at Real Change, to describe several stories she has heard from Real Change vendors “of all of their possessions being taken from them forcibly during a sweep.”

“The idea that hasn’t happened in four years is absolutely astonishing to me,” McCoy said.

Durkan also repeated her talking point that most people are homeless in Seattle became homeless somewhere else—a claim Durkan has made many times over the past year to suggest that Seattle pays more than its fair share to address regional homelessness. “If you look at what’s being spent right now in an emergency shelter, Seattle is the lion’s share, and if you look at the data, about six out of 10 of the people that we are serving, their last place to have stable housing was outside of Seattle,” Durkan said. “They became homeless somewhere else but because we have the services here,” they migrated to Seattle.

The number uses comes from the county’s internal Homelessness Management Information System, which is only one of many contradictory data points about where people lived before they became homeless; other sources, including surveys done as part of the annual Point in Time County in January, have concluded that a large majority of people who are homeless in Seattle became homeless here and did not move here from somewhere else—exactly the opposite of the mayor’s talking point.

3. A shelter on Lower Queen Anne that was supposed to reopen last summer, providing shelter for about 40 people displaced from a temporary COVID shelter at Seattle Center, now faces another setback: Squatters who moved into the vacant building smoked copious amounts of meth, leaving dangerous residue on every surface. A spokeswoman for Seattle City Light, which owns the building, confirmed that the city hired decontamination specialists to remove drug residue, and said the contractor “completed decontamination work” earlier this month. Continue reading “SPD Hasn’t Fully Complied With 2017 Anti-Bias Law; Durkan Says City Has Never Done “Sweeps”; Meth Cleanup Further Delays Shelter Opening”

PubliCola Picks: Nikkita Oliver for Seattle City Council Position 9

Nikkita Oliver
Image via Nikkitafornine.com

The race for citywide council position 9 pits a white business owner and former city council aide, Sara Nelson, who wants to turn back the clock on how Seattle addresses homelessness, crime, and housing, against a progressive Black nonprofit director, activist, and attorney, Nikkita Oliver, with ambitious plans for addressing displacement, institutional racism, and the broken criminal justice system. We support Nikkita Oliver.

While we endorsed longtime city council staffer Brianna Thomas in the primary, we took time in that endorsement to make it clear how impressed we were with Oliver’s history of activism on behalf of their community and their commitment to funding community-based alternatives to policing, prosecution, and jail for low-level crimes.

Oliver is an abolitionist, a term that has caused some voters to balk in this hyper-polarized election year. But the steps they and other abolitionists call for represent an expansion of the kind of diversion programs the city already funds, including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, Choose 180, and Community Passageways—not an abrupt divestment in police and jails without any alternatives in place. Meaningful change always happens at the local level when voters elect people whose ideas are outside the status quo—and right now, the status quo at the Seattle Police Department is one that requires more radical change than the meaningless “reimagining,” “rethinking” and “reform” of the past four years.

Speaking of the need for radical change: Oliver wants to end exclusionary zoning in Seattle, allowing more apartments throughout the city, including in areas where racist whites-only covenants were eventually replaced by exclusive single-family zoning. For decades, this invisible covenant has preserved generational wealth for white homeowners while driving renters and homeowners of color out of the city as effectively as redlining once kept Black and brown home buyers out of many Seattle neighborhoods.

Oliver’s opponent Nelson, in contrast, generally supports the current system, which segregates people who live in apartments from those who live in suburban-style single-family enclaves, arguing that the mere preservation of “naturally occurring affordable housing” (code for crappy apartments where tenants feel disempowered to complain) is a meaningful anti-displacement step.

Nelson often cites the “neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s,” as she put it recently, as a shining example of the city “pay[ing] attention to the differences and nuances in all neighborhoods.” But the neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s contributed directly to most of the city’s current housing problems, including high housing costs, gentrification in historically Black and brown neighborhoods, and the segregation of all new housing in the city into a tiny sliver of Seattle’s residential land.

Meanwhile, Oliver’s approach to homelessness is as multifaceted as her positions on criminal justice and housing, and more (to borrow a term) nuanced than the one-note Compassion Seattle model Nelson parrots. (In a bit of near-perfect symbolism, Nelson’s business, Fremont Brewing, installed massive concrete barricades in the public right-of-way to prevent unsheltered people from parking their vehicles there). Oliver—noting, correctly, that the root of homelessness isn’t addiction or behavioral health problems but a lack of housing—wants to “tax the wealthy,” using one of the mechanisms identified by the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force in 2018, to expand access to rental and ownership housing through co-ops and community land trusts, and public housing for very low-income people, including those experiencing homelessness.

