PubliCola’s August recess is over, just as the City Council’s is beginning. Here are a few things that happened while we were out of town:
1. Jessyn Farrell, whose second run at mayor netted her fewer than 15,000 votes (a dropoff of more than 8,000 votes from her first attempt in 2017), endorsed Bruce Harrell for mayor. Progressives who supported her first campaign expressed consternation (on Twitter and elsewhere) that the former state legislator and ex-Transportation Choices Coalition director would pass over a fellow urbanist and progressive , Lorena González, in favor of Harrell, who has openly rejected the idea that density belongs in neighborhoods in favor of the ’90s-era belief that housing should be segregated to busy arterial streets, aka car sewers.
But Farrell’s decision not to support González, who wants to eliminate exclusionary single-family zoning, shouldn’t be too surprising; her campaign, aided by half a dozen political consulting firms from across the country, used homelessness as a wedge issue by aligning Farrell with the campaign for Charter Amendment 29, which would require the city to redirect existing funds to pay for shelter beds as a precursor to “clearing” encampments from parks and sweeps. Harrell is also a staunch supporter of the measure; González opposes it.
Farrell works at Civic Ventures, a political think tank funded by progressive billionaire Nick Hanauer, who also helped fund a small pro-Farrell independent expenditure campaign.
The Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future IE, in contrast, is funded primarily by wealthy downtown real estate and business interests who also support the pro-sweeps initiative. The largest contributors to the independent expenditure campaign, Goodman Real Estate CEO George Petrie and his wife, Alyssa, are major Republican donors, giving thousands to (among others) Donald Trump; Marco Rubio; Mike Huckabee; failed GOP gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp; the Republican National Committee; and the Draft Ben Carson for President committee, among many other Republican groups and candidates.
2. Former Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess, the architect of Charter Amendment 29 (the “Compassion Seattle” initiative), spent the 2019 election cycle burning political bridges with a series of scorched-earth mailers blaming everyone from his former colleague Lisa Herbold to a young graduate student who ran for council against Burgess’ onetime aide Alex Pedersen, for crime, traffic, and homelessness. This year, he’s using similar tactics to go after another ex-colleague, mayoral candidate (and current council president) Lorena González, in a fundraising pitch for the pro-Harrell PAC.
In the post, Burgess—who often publicly bemoaned the lack of “civility” on the city council back when he was on it—says González’ vision for Seattle is a city where “many misdemeanors, including property crime, [go] unchecked.” He accuses González, who would be the city’s first Latina mayor, of being “hostile,” “antagonistic,” and confrontational—stereotypes so broad, they’re more like foghorns than dog whistles. And he mischaracterizes many of González’ positions, saying, bizarrely, that she would “completely wipe out single-family neighborhoods” if elected and claiming that her actions directly caused former police chief Carmen Best to resign.
Burgess also takes González’ early commitment to reducing the size of the police force out of context, suggesting she’s responsible for police rage-quitting en masse—in reality, a national trend started by protests against police brutality last summer. And González has recently argued (and voted) against cutting SPD’s budget, an act she believes could damage the city’s standing in federal court. Despite this, Burgess claims that electing González will put people’s personal safety at risk, “at a time when violent crime has surged to the highest it’s been in the past ten years.”
Besides this fundraising pitch, Burgess has no clear financial ties to Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future, although he has contributed to the Harrell campaign. His level of involvement in the mayoral election could be limited by his work on behalf of Compassion Seattle, where he is the top-listed campaign official.
3. The ACLU of Washington, the Transit Riders Union, and the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness sued King County and the Compassion Seattle campaign, arguing that Charter Amendment 29 is outside the scope of the initiative process because it would dictate homelessness policy for the city, a job the plaintiffs argue is reserved for the city and county councils. In response, Compassion Seattle sent out a fundraising plea accusing a “small group of activists” of mounting a “cynical and desperate” attack on initiative supporters “designed to maintain the status quo” of tents in parks.
Although the fundraising pitch asks for donations of $10, $25, or $50, the campaign is funded primarily by enormous contributions from downtown real estate owners and business interests, including developer Martin Selig ($50,000), the consultant who helped draft the initiative, Tim Ceis ($25,000), the Downtown Seattle Association ($22,000), and the aforementioned George Petrie ($50,000). Only 35 donors have given $50 or less to the campaign, which has racked up well over $1 million.
4. The HOPE Team—a reconstituted version of the old Navigation Team that coordinates shelter referrals for people living at encampments that are targeted for removal—touted new numbers last week showing that more unsheltered people agreed to go indoors between April and June of this year than in any previous quarter. People forced to relocate from encampments are often reluctant to go into shelters for any number of reasons, including privacy concerns, a desire to stay with their community, and worries about personal safety.
The report acknowledges that the new availability of about 200 hotel beds contributed greatly to the higher acceptance rates during the second quarter of this year. What it elides is that those beds filled up quickly and have stayed full, as plans to move residents swiftly from unsheltered homelessness to hotels to housing have stalled. Indeed, the numbers peaked in April, when the hotel rooms (belatedly) opened, and have continued to drop. The city currently plans to shut down both hotels early next year, but HSD is reportedly discussing whether to keep one or both open beyond the end of their ten-month contracts.