District 3 council member Kshama Sawant has a sixth opponent: School board member and former Capitol Hill Community Council president Zachary DeWolf, who declared his candidacy this morning and already has the endorsements of two city council members, Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez. (Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Egan Orion announced his candidacy last Tuesday.) In addition to serving on the Seattle School Board since last year, DeWolf works at All Home, the regional homelessness agency. He was also instrumental in transforming the Capitol Hill Community Council from a semi-exclusive club of older homeowners into a group that’s actually representative of the community, including renters, queer folks, young people, and women.
I spoke with DeWolf, who told me he would (unlike Sawant) seek public financing through the city’s democracy voucher program, at his home on Capitol Hill last Friday. What follows are some excerpts from that interview.
On why he’s running :
I’m not running against whoever’s in that office. My opponent is homelessness. We are not spending enough money on the crisis. We spend about $198 million here in the city on a $400 million crisis. We can’t stop the inflow. We can’t serve everybody that’s on these wait lists, and we don’t have anywhere to put people because we don’t have enough affordable housing. It’s really frustrating when there are folks in our community who are snake oil salesmen, who traffic in sensationalism, dehumanization, misinformation and othering of our neighbors. Something like a hundred of our neighbors died last year in the streets, [including one who was] 24 days old. So we’re not operating under an urgency that this crisis deserves. I want to be running and really prioritizing that crisis, because no other issue of our time will have a greater impact on the health and vibrancy of the city. And we’ve risen to challenges before, like the a $15 minimum wage. This city can do great things when we come together and I think we can do that with homelessness.
On how to deal with that crisis:
One of the programs I manage [at All Home] is a specific fund for diversion, which is one of the lowest-cost financial supports and resources we can give to our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. We’re trying to scale this up in King County. The diversion approach says, ‘You have your own solutions; let’s help you discover them together.’ And sometimes that looks like, you know, ‘My grandma says I can live in her basement as long as I help pay for groceries.’ Okay, so let’s help you do that. And then you have a housing solution and some family reunification. It’s not that all people need the full menu [of services]. Sometimes it’s just that one-time financial assistance … [or] a shallow rent subsidy… to make sure that each month people can pay their rent and stay in their homes.
It also has to [involve] facing some hard truths. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Mary’s Place [which serves homeless women and kids]. It’s really easy to have a fundraiser for Youth Care. That’s a really compelling image. It is the folks that are often left out that we were not as sympathetic to.
On the council’s recent vote to approve the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which includes modest upzones to 6 percent of Seattle’s single-family land:
I think we need it to be more bold. We’re the kind of district that has a community council that advocates for safe consumption sites, that advocates for low0barrier shelter. We want to do something; we want to be a part of shaping that change. And we recognize that we’re in a growing city. We chose to live in density. We want to see more people here. And we recognize that we have access to more things because we do have density, and that more people should share in that prosperity. I think there’s probably a lot more areas of our district that could have and should absorb more multifamily housing. Especially here in Capitol Hill, we’re like 80 percent renters. We chose to live here because it’s dense and it feels like a vibrant city.
I think there’s a lot of fear about change in neighborhoods. What I truly believe is a city is truly made up of its people and bringing more people in. It’s not a bad thing.
On why he won’t participate in forums sponsored by Speak Out Seattle, an organization that fought against the head tax for homelessness, opposes tiny house villages and encampments, and backed an initiative to ban safe consumption sites:
If people aren’t going to come in good faith to the conversation with information and knowledge about an issue, then it doesn’t feel like we’re coming to the table together equally. And, the things that they purport and the ways that they otherize particularly our neighbors experiencing homelessness… It’s those types of voices who have the megaphone to do it. ‘I’m going to be more concerned about making sure that my neighbors who are experiencing homelessness have a voice and are heard, because they don’t often have access to do that. And I would rather focus on the people furthest away from justice.
Bonus Council Crank: Thirteen people have applied to replace former city council member Rob Johnson (D4) until the council election in November, including some names that may be familiar to people who pay close attention to council politics. They include Abel Pacheco, who ran against Johnson for an open seat in 2015 and is also a candidate for the permanent position (Pacheco’s campaign says he will drop out of the race if he’s chosen for the temporary position); Brooke Brod, a University District homeowner who recently testified in favor of Mandatory Housing Affordability; Darby DuComb, who served as chief of staff to city attorney Pete Holmes and recently argued against a proposed special taxing district on the downtown waterfront; smart-growth advocate and smart-ass tweeter David Goldberg; Mayor Jenny Durkan staffer Maritza Rivera; and former PCC Farmland Trust director Kathryn Gardow.
The council has until April 25 to hold hearings on the appointment and make their decision.
4 thoughts on “School Board Member Enters Race Against Sawant With Endorsements from Two Current Council Members”
I’ve been kind of ambivalent about Sawant. On the one hand, I like that she’s pushed policies that benefit low income people like the $15/hr minimum wage and various renter protections. On the other hand, I feel like she can be a real lightning rod.
In the past, I thought it would be good to have a more reasonable alternative to Sawant. On the other hand, in some ways O’Brien was the more reasonable version of Sawant, and yet in some ways he seemed more vulnerable than Sawant to attacks from conservative or NIMBY groups. I don’t think Sawant would have sat there while a mob yelled at her. If there’s a mob, Sawant makes sure she’s the one that’s leading it.
Maybe it’s actually safer to apologetically run on the far left if that can build an enthusiastic base of support than to try to please everyone. Certainly, in conservative areas some politicians run on the far right under that theory. In some ways if she wins this election, I think it proves the correctness of her political strategy.
Rather than the PCC Farmland Trust reference, self-employed consultant Kathryn Gardow is best described as a former City Engineer of Normandy Park and a former member of the Washington Public Works Board that makes infrastructure loans to municipalities. She knows land use and finance.
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