By Erica C. Barnett
The 2023 election will dramatically reshape the Seattle City Council. Four council members are not seeking reelection, while a fifth, Teresa Mosqueda, is running for King County Council and will be replaced by an appointee if she wins. Even if all three of the incumbents who are running win reelection, the council will probably have at least five new members next year—a new majority of freshmen on a council whose most experienced members will, at most, be entering their second terms. If all eight seats turn over, it would make Sara Nelson, an at-large council member who started her first term last year, the most senior member of the council.
Debates over issues and ideology are understandably front and center in campaigns. But with eight of nine council seats up for grabs, I want to focus for a moment on an often overlooked question that impacts how the city council makes decisions and functions on a daily basis: Can these people work together? Among the current council, the answer is frequently no. At best, there’s a sense that council members aren’t talking to each other outside public meetings, which are still largely virtual. At worst, the hostility bursts out into the open—as it has during this election, when one council member, Sara Nelson, is actively campaigning against three of her incumbent colleagues.
In this setting, five—and up to eight—new council members could provide a needed reset and eliminate some of the bad blood that has built up over the past several years.
Less optimistically, an inexperienced council could leave Mayor Bruce Harrell’s exercise of executive power unchecked, allowing the mayor to push through any number of priorities that the current council has shot down—like raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to be spend on housing and equitable development, to pay for general city obligations.
The next council will have to get up to speed fast, because they’ll soon face challenges that are only growing in scope—from homelessness, gun violence, and addiction to a looming $250 million budget deficit that will require tough decisions and could mean significant service cuts.
To get a better sense of how council incumbents, challengers, and first-time candidates would tackle these challenges, PubliCola spoke with 10 of the 14 council candidates, representing every council district.
Two candidates—Rob Saka in District 1 and Tanya Woo in District 2—ignored our emailed requests to sit down for an interview and did not follow up after I asked again in person. One candidate, District 3’s Joy Hollingsworth, set up an interview but then canceled, and did not respond to my request to reschedule. Maritza Rivera, running in District 4, would not sit down for an interview but did provide emailed responses to written questions. And Cathy Moore, in District 5, declined my request in an email.
The number of candidates who declined, canceled, or ignored our requests for an interview is unusual. While PubliCola isn’t shy about expressing our views on issues, that has rarely been an impediment to dialogue in the past. These candidates’ refusal to sit down for an in-depth conversation about the issues they will have to address if elected could bode poorly for transparency on the new council; in our experience, candidates who refuse to talk to members of the press they perceive as critical rarely become more tolerant of tough questions under the pressure of public office.
I’ll be rolling out interviews with the council candidates in every race over the next two weeks. I hope readers will learn more about the candidates from these in-depth conversations and use them to inform your vote. Ballots go out on October 18.
Today’s interview is with Alex Hudson, who’s running to represent Capitol Hill, the Central District, and other central Seattle neighborhoods in District 3. Hudson is the former executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition and former director of the First Hill Improvement Association.
PubliCola [ECB]: Seattle Police Department officers have repeatedly been caught mocking or belittling the deaths of people killed by police—most recently SPOG vice president Daniel Auderer, who was caught on tape joking with SPOG president Mike Solan about the killing of Jaahnavi Kandula by a third officer. Do you think SPD can be reformed, and if so, how?
Alex Hudson [AH]: I sure hope so. I absolutely, deeply hope that our police force can be reformed. And we need to do everything we can to do that. We need to make it so that [the Office of Police Accountability] doesn’t have a huge majority of police officers on it. This should be a community-led thing. Police policing [other] police doesn’t work. And it contributes to a culture where we have police officers with strong leadership positions in their union who have cost the taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees.
I think that we should take accountability out of the contract. That’s not a working condition. That is a basic oversight condition that all other employees of the city have. So it’s just making the police just like anybody else, so that we can hold the bad ones accountable, and then start getting different kinds of police officers in there.
The recruiting question also comes up all the time. And I think to myself, we don’t have a problem recruiting police officers because of the tone of the city council, we have an issue of recruiting police officers because—who would want those people to be their colleagues? You look at the situation with the with the tombstone, or the Trump flag, or the recent statements about not valuing human life, and why would you want to have those people be your colleagues? So we need to reform our police department in order to be able to recruit.
