This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.
Today: District 2 candidate Mark Solomon. Solomon, a longtime crime prevention coordinator with the Seattle Police Department (a civilian position) is running against Tammy Morales to represent District 2, the southeast Seattle district that has been represented sisnce 2015 by Bruce Harrell, who has been on the council since 2007. Solomon is the only council candidate with the official endorsement of Mayor Jenny Durkan.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): You’ve talk about wanting to bring back community policing. What does that look like to you?
Mark Solomon (MS): When I say [we need] more community policing, what I mean is having enough of our staff so that we can engage in more community policing programs as well as relational policing programs. It’s about building relationships like the Community Police Academy, like the Immigrant Family Institute, Detective Cookie’s chess club, and other places where police and community can interact. It’s not just about urgency, it’s about building relationships and building trust, where officers are working on long-term ongoing issues in neighborhoods and not just responding to 911 calls.
ECB: Would you have voted for the current police contract if had been on the council during the vote, and do you have any thoughts about how to get the department back in compliance with the federal consent decree?
MS: Yes, I would have. I think it’s important to recognize the strides that have been made regarding training and policies and towards constitutional, unbiased policing. So let’s not forget that part. When it comes to the accountability thing, I think what we all want is an accountability system that works, that everyone has trust in.
Just looking at the reports I’ve been seeing, it seems that the city actually is doing pretty well and trying to meet all the consent decree requirements and being a model for other cities.
ECB: The Seattle Police Department has had significant problems with both recruitment and retention problems at SPD. Other than paying recruitment bonuses, which the city is already doing, do you have any thoughts about what could be done to improve retention and recruitment?
MS: One of the things that I would like to do is recruit our next generation of officers from inside the community. Because I believe that when people from the community are actually involved and are more reflective of the communities that they serve, there’s going to be better understanding.
“Just looking at the reports I’ve been seeing, it seems that the [Seattle Police Department] actually is doing pretty well and trying to meet all the consent decree requirements and being a model for other cities.”
What I’ve heard in terms of retention is, it’s not necessarily the hiring bonuses that’s really going to bring people in. It’s feeling supported and the impact of the senior leadership in letting the officers or first responders know that their work is valued. Now, that doesn’t mean that [you shouldn’t] hold law enforcement accountable for negative behaviors. But I do feel that there is a role that leadership plays in morale and attracting people to come into this profession, which is a hard profession.
ECB: What do you mean by leadership? Who do you think officers feel is not supporting them?
MS: Some officers I talked to refer specifically to the city council. Some of the comments that have been made regarding officers’ conduct have negatively landed. And again, I’m not saying that you excuse negative behaviors, not at all, but when people show up to work every day doing their best and they don’t feel like their city has their back, you know, that does wear on you.
ECB: The mayor recently rolled out a plan to expand probation, create a new position inside the jail to direct people to services, and implement other proposals aimed at addressing so-called prolific offenders downtown. How would you address the issues caused by this population?
MS: Just cycling people in and out of jail is not fixing the problem. And I know that what’s been proposed is a different approach to try to wrap our hands around. But I think there’s some of the programs that we already have, if they’re properly resourced, can help with that. I think specifically of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. That program has had some success. And as staff there have told me, the peanut butter is spread too thin. The case loads are too large. So one of the things that I would want to do is increase their funding so they can increase staffing to expand the amount of work that they’re doing.
“Just allowing people to stay where they are, in the conditions that I’ve seen and experienced, is not humane. It’s not compassionate. I also understand that, you know, just moving people from one side of the street to the other is not humane or compassionate [either].”
At the same time, we do need to address those who are committing criminal behaviors. Again, you can hold somebody accountable but still make sure they get the help they need.
ECB: What do you think of the proposed regional homelessness authority, which would merge the King County and Seattle homelessness divisions?
MS: I do believe that we have a regional problem that requires a regional solution. But when I looked at the proposal, one thing that I think is missing is people who are actually doing the work on the ground, like service providers and outreach workers. As we’re trying to craft solutions for how we’re going to best address the issue, let’s have folks who not only have that lived experience, which is proposed, but also the folks who are on the ground doing the work. They’re the ones with the expertise, who are doing the outreach and having that one-on-one contact with people who are experiencing homelessness.
ECB: The Georgetown tiny house village just got a permit extension, but the mayor’s office wants them to leave their current location in less than six months. What do you think is the best approach to tiny house villages? Should they have to move periodically, and should the city be permitting more of them?
MS: Those who are using the tiny house villages have good success rates in transitioning to permanent housing. So I do see them as part of the solution—not the complete solution, because the ultimate solution is moving someone from homelessness into housing. But when you’ve got a place that you can lock and store your stuff, and you don’t have to leave at seven in the morning, you have a little bit more stability. For me, the key is those wraparound services, those case management services, that’ll help people move from that particular situation to something that’s more permanent and durable.