Oliver would make life a little less miserable for people living in encampments, by ending sweeps and providing restrooms and hygiene stations for people who currently lack access to both. Nelson has mocked this concept, which Oliver calls “radical hospitality,” but it actually would address some of the problems Nelson has put at the center of her backlash campaign, including the presence of trash, needles, and human waste in parks and neighborhoods. As opposed to Oliver, Nelson would maintain the failing status quo: moving people from place to place while raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and small-business assistance, to pay for vaguely defined “services.”

These divergent approaches to homelessness define the dramatic choice in this contest. Oliver’s transformational plan may be a long shot, but real progress on homelessness will be an even longer shot if voters give in to Nelson’s fear-mongering. Calls to double down on policies that have failed will only exacerbate the homelessness crisis. It’s time to embrace new approaches that both acknowledge the realities of inequity and seek to address them.

In the race for City Council Position 9, PubliCola picks Nikkita Oliver.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

Scramble for Slots at New Tiny House Village Shows Consequences of Shelter Scarcity

Alex Pedersen
Council member Alex Pedersen; Seattle Channel screenshot.

By Erica C. Barnett

Earlier this year, as the city prepared to sweep a small encampment in the University District where a man had recently been shot, residents and businesses in the area rallied around an idea that seemed to address one of the fundamental flaws with the city’s encampment policy: Instead of simply clearing out Olga Park and forcing everyone to leave, why not give encampment residents first dibs on a tiny house village that was expected to open nearby in about a month?

The idea would have solved two related problems. Neighbors complained that the encampment was particularly disruptive—before the shooting, there were many reports of fights, fires, and threats—and, at the same time, encampment residents couldn’t exactly pick up stakes and go inside. “My spiel [to the city] was, ‘If you guys are going to put tiny house villages in neighborhoods, it would show the benefit of having a tiny house village if it was for people in that neighborhood,” said David Delgado, the University District neighborhood care coordinator for the outreach group REACH.

Just over half of the referrals to Rosie’s Village—about 20—will come from the surrounding area; the rest will reportedly come from upcoming encampment sweeps in Lower Woodland Park and the Ballard Commons.

Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who represents the U District, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Low Income Housing Institute’s tiny house village at NE 45th and Roosevelt Way NE, known as Rosie’s Village, in part because it could provide a shelter option for unhoused people in the area while addressing neighborhood and business concerns about trash, needles, and other issues related to the unsheltered population.

Although neither Pedersen nor his staff responded to our requests for an interview, Andrew Lewis, who chairs the council’s homelessness committee, praised Pedersen for being “so pushy and so organized” in getting a tiny house village in his district.

“A big part of his motivation is he wants it to be a resource for his district,” Lewis said. “Generally speaking, as we’re going to have six new villages coming online, I would like to see if we can have dedicated referrals that concentrate on the neighborhood where the village is sited.”

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Ultimately, the city swept Olga Park and encampment residents were scattered throughout the city. Some stayed in the U District, moving to spots near I-5 and other parts of Ravenna Park, while others moved to places like Lower Woodland Park. Rosie’s Village, which the city says can accommodate about 50 people, finally started taking referrals from the city’s HOPE team, which coordinates shelter referrals prior to encampment removals, this week. According LIHI director Sharon Lee, just over half of the referrals to Rosie’s Village—about 20—will come from the surrounding area; the rest reportedly will come from upcoming encampment sweeps in Lower Woodland Park and the Ballard Commons.

Kevin Mundt, a spokesman for HSD, said that “while the expectation was that a number of referrals from the vicinity would be made to Rosie’s Tiny House Village, the City never intended, or communicated, that the Village would only accept referrals from people experiencing homelessness in the University District.” Earlier this year, he added, the city moved people living unsheltered in the University District to hotels and shelters in other neighborhoods, including the Executive Pacific Hotel shelter, also operated by LIHI, downtown. Continue reading “Scramble for Slots at New Tiny House Village Shows Consequences of Shelter Scarcity”

City Unions File Complaint About Mishandling of Accommodations Process for Unvaccinated Employees, SPOG Weighs In

Seattle Police Department cruiser parked outside of Union Station in Seattle's International District

By Paul Kiefer

Several of Seattle’s largest public employee unions filed identical complaints with the state Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) on Tuesday about the rollout of the new vaccine mandate, less than a day after the deadline for public employees to turn in proof of vaccination.