And I think part of that is that of the stuff that we like to ask the police to do, they shouldn’t do. Police officers don’t need to be directing overflow traffic at major events, and I would assert that police officers don’t necessarily need to show up at every theft. If your house gets robbed, the police officers are not coming with a detective who’s going to go track down your television. You’re looking for somebody who’s going to give you a report, so you can take it to your insurance company. Why does a police officer need to do that? And so I think that as we limit their scope of responsibilities, you also will have police officers who are less likely to be thinking about everyone as a as a potential criminal.
ECB: The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has seen a lot of setbacks, including the departure of former CEO Marc Dones and the recent decision to shut down the Partnership for Zero program aimed at ending homelessness downtown. Do you think the KCRHA can still be successful, and what would you do as a councilmember to help it succeed?
AH: It can’t work unless all the cities who are under its jurisdiction come to the table—if it’s just Seattle and King County. It can’t work if cities like Burien behave the way that they are around this issue. I think it has to work, because homelessness is a regional issue. And so I think the way that we do that is we start taking a look at policies that the builders’ remedy [which allows housing developers to bypass restrictive zoning codes if they build affordable housing] in California—like, if you’re not providing a certain kind of shelter and services for homeless people in your city, and your body politic isn’t willing to do that, then we’re going to step in and make it be that way.
We have clear examples of municipalities in King County that have these issues and are refusing to do the thing that’s necessary to address them—why did they get to refuse? So I think that that would bring those municipalities into better compliance onto the side of solving problems, not creating them, and make it so that there was a little bit less ability to opt out.
“I just strongly, strongly, strongly prefer to follow the overwhelming evidence from every medical institution in the world. It’s very clear that drug addiction is a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem.”
ECB: The city council recently voted to empower the city attorney to prosecute drug users. You’ve said you would have voted ‘no’ on that proposal. Can you talk a bit about why?
AH: Drug addiction is a medical issue. Even if you were a jail-as-a-solution person, that’s not an option that even exists. And the resources aren’t there for the options that we knew do help people. This is an underfunded idea that feels like more of the thing that the city is constantly doing, which is saying sort of the right things and putting no actual resources behind it. And so what is going to happen is that we are just going to keep people in this vicious cycle.
My 14-year-old, when we were walking home three days ago, told me that she thinks that the grocery store is scary. And that’s not acceptable for anybody. And it’s most certainly not acceptable for the people who are suffering tremendously and miserably from a medical issue that no one is coming with real solutions for at all. The lack of scalability, the lack of urgency on this—it’s shameful. And I don’t think that allowing our city attorney to prosecute people does anything to make it so that people whose situation in life has found them smoking fentanyl on Third Avenue get better. And what everyone in this city wants is for people to be able to get better. They want it to be real. So I don’t see that this bill does that. And I just strongly, strongly, strongly [prefer to] follow the overwhelming evidence from every medical institution in the world. It’s very clear that drug addiction is a public health crisis, not a criminal justice problem.
ECB: There is a lot of discussion about treatment and diversion in the bill, but no actual new resources for treatment or diversion. What kind of programs would you like to see the city actually fund?
AH: I identify as somebody who is a survivor of addiction myself, and what made it so that I could find those steps to a better life was having a life worth living, and having some support to do that. I live a block away from a methadone clinic. And that is an important community resource that serves our community. But I don’t see why people should have to taxi in from Kent every single day, or how that in any way helps them put their lives back together. So we need to have the medically assisted treatment be more available where people are.
The mobile unit is a good start. We need to have way more of those overdose recovery centers, we need to have way more things like Peer Washington, which is this really incredible nonprofit organization that pairs people up—like having a sponsor outside of the [Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous] structure. We need to have a whole lot more housing and shelter, we need to have workforce development, we need to have actual counseling. Homelessness is a severe form of trauma, and drug addiction is a symptom, usually, of some other very deep, underlying trauma—and the things that people are forced to do in order to survive while in the active throes of their addiction are very traumatizing.
And I think what we need to do is we need to pass a municipal capital gains tax and bring tens of millions of dollars on an annual basis into creating those solutions—real things, not just stuff that feels good. Art therapy—no hate on the transformative power of being able to be creative—but th at’s enough. We’re not going to solve it with technology. People do not have ongoing addictions because they lack the right coloring book.