ECB: Should the city permit more of them?
MS: I would say before we invest money in those, let’s invest in more housing or permanent housing or supportive housing.
ECB: You mentioned at a recent debate that you consider the Navigation Team a form of outreach. Increasingly, though, they have focused on removing encampments without prior notice and without outreach workers there to offer shelter or services. Do you support that policy? Um, do you support that policy? Do you think that’s still beneficial? Critics would say that the team is just moving people from place to place.
MS: I understand that. But I also am of the mind that just allowing people to stay where they are, in the conditions that I’ve seen and experienced, is not humane. It’s not compassionate. I also understand that, you know, just moving people from one side of the street to the other is not humane or compassionate [either]. So what we need is a solution. If we’re telling somebody they can’t be here, we have to have some place for them to go. And there’s certain reasons why they can’t be there. There may be obstruction, may be health-related reasons. I’m thinking of that person who is suing the city because of PCB contamination. But more than that, I’m also thinking of the person or the people who were at that encampment enduring those conditions in the first place.
And while I know that REACH has pulled out of doing some of that engagement without the 72 hours notice, there are still folks who are working with the Navigation Team to provide that outreach, to try to offer them services and shelter. But we know we don’t have enough shelter capacity. So that’s one of the things that I’ve wanted to emphasize, and I have said throughout the campaign, is we need more enhanced and low- or no-barrier shelter capacity to serve those who are outside, so that if we have it say, you can’t be here, we have to have someplace for you to go.
ECB: A lot of business owners in the SoDo industrial area have complained about RVs parking in the neighborhood. Is this an issue that concerns you, and how would you address it?
MS: That is one that I do struggle with, because the people who are living in the RVs are oftentimes some of the most vulnerable, and they’re being further victimized by the people who actually own the RVs. We have a RV remediation team that goes around and makes sure that the RVs can move and [that they aren’t dumping] their black water and gray water into the sewers. We’ve had a number of instances where some of those vehicles have caught on fire.
ECB: I mean, just to play devil’s advocate, houses catch on fire too.
MS: Right. And I’m not saying it is a problem that’s unique to RVs. But when I hear from neighbors about the impacts, again, I want to come up with solutions. The solution is if the RV is unsafe for that person, [finding] someplace else for them that they can come into[.] And again, that gets back to, do you need more tiny villages? Do we need more permanent supportive housing?
ECB: You said at a recent debate that no one uses bike lanes in South Seattle. Cyclists have begged to differ, and pointed out that there are issues with the way one of the new bike lanes the city has provided, on S Columbian Way, were built, making it hard to actually use. So what was the basis for that statement, and who are you talking to who has said that one uses bike lanes?
MS: I have seen that because I drive that road quite often. And I hear it from people at the doors, telling me, ‘We just don’t see people using those bike lanes.’ I have heard concerns that the lanes are not being used, and there’s only certain months of the year that they can be used. At the same time, I realize that we have a bike master plan. Let’s implement the plan.
ECB: The Bike Master Plan called for a lot of new bike infrastructure in the south end, and the Bicycle Advisory Board recommended that the city focus its limited funding on South Seattle because it has been so underserved. Would you be an advocate for completing the parts of that plan that are getting cut back and making sure this district gets its fair share of new bike infrastructure?
MS: It hasn’t been something that has been a priority for me, but it is something that I will give serious consideration to because I am focused on people’s safety— for motorists, for wheelchair users, for pedestrians, and for cyclists. So again, we have a plan—can we implement the plan? Do we need additional money from the sale of the Mercer Megablock? Can we use that to complete those critical lanes that we need to do?
ECB: Rainier Avenue S is the most dangerous street in the city—the one where pedestrians and cyclists are most likely to be hit by cars and injured or killed. Do you have any thoughts about how to make it safer for people who are not in cars?
MS: We could look at the possibility of more marked crosswalks or some traffic signals that allow people to cross. I know that’s going to be an infrastructure challenge and it’s going to be costly. We’ve already worked on decreasing the speed limit. So what’s the next step? Do we do traffic enforcement to send the message, ‘Hey, you need to slow down’? There are billboards telling people to wear neon. With the billboards, you’re telling the potential victim to take ownership. ‘Just make sure you wear bright clothes.’ What we need to be doing as well is educating motorists to pay attention to their surroundings. You’re in this several-ton piece of metal; you need to be responsible.
(Kshama Sawant did not respond to multiple requests.)
(Alex Pedersen did not respond to multiple requests.)