The complaint, first filed by the PROTEC17 union, as well as a union representing electrical workers, focuses on the treatment of city employees who sought exemptions from the vaccine mandate on religious or medical grounds. The city first started notifying employees that their exemption requests were approved or denied on October 11.

Before Seattle’s vaccine mandate took effect on October 18, the city offered employees a chance to apply to be exempt from the vaccine requirement—on the condition that they reach an agreement with their department about how to continue working while minimizing their risk of transmitting COVID-19 to coworkers or the public. Of nearly 700 exemption requests, the city approved about 520.

According to the complaint, when the unions reached an agreement about the vaccine mandate in September, they expected city departments to adhere to their promise to meet with unvaccinated workers to come up with accommodations—working from home indefinitely, for instance—before the October 18 deadline. According to PROTEC17 negotiator Shaun Van Eyk, that didn’t happen: only two dozen employees with exemptions had a chance to meet with their supervisors to discuss accommodations before the mandate took effect, while another 500 employees landed on paid or unpaid leave. “It’s unfortunate that we had to resort to filing this Unfair Labor Practice in order to preserve union members’ rights as we agreed to, and as outlined in our contract,” said PROTEC17 Executive Director Karen Estevenin in an email on Thursday.

Since the agreement didn’t anticipate this delay, the unions argue the city needs to return to the negotiating table—and provide back pay or restore paid leave days for employees who keep their jobs.

On October 14, several departments—including the Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Public Utilities, among others—issued letters informing their employees with religious exemptions that their “individualized interactive process” to consider possible accommodations was over—according to the complaint, the letter came as a surprise to some employees, who didn’t know the process had started in the first place. While the departments hadn’t identified any accommodations for unvaccinated employees, the letters offered three options: comply with the vaccine requirement, come up with a proposal for accommodations, or leave.

The following day, the same departments backpedaled, issuing new letters offering employees with exemptions a chance to meet with human resources staff to discuss accommodations. In the corrected letter, the departments wrote that any employees with exemptions would need to use their own paid or unpaid leave if they weren’t fully vaccinated, accommodated, or fired by October 18.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) remains the only Seattle public employee union that hasn’t reached an agreement with the city about the vaccine mandate. In a press release on Monday afternoon, SPOG President Mike Solan claimed that the police department planned to refuse accommodations for any officers who received exemptions on religious grounds; he also claimed that the department refused to accommodate officers who received medical exemptions, including an organ transplant recipient. According to Solan, nearly 100 of his union’s members have religious or medical exemptions.

Though the Seattle Police Department announced on Tuesday that it has just begun what will likely be a lengthy process of firing six officers for not complying with the vaccine mandate, that number could rise in the coming weeks if the department actually refuses to accommodate officers with exemptions, as Solan claimed it will.

Election Mega-Fizz: Hostile Architecture, Race, Misleading Ads, a “Not Qualified” Rating, and More!

1. At a debate sponsored by Rainier Valley Radio, Converge Media and the South Seattle Emerald on Wednesday, Sara Nelson, a candidate for City Council Position 9, ran out the clock on a question from her opponent about why her business, Fremont Brewing, has placed concrete “eco-blocks” in the public right-of-way around their brewing facility in Ballard.

Oliver asked Nelson why, as the candidate in the race who wants to prosecute misdemeanors like “stealing food,” she thought it was fine to violate the law against obstructing public streets. (As we’ve reported, it’s illegal to place obstructions like eco-blocks in public spaces, but the city says the law is difficult to enforce.) Nelson responded by protesting that she doesn’t consider herself the “law-and-order” candidate, but “a public safety person,” and said that the misdemeanors she wants to prosecute “are not small crimes, especially when they are repeated over and over again.” The clock ran out just as Nelson started responding to Oliver’s question.

Meanwhile, the eco-blocks around the brewing facility Nelson owns remain in place, and several more have been placed directly on the grassy planting strips nearby, another unambiguous violation of the law.

Next to Fremont Brewing, ecology blocks in the public right-of-way extend right up to a stop sign.

2. Voters across the city have received mailers from Nelson that not-so-subtly suggest broad support among Black leaders and other people of color, featuring five people of color (three of them Black, two Asian American) and no white supporters.

Nelson, who is white and lives in North Seattle, has made a number of controversial statements about what “the Black community” wants, suggesting during a September forum, for example, that the Black and brown people she has talked to “don’t want no police… they want better police.”