ECB: As a transportation advocate and resident of First Hill, you’ve advocated strongly against Sound Transit’s proposal—backed the mayor and the King County executive—to eliminate the planned Midtown station and to “relocate” the planned Chinatown/International District station to Pioneer Square. What would you do, as a council member, to advocate for the Sound Transit 3 plan voters actually adopted?
AH: There’s a city council seat on the Sound Transit board, and I would love the opportunity to serve my city and my district in that way. But the city [itself] has a ton of power over Sound Transit. We decide what happens around the Sound Transit station areas, we provide the connectivity and have authority over some of the right-of-way permits, and we have the ability to be able to deliver those faster and cheaper through the permitting and regulatory process.
I am the holder of the grudge about the [decision to eliminate the original] First Hill station. First Hill has done its part to create a walkable, sustainable, wonderful, affordable, and inclusive city, and deserves to have the transit service associated with that. The Midtown station should have been on First Hill—the First Hill station should have been on First Hill—and every inch that that station moves to the west is one more barrier to hardworking people at Virginia Mason and hardworking people at Swedish and hardworking people at Harborview and hardworking people who live in these neighborhoods to be able to be connected to the region.
And I understand the very real concerns that people in CID have. There is no reason in the world that anyone in the CID should trust that this is the time the transportation infrastructure is not going to have a negative impact on their community needs. I do believe that there is some potential in the [proposed new] SoDo station, depending on where it’s sited, depending on the land use, and depending on the way do the connectivity over and under the station, which can create, functionally, that hub idea that [the previously proposed] Fourth Avenue and Fifth Avenue stations were supposed to create.
“The reality is that we’re probably going to have to have a conversation about narrowing [the new downtown waterfront highway]. I think that that will become extremely apparent when it’s finished and everyone looks around and says, ‘This isn’t really what we wanted.’”
ECB: There’s an obvious tension among the current council candidates, and even the current council, about where new housing should go and whether it’s time to abandon the old “urban village” model, which concentrates almost all of the city’s density around busy arterial streets. Would moving away from that model be a priority for you?
AH: When people talk about urban villages, I think what they mean is, like, a neighborhood commercial area. And so part of the issue in single-family neighborhoods I,s not just the lack of housing it’s the lack of anything else. I say all the time, you shouldn’t need a gallon of gas to get a gallon of milk. And so we need to absorb and allow for housing, with a minimum of sixplexes everywhere, just like we used to have. I’ve walked hundreds of miles around this district, and I can tell you that there are apartment buildings everywhere—they just aren’t legal to build anymore. And what is missing is a place where you can walk to or send your kid down to go get some ice cream and pick up a loaf of bread.
ECB: What would you prioritize, beyond electrifying buildings and cars, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the city?
AH: It’s really super, super clear that the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in our city and in our state is our transportation sector. And the overwhelming evidence is also very clear that we need to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 50 percent. And the only way that you do that is by connecting people more closely to the things that they want. A corner store in your neighborhood is a climate solution. Better transit is a climate solution. The city obviously doesn’t run the transit agency. But we are a major purchaser of that service. So if we want things like the Route 8 to be a functional choice for people in this district, then the city needs to be having conversations about putting bus lanes on every arterial, about clearing the way so that our transit service can be an irresistibly good choice for people to make.
First of all, it’s just lovelier to live in a neighborhood where you can walk around. And, oh, by the way, it also makes it so that our, our planet is habitable for my grandchildren’s grandchildren. And so, to me, it is about building the kind of communities where you can close the gap between where you are and what you need and want and where you’re trying to go. And we have to create the alternatives that make it so that everyone in this isn’t forced to choose a private vehicle as their best way to get around.
ECB: The downtown waterfront is nearing completion, and people are beginning to realize that it’s not only an eyesore but essentially a new surface highway that is going to be quickly choked with cars. Is there any policy you would advocate for to fix the waterfront, or is it too late to fix it?
AH: Nothing’s ever too late. We have a million examples of repurposing right-of-way that has been car infrastructure and turning that into something beautiful for people. So I never concede that the future can’t be different than it is. I think we’re going to need to increase the connectivity and do a lot more investments in the people based infrastructure. And the reality is that we’re probably going to have to have a conversation about narrowing that roadway. I think that that will become extremely apparent when it’s finished and everyone looks around and says, ‘This isn’t really what we wanted.’ And so, yeah, we’ll have to come back to it.