There are two candidates in this race who could fill progressive city council president Lorena González’ shoes— Brianna Thomas and Nikkita Oliver. There’s also a third candidate, Sara Nelson, who’s promoting a Silent-Majority agenda that makes us shudder. We’ll be voting for the highly qualified Thomas, and against Nelson. We encourage voters to send Thomas to the general election, where we expect reactionary forces will propel Nelson.
Thomas, a longtime aide to González who’s well-versed in the mechanics of City Hall, knows how to draft, negotiate, and pass legislation—critical institutional skills on a council where seven seats will be up for grabs in two years. She worked behind the scenes on 2017’s widely lauded police accountability ordinance, helped draft a law regulating the city’s use of surveillance technology, and worked closely with González on the secure scheduling law, which provides hourly workers with more predictability and a right to rest between shifts. As a former field director for the Washington Housing Alliance Action Fund and tireless lead organizer for SeaTac’s historic, first-in-the-nation $15 minimum wage law, we’re not surprised González tapped Thomas as her chief of staff to run a progressive agenda through city hall.
Thomas’ familiarity with legislative sausage-making can make her more cautious than some advocates might prefer. Her plan to redesign the Seattle Police Department, for example, is long-term and methodical, showing patience that’s unlikely to satisfy activists who wanted the council to slash SPD’s budget by half last year. And her campaign pitch can veer into jargon—like when she answered a question about density by talking about her plan to maximize returns from the city’s Multifamily Housing Tax Exemption (MFTE) program, which exempts developers from property taxes for 12 years if they provide some affordable housing units for the same period. Her deep science is okay with us—we love a wonk, especially one as motivated and hard-boiled as Thomas.
Her idealistic commitment to good governance and city workers who “come to work every day for the city of Seattle because they do want to solve problems for their communities” (as she put it during a recent forum) is backed up by the yeoman’s dedication to service she has exhibited during seven years as a stalwart council staffer.
Thomas’ reverence for public service is unmistakable—and unusual. Her idealistic commitment to good governance and city workers who “come to work every day for the city of Seattle because they want to solve problems for their communities” (as she put it during a recent forum) is backed up by the yeoman’s dedication to service she’s exhibited during seven years as a stalwart council staffer.
Nikkita Oliver, the other progressive choice in this race, has an impressive history of community activism and a deep understanding of local issues. As an organizer, Oliver helped lead efforts to stop King County from building a new youth jail, and has advocated for defunding the police and investing in community-based alternatives; the organization they lead, Creative Justice, offers arts programming as an alternative to jail for young people. We’ve been impressed by Oliver’s commitment to addressing the root causes of violence, replacing a broken criminal-justice system with intervention and prevention programs that address those root causes, and ending exclusionary zoning rules that have excluded BIPOC communities from access to opportunity.
Nelson, a former aide to ex-council member Richard Conlin who now co-owns Fremont Brewing, wants to address police violence by giving SPD more money for trainings, a strategy that has been ineffective at protecting people from police. She also supports encampment sweeps, which she claims are a way to “open doors” for unsheltered people (no surprise: she’s also backing the anti-homeless “Compassion Seattle” Charter Amendment 29), and she opposes taxing businesses to pay for progressive priorities. She also promises, in a bit of ’90s-style dog-whistling, that she’s the only candidate who’ll go “back to basics” and stop spending city funds on frivolous junk—without specifying what those non-“basics” might be.
We need a citywide council member with a progressive agenda and the experience and chops to get it done. For Position 9, Brianna Thomas gets our vote.
The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett, Josh Feit, and Paul Kiefer.