Oliver called that a “very racist” statement, adding, “to say Black and brown people don’t want a world beyond prisons and police, because you can name three that have endorsed your campaign, is making us into a monolith. We’re not.”

Of the five people of color featured on Nelson’s latest mailer, three are identified: Former Gov. Gary Locke, SPD Community Advisory Council leader Victoria Beach, and Harriett Walden, the longest-tenured chair of the Community Police Commission. The two unidentified supporters—an Asian American woman and a Black man featured in a stock “talking to community members” photo—are longtime Vulcan external affairs director Pearl Leung, who now works at Amazon, and her husband James Parker, an actor.

3. Several business and developer groups that previously supported King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who was removed from her leadership roles on the council after sending out a racist mailer that portrayed one of her colleagues, Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, as a bow-tie-wearing “Seattle socialist”—have quietly joined the Seattle Times in dropping their endorsements for Lambert.

The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties tweeted on October 8 that their political arm, the Affordable Housing Council, had rescinded their endorsement and was requesting a refund of their contribution ($2,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission) to Lambert’s campaign. The account, @MBAKS_Voice, has 749 followers.

The endorsing body for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, the Eastside Business Association, also rescinded their endorsement of Lambert, EBA executive director Caitlyn Gallagher confirmed.

And the Associated General Contractors of Washington no longer lists Lambert on their endorsements website. (The AGC did not respond to a request for comment.) The AGC’s political action committee, BUILD PAC, contributed $1,000 to Lambert’s campaign in March.

4. This week, half the front page of the Seattle Times’ website was taken up by an enormous flashing ad calling city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy “reckless and extreme” because of tweets she posted during the June 2020 protests against police violence. The ad included a quote from “The Seattle Times” saying that Thomas-Kennedy’s “toxic tweets” show she is “unfit to be Seattle City Attorney,” omitting the fact that the quote is from the Times’ editorial board, not its news reporting. More egregiously, the ad did not include legally information identifying who paid for the ad—in this case, big corporate donors including Vulcan, the president of Microsoft, and the head of Goodman Real Estate.

The Times has endorsed Thomas-Kennedy’s opponent, Ann Davison.

State law requires independent expenditure groups that purchase ads, including online ads, to clearly identify the top five donors behind the campaign. The anti-Thomas-Kennedy ad did not list any donors; instead, in tiny white-on-black print, one of the flashing panels said the campaign was purchased by “Seattle for Common Sense.”

After I posted the ad on Twitter, someone filed a complaint with the State Public Disclosure Commission, charging that the ad violated state disclosure law by failing to include the contributors. In the meantime, about half an hour after my initial tweet, a new version of the ad appeared on the Seattle Times’ website, now including a list of the campaign’s top donors, if an outdated one (it excluded Microsoft president Brad Smith and developer Jon Runstad).

The responsibility for ensuring that ads don’t run afoul of the law is shared by campaigns and the companies that choose to publish or run them. Kim Bradford, deputy director of the PDC, says the fact that the ad was eventually fixed does not mean the agency won’t investigate. “We open a case if we think there’s something there and there’s enough evidence of a potential violation,” Bradford said. The PDC does allow an exemption to disclosure on the ad itself for “small” online ads, which Bradford defined as “the small embedded ads that you see on some websites—the ones that are kind of within the text.” It’s unlikely that a flashing ad that takes up half the front page of a website when viewed on a browser would qualify as a small ad.

The Times has a history of bending the rules to promote Republican candidates and causes. In 2012, the newspaper donated a full page of the newspaper to gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, the equivalent of an $80,000 contribution. The unprecedented decision to contribute free advertising to a partisan candidate made national news, and more than 100 Times employees protested the paper’s funding of McKenna’s campaign.

5. The Washington Coalition of Minority Legal Professionals—a coalition of state bar associations including the Loren Miller Bar Association (representing Black lawyers), Washington Women Lawyers, QLaw (representing LGBTQ+ lawyers), and several Asian American bar associations—has given Davison an “unqualified” rating. According to the group, their ratings reflect “our nonpartisan assessment whether a candidate will be effective in office, will serve the interests of the community and society, and is committed to the fair administration of justice and improvement of the criminal justice system from the perspective of the participating minority bar associations.”

One factor in the coalition’s ratings were the candidates’ answers to a standard questionnaire, which included questions like “how will you engage with communities of color?” and “as city attorney, how will you engage with tribal governments?”

