Jessyn Farrell Joins Mayor’s Race; Tim Burgess Advises Seattle Times on Homeless Coverage

1. Former state legislator (and 2017 mayoral candidate) Jessyn Farrell joined the increasingly crowded 2021 mayor’s race last week, announcing her candidacy along with a list of endorsements that includes current city council member Dan Strauss. (Strauss’ colleague, council president Lorena González, is also running for mayor.)

Farrell, who came in fourth last time (after Jenny Durkan, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver), told Fizz this year’s race is taking place in “a completely different political context” than the last one. “The conversation over the last four years has in some ways been a race to the bottom,” she said. “We are never going to be a city that is all about low taxes and low labor standards, so I think we need to think about the competitive edge in a different way, and I think unlocking the conversation about affordable housing and income equality is a way we can retain that edge.”

Specifically, Farrell said, the city needs to invest in “social” (public) housing, alternative homeownership opportunities such as limited-equity coops and community land trusts, and anti-displacement initiatives to rectify the racist housing policies of the past. “We often think of the housing market as this thing that just exists, and it is very much created by government policy, in ways both good and bad,” Farrell said. “There were very good, robust policies put in place in the ’30s and ’40s and ’50s that in some ways helped create the economic stability that created the largest middle class that the world ever knew—and it was also deeply racist. We can look at the past to take that same spirit and robust government role and also rectify the injustices.”

Farrell, who led the transit advocacy group Transportation Choices Coalition from 2005 to 2008, said that in the coming weeks, she plans to roll out a “complete communities housing initiative” that will be something like a “Sound Transit for housing”—a plan to add to the region’s affordable-housing stock, particularly around the light rail stations that will be opening over the next 10 years.

“There’s been a lot of handwringing about, ‘the suburbs aren’t ready for this,’ and ‘they’re taking actions that are contrary to a regional approach,’ and those things may be true, but we can still take action,” she said. “Bellevue was infamous for fighting mass transit”—true—and yet by building trust and organizing and talking about transportation in a creative way, we were able to get to a place where the city of Bellevue chose light rail as its alternative.”

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No mayoral frontrunner has expressed an outright commitment to defunding the Seattle police—González, who joined most of her council colleagues in supporting an eventual 50 percent reduction last year, comes the closest—and Farrell is no exception; she said the city needs to “really strengthen our concept of public safety is,” but added that the police serve many functions that can’t be easily or quickly replaced by civilian alternatives.

“There are programs within the police force that work—you don’t want to reduce the domestic violence unit or the work that’s being done to implement the extreme risk protection order program, and even the detective work that’s happening around all of the theft of catalytic converters,” Farrell said. Those are really important functions that you want to fund.”

Fifteen people have filed for mayor so far, but only a handful of those—including Colleen Echohawk, Bruce Harrell, Andrew Grant Houston, and Farrell—have reported significant campaign expenditures or contributions.

2. Former city council member Tim Burgess, who’s laying the groundwork for a ballot measure that would reinstate encampment sweeps, serves on a community advisory group for the Seattle Times’ Project Homeless, a group of reporters whose work covering homelessness is underwritten by local foundations, companies, and the University of Washington. The current Project Homeless reporters are Sydney Brownstone and Scott Greenstone.

Since leaving office, Burgess has become a vocal advocate for removing homeless people from public spaces—most notably in the pages of the Seattle Times, which regularly gives him space on its opinion page.

According to the Times’ Senior Vice President Product for Marketing and Public Service, Kati Erwert, the group meets quarterly with “a senior leadership team and the Project Homeless editor,” Molly Harbarger. “In that meeting stories that have been published are reviewed, key themes are discussed and funders and the advisory group provide any suggestions or feedback associated with coverage,” Erwert said, adding that the group does not “directly influence story choice.”

Most members of the advisory board represent the companies and foundations that underwrite the Times’ four-member homelessness team, including the Raikes Foundation, BECU, the Campion Fund, and the Paul G. Allen Foundation. The group also includes a representative from Vulcan Real Estate, Beth McCaw of the Washington Women’s Foundation (no relation to the McCaw Foundation), and McCaw’s husband, game designer Yahn Bernier of Valve Software.

“The Project Homeless advisory group includes a range of individuals that have diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experience with homelessness,” Erwert said. “It was deliberately composed to elicit an array of ideas that could lead to viable solutions to such a complex issue.”

Burgess was not especially involved in addressing homelessness on the city council, where he focused primarily on public safety and early childhood education. His one headline-grabbing contribution to the debate was a proposal to ban “aggressive panhandling” that was ultimately vetoed by then-mayor Mike McGinn. During his brief stint as interim mayor, Burgess also oversaw the Human Services Department’s transition to “performance-based” homeless service funding, which made agencies’ funding contingent on hitting certain metrics, and a move toward private market-based rapid rehousing programs.

Since leaving office, Burgess has become a vocal advocate for removing homeless people from public spaces—most notably in the pages of the Seattle Times, which regularly gives him space on its opinion page.

In January, Burgess wrote an op/ed for the Times arguing, essentially, for the charter amendment he plans to roll out in the coming weeks—”A plan designed to remove encampments and prevent their return, to restore access to our parks and public spaces for everyone’s enjoyment, to help campers by providing enhanced substance-abuse and mental-health services.”

Erwert said that “once the campaign begins in earnest, we will address Tim Burgess’ engagement with us and his role in alignment with our vision for that group.”

3. In case you missed it over the weekend, our Olympia reporter, Leo Brine, wrote a comprehensive roundup of progressive revenue bills the legislature is considering this year. Check it out.

One thought on “Jessyn Farrell Joins Mayor’s Race; Tim Burgess Advises Seattle Times on Homeless Coverage”

  1. OK Burgess & Seattle Times: Suppose for a moment that we all agree that none of us want homeless encampments. What do you suggest doing with the people living in them? Shelters don’t work. Jail doesn’t work and is the most expensive of all options. Will you support funding for housing, not shelters, housing? Or what? Don’t just rail against things. Proposed and work for the common good.

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