In response to a question about whether “you or the organizations you have been a part of have contributed to white supremacy and/or the devaluation of the lives of Black and Indigenous persons or other persons of color,” Davison had this to say:

“I have spent most of my life working to help people in need. In my youth I worked in a refugee camp for people fleeing terrible violence from civil war and at a congressional office where I helped underserved people get access to services they needed. I currently serve on a board that gives housing and support to people in severe mental health and addiction. While my time working in professional sports, often as the only woman in an office of wealthy men of various races, was much less altruistic, it was still a position of service.”

The group gave Davison’s opponent Thomas-Kennedy a rating of “adequate.”

PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor

©2019 Steve Dipaola

In July, PubliCola endorsed city council president Lorena González for mayor, crediting her for having “well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues,” including homelessness, the role of police in public safety, and housing. In her two terms on the council, we wrote, González pushed for, and passed, important worker protections, election reforms, legal assistance for immigrants facing harassment and deportation in the Trump era, and a police accountability ordinance that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.

We also criticized one of the other leading candidates, former council member Bruce Harrell, noting that he passed almost no major legislation during his 12 years on the council and “uses warmed-over management jargon to promote an agenda that would maintain the status quo.”

Now that the two candidates have had many opportunities to present their visions for Seattle in head to head debates, the choice is even clearer and more urgent. González wants to eliminate racist, exclusionary zoning policies, adequately fund homelessness programs, and enhance worker protections; Harrell wants to double down on the failed status quo by preserving exclusive single-family areas, and—even worse—reverse course by re-empowering the homeowner-dominated neighborhood council that helped block housing for decades. Moreover, his plan to address police accountability is a rehash of the wishful thinking embraced by one-term mayor Jenny Durkan and former police chief Carmen Best—the idea that if Seattle just commits to more anti-bias trainings, and to hiring “the best of the best,” as Harrell puts it, the police department will fix itself.

González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety.

We’ve had four years of slow, incremental change from a mayor who has resisted every effort to meaningfully shake up systems that harm people of color, poor people, renters, and people experiencing homelessness—four years of a mayor who represented the interests of her friends and donors while ignoring constituents who didn’t share her views. The race to replace Durkan presents a clear choice between a candidate who offers more of the same and one who embraces progress and change.

Harrell frequently mentions the fact that he was “born right here in Seattle,” a classic Seattle dog whistle that frames González as an inauthentic outsider because she moved here from somewhere else. (In other words: Unlike Harrell, González chose Seattle, as did the majority of people who live here.) At a recent debate, for example, Harrell said he has “skin in the game” on issues like police violence in a way that González, a first-generation Mexican American whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington, does not. “It’s not hard for me to talk to people when I walk the streets of Seattle,” he said. “This isn’t just academic for me. This is real stuff I’ve been dealing with decades and decades.”

This attempt to portray González as some kind of elitist outsider is both parochial and a distraction. Both candidates have lost family members and friends to police violence, and both are invested in eliminating police bias and racial profiling; the difference is in how they would address these problems. González may not be “from here,” but she actually prosecuted the Seattle Police Department for racist violence—representing a Mexican American beating victim in the infamous “Mexican piss” case—and won.

On this issue, the candidates might as well be running in different decades. Harrell says he will “change the culture of the police force,” “hire the best of the best,” and enforce a 2017 law that requires SPD to conduct anti-bias trainings and track data designed to reveal racial bias in policing. (While the city did require more anti-bias trainings, they’ve hardly led to a less biased police force, as González has pointed out.) On his website, Harrell promises he will “personally recruit officers looking to be internal change agents, heroes within the department to help coach, train, love and inspire our officers to be the department we all deserve.”

González, in contrast to Harrell, has committed to supporting new progressive taxes, aimed at the same wealthy corporations Harrell plans to hit up for donations, to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness and, incidentally, help people move on from tent encampments in public places.

Harrell’s approach represents a retreat to the pre-June 2020 status quo, before weeks of protests led to a growing consensus that an incremental approach to police “reform” doesn’t work and probably never could. González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety. Instead of proposing data dashboards or more trainings of dubious value, she wants the city to invest in alternative crisis responders inside and outside the city, diversion programs that address the root causes of crime while keeping people out of the criminal legal system, and early intervention programs to put young people on “on a path towards towards actual resilience and empowerment,” as she put it during a recent debate.

Similarly, Harrell’s plan for addressing homelessness would turn back the clock to the pre-pandemic era, when the city swept multiple encampments a day. His homelessness plan replicates every provision of Charter Amendment 29, the so-called “Compassion Seattle” initiative, down to the number of shelter beds he proposes adding with no new funding (1,000 in the first six months, 2,000 in the first year) and the percentage of the city’s budget he proposes using for this purpose (12). This fear-based approach doesn’t acknowledge or address the fundamental economic and social problems that underlie homelessness, nor has building shelter, in itself, ever been the solution to encampments. People aren’t dots on a data dashboard, and they have legitimate reasons not to “accept” an offer of a random shelter bed.

Harrell offers lip service to the idea that solving homelessness will require housing and services. But his big idea to pay for those things—convincing large corporations to voluntarily give money to the city—is fanciful. Companies do run internal philanthropy programs, but big corporate gifts typically flow directly to nonprofits and pay for discrete projects—a shelter for women and children on Amazon’s campus, for example—that benefit the company’s reputation. Harrell has not presented any plan to convince Microsoft to pay for drug treatment for chronically homeless men, for example, and his plan seems to rely on his personal “social capital” and networking abilities rather than any kind of coherent strategy to convince companies to pay their “fair share” voluntarily. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor”

Mayoral Candidates Spar on Public Safety, Being “From Here”; Anti-Vax SPD Exodus Averted

1. Seattle Mayoral candidates Lorena González and Bruce Harrell faced off once again on Sunday during a public safety-focused forum hosted by the ACLU of Washington and moderated by Sean Goode, the director of the Seattle-area youth diversion nonprofit Choose 180.

The forum was a chance for the two candidates to get into the weeds on issues like police oversight, union contracts, and the logistics of civilian emergency response.

But anyone looking for detailed, specific responses to questions about these issues—not to mention the city’s use of the King County Jail, plans to increase or decrease SPD funding, and under what circumstances police should use lethal force—might have come away disappointed.

During this and earlier debates, Harrell pointed out that he sponsored a 2017 ordinance requiring officers to undergo anti-bias training. González, who voted for the legislation, said that “passing the ordinance didn’t result in a less biased police force,”

Still, the forum did highlight significant differences between the candidates’ overall approach to public safety and policing, and their level of comfort grappling with thorny issues like police defunding. While Harrell has said he would hire more officers and González has said she would cut the size of the force, neither gave many specifics about how they would reach those goals.

González said she has no interest in a “carte blanche increase in SPD’s budget,” adding that her plans for funding alternatives to police aren’t about “hiring more officers of a different kind”—a slap at Harrell’s statement that he would “build a new kind of officer” at SPD and field new teams of unarmed officers, similar to SPD’s existing Community Service Officers.

Both candidates said they would support additional officer training—in González’ case, “increased training around deescalation to prevent violence in the first place,” and in Harrell’s,  “extensive retraining” to “change the culture in the police department.” González described Harrell’s training plan as “having officers watch a video of George Floyd’s murder and sign a pledge to do better”—a reference to his campaign promise to ask “every sworn police officer in Seattle to watch the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis and voluntarily sign an open letter stating: The Inhumane Treatment of Fellow Human Beings Will Not Be Tolerated In Seattle.”

Harrell seemed to suggest that because he grew up in Seattle (unlike González, whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington), and because he has Black sons (González has a mixed-race daughter), he has “skin in the game” that his opponent lacks.

Harrell’s belief in anti-bias training runs deep—during this and earlier debates, he pointed out that he sponsored a 2017 ordinance requiring officers to undergo the training. The law, he said, also required the collection of data on showing “who was stopped, who was frisked, who gets tickets, [and] if there’s racial profiling occurring.” González, who voted for the legislation, said that “passing the ordinance didn’t result in a less biased police force,” and argued for shifting funds toward alternatives she argued will lead to “true community safety,” like programs that focus on early intervention, youth employment, and neighborhood economic development.

The two also differed strongly on whether the consent decree—a decade-old agreement between Seattle and the US Department of Justice that places a federal judge in charge of overseeing reforms to SPD—is an “obstacle” for elected officials trying to divert money from the police department to alternative public safety programs.

From González’ perspective, the federal court’s oversight has become more onerous and less useful. “The city is now required to send most of our police budget changes to the court for approval, and I don’t believe that’s what the consent decree was originally intended to do,” she said. Harrell initially offered a one-word answer to Goode’s question about the consent decree—”nope”—but when pressed to elaborate, he commented that he doesn’t “see it as a barrier or a strength—it’s just the letter of the law.”

2. Harrell began the virtual forum by showing viewers a black-and-white photo of his childhood baseball team, saying, “These men… are the fathers and mentors of the Black community.” He followed up during the forum with two more photos—one of himself and his friends in college, including one who “became a Seahawk,” and one of his father “in the 1960s, when I was born right here in Seattle.”

In several instances, Harrell seemed to suggest that because he grew up in Seattle (unlike González, whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington), and because he has Black sons (González has a mixed-race daughter), he has “skin in the game” that his opponent lacks. “While I appreciate my opponent’s answer, this is this is personal for me and my family. I have two Black sons that have been in the city their entire life. And so when I hear this information [about police brutality], it is not anecdotal for me.”

González didn’t counter this suggestion directly, but pointed to her work as a civil rights lawyer working on behalf of victims of police violence and the fact that “I have lost family to police violence. … And I want to work towards having a city [where] parents don’t have to fear if their black or brown babies are going to come home tonight.”

2. As of Monday, only about two dozen SPD employees had not turned in proof that they are fully vaccinated, indicating that most of the 140 holdouts left on Friday were making a point. Continue reading “Mayoral Candidates Spar on Public Safety, Being “From Here”; Anti-Vax SPD Exodus Averted”

PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

Credit: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy campaign website

By Erica C. Barnett

When public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy decided to run for city attorney in May, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one fueled by her frustration that there were no candidates in the race who believed that the current criminal legal system is not just flawed but broken.

Thomas-Kennedy didn’t expect to end up with more votes than incumbent Pete Holmes, or that she’d be facing off against Ann Davison, a three-time candidate who joined the Republican Party during the Trump administration and whose spotty record as an attorney dried up around 2010. Davison ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket, led by far-right conspiracy theorist and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, in 2020, after running for Seattle City Council the previous year with a platform that included plans to confine unhoused people in large warehouses.

Now, the unabashed abolitionist—Thomas-Kennedy argues that we can eliminate the need for police and prisons by “developing programs and support systems for our communities to decrease the need for police”— is in the spotlight. Critics, including some former elected officials and the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board, have created a cartoon version of the candidate, claiming she wants to unlock jail doors and end all criminal prosecutions. Cable news, social media, and—again—the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board have also shown an almost pathological obsession with tweets Thomas-Kennedy posted during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, turning them into endless #content while soft-pedaling Davison’s hard-right views and her lack of qualifications.

The tweets, which cheered property destruction and violence against cops, look bad when taken out of the larger context in which they were posted (the 2020 protests against police violence; Twitter) and splashed across cable-news websites and Facebook feeds; if they were someone’s campaign platform, they would be disqualifying. But they aren’t a political platform; they’re tweets —tweets expressing a growing mainstream consensus in the summer of 2020 that the criminal justice system was beyond repair.

Nonetheless, the tweets seem to be all anybody wants to talk about. That’s a shame, because Thomas-Kennedy’s plan for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is far more nuanced and thoughtful than the hysterical headlines suggest. Those who say they disagree with her ideas should be willing to actually listen to what they are.

PubliCola sat down with Thomas-Kennedy last week. We talked briefly about the tweets before jumping into her plans for the city attorney’s office, what it means to stop prosecuting misdemeanors, and how she would defend legislation that she personally finds abhorrent.

PubliCola: Can you tell me a bit about where your mind was at when you were posting on Twitter in June 2020? I know was a time of really heightened emotions.

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I was outraged. People went out to protest racist policing and the Seattle Police Department responded with a level of retaliation that I was not expecting, including tear-gassing the neighborhood I live in 11 times. And, you know, I had to buy a gas mask for my nine-year-old daughter. And, yeah, I was really upset, and I feel like I had every right to be. They’re not private citizens, they’re out here as a group, making these decisions that affect other people—that kill people. I remember the guy that called into the city council meeting saying, “My infant was foaming at the mouth from tear gas,” and it kept happening. So that’s kind of where my head was.

PC: What has the fallout been like for you in the campaign and how has it impacted your ability to focus on the issues in your race?

NTK: Initially, we were just like, “This is dumb.” Like, let’s not give any heat to this. But it’s just being pushed so heavily now that I have had to address it in the media, which to me is just an utter waste of time. Because my opponent is so deeply unqualified for this role and doesn’t understand what the job is. And my platform is backed by evidence, by stuff that’s happened in other places that have shown to be effective. We’re all, I think, pretty aware of the fact that mass incarceration is a failed social experiment. And we are not the safest country in the world even though we lock up the most people.

“At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”

I’m here to make things better. And if people have to hate me for it, then I’m fine with that. And  the unfortunate thing about the tweets is that it gave [Davison’s supporters] something to distract with. I think that’s the worst part, because I do think that my knowledge, my plan is very tight. I’m specific about what I’m going to do. I know what needs to happen, and it’s really hard to speak back to that. I mean, my opponent really doesn’t talk in specifics, ever.

PC: If you win, what are your top priorities for your first weeks and months in office? Do you plan to shake things up at the office itself?

NTK: I’m going to leave the civil division largely as it is. I do think Pete was doing a great job in the civil division defending the JumpStart tax and [prosecuting] the lawsuits against Monsanto over polluting the Duwamish. I would like to call in a couple progressive, more aggressive lawyers over there. But I don’t intend to make huge changes over there because it is working.

In the criminal division, I’m going to come in with my policies laid out: This is how they’re going to be implemented, this is how we’re going to do things from now on. There’s a huge backlog of cases, which is I think a great opportunity to really turn the corner with how we’re doing things, prosecution-wise.

I anticipate having maybe one or two more attorneys making the direct decisions about which cases to file, because my policy on filing is going to be much more nuanced. It’s not just going to be like a prosecute-or-not type situation. And then also, what can we do to make sure [unnecessary prosecutions aren’t] happening again moving forward? Because, you know, putting somebody to jail for sleeping under an awning doesn’t make them less likely to need to sleep under an awning.

PC: Are you concerned that there’s going to be a brain drain, either on the civil or the side? A lot of people who have worked for Pete for a long time are leaving, because they have concerns if you win, and they have concerns if Ann wins.

NTK: On the civil side, I think that’s a much bigger danger, just because there is a lot of institutional knowledge there. So one of the responsibilities that I will have going in, if I get elected, is to start talking to people in the civil division and letting them know that I want the work that they’re doing to continue and to see if they will stay under me.

In the criminal division, I’m not so concerned about that because there is no shortage of lawyers that want to do things the way that I am proposing. And because it is pretty different than what they’re doing now, I do anticipate a lot of people leaving. But there’s a lot of lawyers in this town that have reached out to me that would want to work in that division.

PC: If you have a mayor and potentially a city council who are proposing and passing laws that you personally consider abhorrent, are you going to be able to defend those laws, or would you feel the need to farm that work out to private attorneys?

NTK: I think that the city attorney has to work with the council and the mayor to craft defensible legislation and defensible policy. So that would be the role of the city attorney—not necessarily directing where policy should go or how it should go, but really making it as defensible as possible.

PC: What if someone living in their car sued to strike down the law requiring people to move their vehicles every 72 hours and you had to defend that law. How would you go about doing that?

NTK: Unfortunately, I think that’s part of the job. I was a public defender, and I did not agree with everything that my clients were accusing doing, yet I was their defense attorney. I don’t see it as any different than that. At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, “I don’t want to do that.”

“The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety.”

I do think that a bigger issue is implementation. So when it comes to the criminal realm, it’s not like a prosecutor files every time a law is broken. We know that only some people are criminalized. There is a recognition within the criminal system that it would be impossible to prosecute every single person for everything. So I would have to probably defend the legitimacy of the law, but if it’s a criminal matter, that doesn’t mean it has to be enforced.

PC: On the flip side, the city attorney can push an agenda from within their limited scope, and they can help the mayor and the council draft laws that reflect the city’s values. What kind of legislation would you be excited to work on and defend?

NTK: I’m really excited to defend the JumpStart tax and fair housing—all of our tenant protections. I’m really excited about that, which why I think the developers are really angry at me. Any sort of progressive revenue would be the thing that I would be most excited about, along with anything related to climate change. I think those two things are really intertwined in a lot of ways, because climate change is here, and we’re going to need revenue to deal with and to survive this crisis.

PC: How would you approach criminal prosecutions against people accused of misdemeanors? Is your plan to stop prosecuting certain laws on day one, and how realistic is that, given how slow the city has been to fund things like alternatives to arrest and prosecution?

NTK: The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety. I mean, prostitution—I’m never, ever going to prosecute that. Drug possession—not gonna prosecute that either. But for most things, it’s going to take a really nuanced approach to see what is really going on. Sometimes people think of criminal cases as if they’re really this very straightforward thing, and it never, ever is. And so that’s why I’m really hesitant to say that there are specific crimes that I wouldn’t prosecute, because there’s always going to be some weird fact pattern out there. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy”