Category: endorsements

King County Prosecuting Attorney: PubliCola Picks Leesa Manion

Current King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, an iconoclastic former Republican who has long embraced a rehabilitative approach to public safety unusual among prosecutors, will retire next year after 15 years in office. The options to replace Satterberg include his longtime chief of staff, Leesa Manion, and Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell—another Republican-turned-Democrat who has promised to resurrect many of the punitive policies of previous eras, tossing aside years of prosecutorial reform in favor of outdated 1990s-style approaches to crime and punishment.

PubliCola Picks graphicFerrell, a former senior deputy prosecutor in the office, has tacked well to the right of Manion, embracing endorsements from law-enforcement groups (including the Seattle Police Officers Guild and its controversial leader Mike Solan) and spouting law-and-order talking points about “chronic offenders” and “revolving doors” while reflexively rejecting community-based rehabilitation programs.

If elected, Ferrell has vowed to eviscerate Restorative Community Pathways, a pre-filing diversion program that connects young people facing their first felony charge with community-based diversion programs, by making many offenses ineligible and subjecting all RCP participants to charges. These changes are unlikely to improve community safety or improve the accountability of this somewhat opaque program; instead, they would ensure that fewer kids enroll in RCP, which also provides restitution and counseling for victims.

King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion
King County Prosecutor Candidate Leesa Manion

Ferrell has argued that it makes sense to hold some people with behavioral health disorders in jail prior to trial, on the grounds that jail can help “stabilize” them and get them on a path to treatment. In reality, the jail is a chaotic, poorly staffed institution where inmates have reported difficulty meeting with attorneys or getting basic medical care—hardly a therapeutic environment for people with complex conditions that require compassion, not confinement. While PubliCola supports improving access to both physical and behavioral health care for incarcerated people, Ferrell isn’t proposing those kind of systemic solutions; instead, he’s embracing a Band-Aid approach to deep-rooted problems that can’t be addressed by a quick stint in jail-based treatment.

Although the prosecuting attorney’s office does not direct county or city policy, the criminal justice system is overloaded with people experiencing poverty and homelessness, and poor people often end up stuck in jail because they can’t afford bail or electronic home monitoring. As mayor, Ferrell has embraced what he called a “tough-love” approach to homelessness, accusing homeless people of choosing a “lack-of-accountability lifestyle” and supporting Federal Way’s ban on encampments in public spaces. People experiencing homelessness need housing and services, not the “tough love” of incarceration; we need a county prosecutor who sees the county’s most vulnerable residents, even those who commit crimes, as more than merely criminals.

Manion is hardly a progressive icon. Her moderate platform consists largely of promises to continue reform initiatives Satterberg started and to take a similarly “compassionate” approach to defendants whose offenses are tied up in poverty, racism, and lack of access to health care. Her belief that the system fundamentally works has caused her to justify obviously poor decisions. Earlier this year, for example, the prosecutor’s office charged a homeless man in a year-and-a-half-old theft case despite the fact that he had enrolled in LEAD and had not reoffended; Manion said he was a good candidate for drug court, which mandates sobriety, despite the fact that he had been unable to comply with similar programs at least 22 times in the past.

Still, on policy alone, Manion is a better pick than Ferrell, who we fear would dismantle programs and policies Satterberg established, undoing decades of slow but steady reform. For that reason, and because she would support alternative approaches that improve public safety by addressing the root causes of some criminal behavior, PubliCola picks Leesa Manion.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Secretary of State: PubliCola Picks Steve Hobbs

 

For secretary of state, PubliCola picks incumbent Steve Hobbs, although his opponent, Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson, is also highly qualified for this position.

PubliCola Picks graphicJulie Anderson, the nonpartisan candidate for this technically partisan job, is versed in election law, knowledgeable about both the well-known and obscure aspects of the secretary of state’s office, and will do a capable job if elected. As Pierce County auditor since 2009, Anderson has ample experience overseeing elections, maintaining and ensuring access to public records, and implementing complex IT upgrades—boring-sounding stuff that’s critical to any functioning 21st century democracy. She wants to modernize the office, which still has one foot in the 20th century; for example, she proposes creating alternatives to handwritten signatures for voter validation and preserving complex digital documents in their original form, so that an interactive map, for example, doesn’t show up in the state archives as a static image.

Hobbs, a longtime state legislator appointed secretary of state by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2021, has also proven his qualifications for the position, establishing a new division to combat election disinformation and taking down several cybersecurity threats in real time. To address racial disparities in ballot rejections (and to ensure more ballots are counted), Hobbs has directed his office to develop a system that will send text messages to voters whose signatures have been rejected, giving them more time to contact their local elections office and make sure their vote counts.

In our interview, Hobbs also emphasized the need to expand access to voting information and ballots in languages other than English; currently, a county only has to provide voting materials in other languages if more than 5 percent of its population “are members of a single language minority group, have depressed literacy rates, and do not speak English very well,” according to federal voting rights law. The longtime ex-legislator said he would lobby lawmakers to fund additional voting materials for minority language groups and hire trusted community messengers to distribute voting information, a tactic that has worked in other arenas, including fighting misinformation about COVID vaccines.

Steve Hobbs Voter Guide image

Both Anderson and Hobbs are strong candidates. So why are we endorsing Hobbs over Anderson? It goes back to that seemingly simple label: “Nonpartisan.” In an ideal world, the job of overseeing elections would not only be nonpartisan, it probably wouldn’t even be elected—it’s pretty weird, when you think about it, that we fickle, partisan voters get to decide who holds a fundamentally administrative position. But we don’t live in a perfect world; we live in a hyperpartisan, fragile democracy in which one party believes in free and fair elections and the other believes COVID was a hoax and that Donald Trump won the 2020 election despite no evidence of fraud. In this context, in this election year, declaring yourself “nonpartisan” is a denial of the real forces that threaten our democracy—not just against cyber warfare and election disinformation, but the future of free and fair elections. For this reason, PubliCola picks Democrat Steve Hobbs for secretary of state.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Approval Voting/Ranked Choice Voting (Propositions 1A and 1B): PubliCola picks “No” and Proposition 1B

The ballot measure to decide whether Seattle should change its voting system is worded, confusingly, as a two-part question. The first question is yes-or-no: Should the city adopt either of two potential new voting systems for primary elections, ranked-choice or approval voting? The second is multiple choice: Regardless of how you voted on the first question, which of the two systems would you prefer? We’re endorsing a “No” vote on the first question and a vote for ranked-choice voting on the second.

PubliCola Picks graphicProponents of approval voting and ranked-choice voting have spent weeks engaged in highly technical debates about which alternative voting system gives people the maximum say in who ends up on the general-election ballot. A ranked-choice primary would offer voters the the chance to rank as many candidates as they want in order of preference, with the final winners determined by knocking out the lowest-ranking candidate in successive “rounds,” redistributing votes to people’s second, third, and fourth choices until only two candidates remain. Approval voting allows people to vote for as few or as many candidates as they want, with the two candidates who receive the most votes overall moving forward to the general election.

Supporters of ranked-choice voting say their system gives voters more of a voice in the process because even if their top-ranked candidate doesn’t make it through, their votes for the candidates they rank lower will still “count” toward the final outcome. Supporters of approval voting say their system better represents people’s preferences, because they can vote for as many candidates as they want, including candidates they would not have picked in a traditional, one-vote system. Both say their system would be simple to implement—ranked-choice voting because it’s already being used in jurisdictions across the country, and approval voting because it wouldn’t require a new type of ballot, only new ballot instructions telling voters they can pick as many candidates as they want. Ranked choice voting advocates say their plan is more democratic, because it empowers people to express nuanced preferences, and approval voting advocates say their plan eliminates candidates on the political fringes to elect the candidate who appeals to the maximum number of voters.

But let’s pull back a bit and ask: What problem are these voting systems trying to solve? If the answer is “too few people are running for city council,” the two most recent city elections would like to have a word; the last five races for open seats drew a minimum of seven candidates and as many as 15. Moreover, many of those who made it past the primary (in 2019: Tammy Morales in District 2 and Shaun Scott in District 4, and in 2021, Lorena González for mayor and Nikkita Oliver for Position 8) were progressive candidates of color.

Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address.

If the answer is “too few people are voting in local races,” it’s hard to see how complicating the ballot—requiring voters to educate themselves thoroughly on a dozen or more candidates in order to rank them or decide how many of them to vote for—will achieve that goal. The more work involved in voting, whether it’s ranking candidates on a scale of one through 10 or going to an in-person voting booth—the fewer people will vote.

Both campaigns claim their new voting systems will ensure that “better” candidates will win—or at least candidates that are more representative of the electorate’s true preferences. But that’s hardly a guarantee. The candidates who make it through local primary elections are determined by a host of messy factors, including who decides to run, what issues are top of mind for voters, and which candidates have financial support from outside interest groups, which enjoy outsized power in Seattle’s local elections. Both campaigns claim adopting their system will reduce the influence of money in local elections by lifting the pressure to vote for the best-financed candidate. But Seattle’s money problem is that independent groups can spend unlimited amounts supporting candidates and ballot measures, something no voting system can directly address. Notably, both campaigns are funded primarily by six-figure donations from organizations outside Seattle.

Based on their appeals to voters, the real argument for both of these voting systems is that people’s votes will count more when they’re run through an algorithm that tabulates it differently, even though the outcome will always be that the two most popular candidates move forward. This boils down, for either system, to a contention that allowing voters to choose more candidates makes voting more “fair.” (Neither RCV nor Approval Voting supporters have claimed their system would have altered the outcome of recent council primary elections, in which two candidates generally emerge from a field of a dozen or more.) The strongest case for either system, then, is that they make voters feel heard. Unfortunately, the problems with Seattle’s electoral system, most notably the immense influx of outside money from unaccountable independent expenditure campaigns, can’t be fixed by making people feel included. Algorithms can’t fix democracy—or turn 20-point defeats into victories.

This two-part ballot measure also allows voters to choose an alternative voting system, regardless of whether they support our current top-two primary. On this question, we urge readers to vote for Proposition 1B, ranked-choice voting. If we are going to get a new voting system for primary elections, we would prefer that system be ranked-choice voting, both because ranked-choice systems have been tested in many jurisdictions and because we’re open to the idea that, in the future, ranked-choice voting could give a worthy candidate a needed boost in a close three-way race.

Supporters of approval voting say it would lead to more broadly popular, or centrist, elected officials. Historically, Seattle has needed no help electing mushy moderates (PubliCola’s editorial board is old enough to remember the days of Margaret Pageler, Jim Compton, and Jean Godden), so we don’t need a voting system that pushes candidates further to the middle.

Overall, though, we’d prefer to stick with our current top-two system, and advocate for reforms that will actually help even the electoral playing field by reducing the influence of dark money (and the incendiary advertising it pays for) in our local elections.

PubliCola picks “No” On City of Seattle Propositions 1A and 1B Part 1, and IB on Part 2.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

Seattle Municipal Court Position 7: PubliCola Picks Damon Shadid

Local judicial races are typically low-profile events; during the last municipal court election, in 2018, all seven candidates ran unopposed. This year, after voters elected a tough-on-crime slate of candidates in 2021, is different. Earlier this year, one of those candidates, Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison, pushed progressive municipal court Judge Damon Shadid to exclude so-called “high utilizers” of the court system from community court, which diverts people accused of low-level crimes into services instead of jail. When Shadid said he needed time to discuss the idea with his colleagues, Davison got the full court to exclude high utilizers without his consent, ensuring that more people in this group would end up in jail instead of getting help.

PubliCola Picks graphicDavison isn’t running for judge, but one of her assistant city attorneys, Hyjat Rose-Akins, is. And although Rose-Akins’ views are informed by her own experience and perspective, they are also Davison’s views. In an interview with PubliCola and at a recent debate hosted by the Hacks and Wonks podcast, Rose-Akins argued that community court “doesn’t seem to be working,” based on the fact that people often fail to appear for court dates or are accused of multiple offenses at once.

There are many reasons people fail to show up in court, including homelessness and behavioral health conditions, but Rose-Akins’ solutions—radically circumscribing community court, locking more people up in the understaffed downtown jail, and using bail more liberally as a tool to ensure defendants’ presence in court—don’t address any of them. As judge, Rose-Akins would be a throwback to the days when punishment was seen, falsely, as a useful corrective to behavior caused by untreated mental illness, poverty, and addiction.

Judge Damon Shadid
Seattle Municipal Court Judge Damon Shadid

Under Shadid, the community court has diverted defendants from the criminal justice system and into housing, addiction treatment, mental health services, and Medicaid—programs that improve the material and health conditions that can lead people to commit low-level misdemeanors like theft, trespassing, and engaging in misdemeanor-level drug sales to support their own addiction. In the first six months of the program, which Shadid launched in 2020, 61 people graduated, completing every condition imposed by the court. In the two years since, 80 percent of those early graduates have not been charged with a single law violation—a fraction of historical adult recidivism rates, and clear evidence that people who have access to services commit fewer crimes.

Working with the previous city attorney, Shadid also instituted reforms at the city’s mental health court—an alternative to mainstream court that connects defendants with mental illness to services as part of a closely monitored release and probation plan. The changes reduced or eliminated requirements, such as automatic jail time, that made mental health court unappealing to defense attorneys, tripling the number of people who opt in to the court. According to data maintained by King County, participants in Seattle’s mental health court were substantially less likely to end up in jail after enrolling in court services.

If he’s reelected, Shadid plans to expand his focus on setting up a new “jail release tool kit” to connect people to services in the community if they can be released safely, and making it available to all muni court judges. Shadid doesn’t believe courts should abolish bail altogether, but he has implemented an impactful form of bail reform, eliminating the need for bail at community court by making immediate release from jail a part of the program. This “release-first” model has garnered criticism from Davison and Rose-Akins, but Shadid points out that keeping people in jail simply because they can’t afford bail is discriminatory and can further destabilize people already living on the margins, depriving them of housing, jobs, and access to services and health care.

The court needs reform-minded judges who are deeply attuned to the built-in racial biases that inform arrests and prosecutions, and who understand that jail is not a one-size-fits-all solution to street disorder and low-level crime. PubliCola picks Damon Shadid for a third term on the Seattle Municipal Court.

PubliCola’s editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for City Attorney

Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

For weeks, media coverage of public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s campaign for city attorney has focused on anti-police tweets she posted in 2020, to the exclusion of almost any other campaign issue. Amid the onslaught of one-sided coverage and attacks, Thomas-Kennedy has declined to apologize, and odds are, it wouldn’t matter anyway: The “But Her Tweets” crowd is so set on demonizing and caricaturing Thomas-Kennedy as a monstrous extremist, acknowledging their demands would only encourage them.

Nor, it seems, have Thomas-Kennedy’s opponents paid much attention to her actual platform, which represents an evolution and expansion of city policies that have already demonstrated their effectiveness. Already, under current city attorney Pete Holmes, the city has invested in diversionary programs that keep people out of jail and put them on a path to recovery and self-sufficiency—programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, which provides case management and services to people involved in low-level street crime, and Community Passageways, a diversion and prevention program for youth and young adults.

Ten or 15 years ago, when the first diversionary programs were just coming online, it was still somewhat controversial to propose spending money to address the problems that cause people to commit “public disorder” crimes instead of locking people up for things like shoplifting, sleeping in public, and small-time drug deals. Today, the evidence is incontrovertible that prevention and diversion are far more effective (and cost-effective) than punishment and retribution. Restorative justice, diversion, and decarceration are no longer radical concepts, but mainstream approaches.

Thomas-Kennedy wants to push farther in the direction of decriminalization and abolition than Holmes, who accomplished significant policy changes (decriminalizing marijuana locally before it was legal statewide, for example) using a quiet, sometimes incremental approach. But elections present choices, and Holmes is no longer on the ballot. The choice now is between a public defender with a firm grasp of both the civil and criminal sides of the city attorney’s office and a clear, full-speed ahead progressive agenda—and an unqualified activist and perennial candidate whose solution to homelessness and crime are the same: Lock ’em up. Of all the members of this year’s backlash slate, Davison is the most extreme, pushing a law-and-order agenda Seattle hasn’t seen the likes of since the voters returned Mark Sidran to private practice 20 years ago.

Davison conflates crime and homelessness but fails to understand that prosecuting homeless people does nothing to address the conditions that lead people to shoplift, sleep in parks, or buy and sell drugs. Like her supporters Scott Lindsay, Ed McKenna, and, yes, Sidran, she believes that Seattle is too soft on people whose crimes result from poverty, addiction, and homelessness, and wants to restore “order” to Seattle streets by delivering “disorderly” people, particularly “chronic offenders,” into the hands of the criminal justice system.

This simplistic, out-of-sight-out-of-mind approach to complex problems is a pattern for Davison. In 2019, when she ran for city council against District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez, Davison proposed making people experiencing homelessness invisible by rounding them up and busing them to warehouses in North Seattle, Pierce County, and Renton. Her “plan” to warehouse up to 5,500 people, which Davison claimed she “meticulously priced out,” would have supposedly cost the city less than $1,500 per person, per year—an estimate that is profoundly out of touch with the reality of not only what shelter costs, but what shelter is.

Beyond her strange policy proposals, Davison appears to have a shaky grasp on what the city attorney’s office actually does. In campaign mailings and public statements, Davison has focused largely on felonies, like homicide, rape, and burglary, which are not handled by the city attorney’s office. To the extent she has articulated a vision for the city attorney’s office, her plan focuses on what she won’t do—allow people to sleep outside, in conditions she calls worse than “a UN Cambodian refugee camp”—than what she will. Perhaps that’s because Davison has almost no actual courtroom experience, representing just a handful of clients in low-level probate and arbitration cases, most of them more than a decade ago. The region’s coalition of minority bar associations recently gave Davison its lowest rating: “Not qualified.”

Seattle voters, known for electing leaders with generally progressive values, should be alarmed by the fact that Davison not only joined the Republican party during the Trump Administration, but ran for office as a Republican when Trump was at the top of the ticket. (Davison now claims she is a nonpartisan, “independent thinker.”) Although Davison says she voted for Biden, she has not said whether she supported “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theorist Loren Culp, the Republicans’ choice for governor last year. Davison’s platform was a classic Republican stunt: Elect me, and I’ll abolish the office.

The city attorney is not primarily a prosecutor; the criminal division makes up about a third of the office, while the bulk of the work takes place over in the civil division. Mostly, the job involves working far outside the spotlight: Ensuring that legislation passes legal muster, developing labor relations policy, enforcing local regulations, and representing the city in civil litigation. Seattle needs an attorney who is qualified, prepared, and understands the assignment.

While we’re a bit skeptical of Thomas-Kennedy’s plans to enlist the city attorney’s office in a dramatic overhaul of the entire criminal legal system, we are convinced she understands the job she’s applying for. As a public defender who’s had to advocate for people whose actions she didn’t agree with, she’s also well aware that the job will sometimes require her to put her personal views aside and provide the best possible representation for her clients. We’re not convinced that Davison, who has consistently advocated for a justice system based on punishment and retribution, has the perspective or the legal experience to do the same.

The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett and Josh Feit.

PubliCola Picks: Teresa Mosqueda for City Council Position 8

Teresa Mosqueda
Image via teamteresa.org

In her first term on the city council, Teresa Mosqueda has distinguished herself as an effective advocate for progressive policies, fighting for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents while championing pro-housing policies—like allowing more housing in Seattle’s exclusive single-family neighborhoods—so that people who work in Seattle can also afford to live here.

After the failure of the so-called “head tax,” which the council passed and quickly repealed under pressure from Amazon and other large businesses, Mosqueda—who voted against the repeal— didn’t denounce her colleagues or spend time grandstanding. Instead, she got busy. Working largely behind the scenes, Mosqueda won consensus for a larger, more ambitious tax plan that spread the burden more broadly among big Seattle businesses but still put Amazon on the hook for tens of millions a year. In its first year, her JumpStart tax withstood a veto by Mayor Jenny Durkan and has provided tens of millions of dollars in relief for people impacted by the COVID pandemic, including rent subsidies, grocery vouchers, and assistance to small businesses and child care providers.

Another telling detail that illustrates the effectiveness of Mosqueda’s firm but collaborative style: Amazon stayed out of this year’s local elections and has not contributed a dime to her nominal competitor.

This year, for the second time in a row, Mayor Jenny Durkan is attempting to siphon revenues from JumpStart to pay for her own budget priorities, even attempting to permanently eliminate the spending plan outlining where the money should go. Mosqueda warded off a similar mayoral effort last year, giving us confidence that the money will continue to go where she and her colleagues intended—toward housing, small-business assistance, and Green New Deal programs to benefit people living in the communities hit hardest by climate change.

After four years on the council, Mosqueda has such an impressive list of accomplishments it’s easy to forget she’s just wrapping up her freshman term. To rattle off just a few: Passing the city’s first-ever Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, which guarantees minimum working standards and wages for domestic employees like housekeepers, cooks, and in-home care providers; securing funds for affordable housing and shelter, including hotel-based shelters, during COVID; and sponsoring policy changes that encourage affordable housing on surplus land owned by the city.

Mosqueda knows we can’t get to a carbon-free future by taking baby steps like electrifying the city’s motor pool. Mosqueda is the council’s champion for getting rid of exclusionary single-family zoning, which pushes lower-income people out of the city and contributes to climate-killing suburban sprawl. Early in her term, in the midst of a NIMBY backlash against her urbanist colleague Rob Johnson, she championed the Mandatory Housing Affordability rezoning plan, which has allowed denser development in more areas while funding thousands of units of new affordable housing.

Recently, Mosqueda caught flak for sponsoring legislation to change the name of the city’s most common zoning to “neighborhood residential,” a largely symbolic acknowledgement that the city’s current “single-family” areas have historically allowed many different types of housing. NIMBYs upset by that cosmetic change, watch out: In her second term, we expect Mosqueda will be deeply involved in reshaping the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides what kind of development is allowed throughout the city, and to join other pro-housing advocates on the council to end exclusionary zoning.

Mosqueda’s opponent, Kenneth Wilson, is a civil engineer who received 16 percent of the vote in an 11-way primary in which he did not campaign. Raised to visibility by his second-place finish, Wilson has spent his time in the spotlight showing exactly how out of his league he is. Asked how he would help people who are at risk of being displaced stay in Seattle, he said they could move to somewhere like Angle Lake, a suburb 20 miles south of the city. Asked to summarize why he’s running for office, Wilson said he was motivated by crime and “ghetto-style paintings everywhere.” And, asked how he would prevent displacement among homeowners in the Central District, Wilson talked about college kids getting kicked out of rental houses in Wallingford.

Mosqueda is a standout leader in Seattle with a record of collaborating to move progressive policies forward. The choice in the race for City Council Position 8 is clear. PubilCola picks Teresa Mosqueda.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

PubliCola Picks: Nikkita Oliver for Seattle City Council Position 9

Nikkita Oliver
Image via Nikkitafornine.com

The race for citywide council position 9 pits a white business owner and former city council aide, Sara Nelson, who wants to turn back the clock on how Seattle addresses homelessness, crime, and housing, against a progressive Black nonprofit director, activist, and attorney, Nikkita Oliver, with ambitious plans for addressing displacement, institutional racism, and the broken criminal justice system. We support Nikkita Oliver.

While we endorsed longtime city council staffer Brianna Thomas in the primary, we took time in that endorsement to make it clear how impressed we were with Oliver’s history of activism on behalf of their community and their commitment to funding community-based alternatives to policing, prosecution, and jail for low-level crimes.

Oliver is an abolitionist, a term that has caused some voters to balk in this hyper-polarized election year. But the steps they and other abolitionists call for represent an expansion of the kind of diversion programs the city already funds, including Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, Choose 180, and Community Passageways—not an abrupt divestment in police and jails without any alternatives in place. Meaningful change always happens at the local level when voters elect people whose ideas are outside the status quo—and right now, the status quo at the Seattle Police Department is one that requires more radical change than the meaningless “reimagining,” “rethinking” and “reform” of the past four years.

Speaking of the need for radical change: Oliver wants to end exclusionary zoning in Seattle, allowing more apartments throughout the city, including in areas where racist whites-only covenants were eventually replaced by exclusive single-family zoning. For decades, this invisible covenant has preserved generational wealth for white homeowners while driving renters and homeowners of color out of the city as effectively as redlining once kept Black and brown home buyers out of many Seattle neighborhoods.

Oliver’s opponent Nelson, in contrast, generally supports the current system, which segregates people who live in apartments from those who live in suburban-style single-family enclaves, arguing that the mere preservation of “naturally occurring affordable housing” (code for crappy apartments where tenants feel disempowered to complain) is a meaningful anti-displacement step.

Nelson often cites the “neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s,” as she put it recently, as a shining example of the city “pay[ing] attention to the differences and nuances in all neighborhoods.” But the neighborhood planning process of the late ’90s contributed directly to most of the city’s current housing problems, including high housing costs, gentrification in historically Black and brown neighborhoods, and the segregation of all new housing in the city into a tiny sliver of Seattle’s residential land.

Meanwhile, Oliver’s approach to homelessness is as multifaceted as their positions on criminal justice and housing, and more (to borrow a term) nuanced than the one-note Compassion Seattle model Nelson parrots. (In a bit of near-perfect symbolism, Nelson’s business, Fremont Brewing, installed massive concrete barricades in the public right-of-way to prevent unsheltered people from parking their vehicles there). Oliver—noting, correctly, that the root of homelessness isn’t addiction or behavioral health problems but a lack of housing—wants to “tax the wealthy,” using one of the mechanisms identified by the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force in 2018, to expand access to rental and ownership housing through co-ops and community land trusts, and public housing for very low-income people, including those experiencing homelessness.

Oliver would make life a little less miserable for people living in encampments, by ending sweeps and providing restrooms and hygiene stations for people who currently lack access to both. Nelson has mocked this concept, which Oliver calls “radical hospitality,” but it actually would address some of the problems Nelson has put at the center of her backlash campaign, including the presence of trash, needles, and human waste in parks and neighborhoods. Unlike Oliver, Nelson would maintain the failing status quo: moving people from place to place while raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to pay for housing, equitable development, and small-business assistance, to pay for vaguely defined “services.”

These divergent approaches to homelessness define the dramatic choice in this contest. Oliver’s transformational plan may be a long shot, but real progress on homelessness will be an even longer shot if voters give in to Nelson’s fear-mongering. Calls to double down on policies that have failed will only exacerbate the homelessness crisis. It’s time to embrace new approaches that both acknowledge the realities of inequity and seek to address them.

In the race for City Council Position 9, PubliCola picks Nikkita Oliver.

The PubliCola editorial board is Josh Feit and Erica C. Barnett.

PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor

©2019 Steve Dipaola

In July, PubliCola endorsed city council president Lorena González for mayor, crediting her for having “well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues,” including homelessness, the role of police in public safety, and housing. In her two terms on the council, we wrote, González pushed for, and passed, important worker protections, election reforms, legal assistance for immigrants facing harassment and deportation in the Trump era, and a police accountability ordinance that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.

We also criticized one of the other leading candidates, former council member Bruce Harrell, noting that he passed almost no major legislation during his 12 years on the council and “uses warmed-over management jargon to promote an agenda that would maintain the status quo.”

Now that the two candidates have had many opportunities to present their visions for Seattle in head to head debates, the choice is even clearer and more urgent. González wants to eliminate racist, exclusionary zoning policies, adequately fund homelessness programs, and enhance worker protections; Harrell wants to double down on the failed status quo by preserving exclusive single-family areas, and—even worse—reverse course by re-empowering the homeowner-dominated neighborhood council that helped block housing for decades. Moreover, his plan to address police accountability is a rehash of the wishful thinking embraced by one-term mayor Jenny Durkan and former police chief Carmen Best—the idea that if Seattle just commits to more anti-bias trainings, and to hiring “the best of the best,” as Harrell puts it, the police department will fix itself.

González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety.

We’ve had four years of slow, incremental change from a mayor who has resisted every effort to meaningfully shake up systems that harm people of color, poor people, renters, and people experiencing homelessness—four years of a mayor who represented the interests of her friends and donors while ignoring constituents who didn’t share her views. The race to replace Durkan presents a clear choice between a candidate who offers more of the same and one who embraces progress and change.

Harrell frequently mentions the fact that he was “born right here in Seattle,” a classic Seattle dog whistle that frames González as an inauthentic outsider because she moved here from somewhere else. (In other words: Unlike Harrell, González chose Seattle, as did the majority of people who live here.) At a recent debate, for example, Harrell said he has “skin in the game” on issues like police violence in a way that González, a first-generation Mexican American whose parents were migrant farmworkers in Eastern Washington, does not. “It’s not hard for me to talk to people when I walk the streets of Seattle,” he said. “This isn’t just academic for me. This is real stuff I’ve been dealing with decades and decades.”

This attempt to portray González as some kind of elitist outsider is both parochial and a distraction. Both candidates have lost family members and friends to police violence, and both are invested in eliminating police bias and racial profiling; the difference is in how they would address these problems. González may not be “from here,” but she actually prosecuted the Seattle Police Department for racist violence—representing a Mexican American beating victim in the infamous “Mexican piss” case—and won.

On this issue, the candidates might as well be running in different decades. Harrell says he will “change the culture of the police force,” “hire the best of the best,” and enforce a 2017 law that requires SPD to conduct anti-bias trainings and track data designed to reveal racial bias in policing. (While the city did require more anti-bias trainings, they’ve hardly led to a less biased police force, as González has pointed out.) On his website, Harrell promises he will “personally recruit officers looking to be internal change agents, heroes within the department to help coach, train, love and inspire our officers to be the department we all deserve.”

González, in contrast to Harrell, has committed to supporting new progressive taxes, aimed at the same wealthy corporations Harrell plans to hit up for donations, to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness and, incidentally, help people move on from tent encampments in public places.

Harrell’s approach represents a retreat to the pre-June 2020 status quo, before weeks of protests led to a growing consensus that an incremental approach to police “reform” doesn’t work and probably never could. González rejects the myopic view that “love” and “coaching” is all it will take to fix a fundamentally broken approach to public safety. Instead of proposing data dashboards or more trainings of dubious value, she wants the city to invest in alternative crisis responders inside and outside the city, diversion programs that address the root causes of crime while keeping people out of the criminal legal system, and early intervention programs to put young people on “on a path towards towards actual resilience and empowerment,” as she put it during a recent debate.

Similarly, Harrell’s plan for addressing homelessness would turn back the clock to the pre-pandemic era, when the city swept multiple encampments a day. His homelessness plan replicates every provision of Charter Amendment 29, the so-called “Compassion Seattle” initiative, down to the number of shelter beds he proposes adding with no new funding (1,000 in the first six months, 2,000 in the first year) and the percentage of the city’s budget he proposes using for this purpose (12). This fear-based approach doesn’t acknowledge or address the fundamental economic and social problems that underlie homelessness, nor has building shelter, in itself, ever been the solution to encampments. People aren’t dots on a data dashboard, and they have legitimate reasons not to “accept” an offer of a random shelter bed.

Harrell offers lip service to the idea that solving homelessness will require housing and services. But his big idea to pay for those things—convincing large corporations to voluntarily give money to the city—is fanciful. Companies do run internal philanthropy programs, but big corporate gifts typically flow directly to nonprofits and pay for discrete projects—a shelter for women and children on Amazon’s campus, for example—that benefit the company’s reputation. Harrell has not presented any plan to convince Microsoft to pay for drug treatment for chronically homeless men, for example, and his plan seems to rely on his personal “social capital” and networking abilities rather than any kind of coherent strategy to convince companies to pay their “fair share” voluntarily. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Seattle Mayor”

PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Mayor

In this critical, post-COVID election year, Seattle needs a mayor who understands the job, has a plan to translate their progressive values into policy, and can jump into the job with both feet on day 1. City Council president Lorena González will come to the mayor’s office with a well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues..

González has set a standard for not just talking a good game—but getting things done. In her two terms as a council member, she has pushed for—and passed—protections for hourly workers, such as the secure scheduling bill; established a permanent legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation; and passed a number of underreported but important election reforms, including a ban on some corporate contributions, new transparency requirements, and restrictions on indirect lobbying, in which lobbyists seek to influence the public without revealing who’s paying them. She has also been a pragmatic and savvy advocate for police accountability, spearheading a police accountability ordinance in 2017 that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.

And, in a lone dissent that got little coverage at the time but telegraphed her understanding of the challenges inherent to a “regional approach to homelessness,” she voted against a plan for the new regional homelessness authority that handed significant power over to suburban jurisdictions that pay nothing to support the authority, but wield outsize influence over its policies.

A lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”

González noted before her prescient vote that “politics have already taken hold in this structure.” She was right. We’re already seeing the ramifications today, with suburban cities adopting anti-homeless policies and insisting on their own, locally unique “sub-regional” plans. The former co-chair of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force is also right about how to tackle homelessness in the future; she’s committed to adopting new progressive revenues to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness instead of passing a ballot initiative that she has called an “unfunded mandate” designed to cement the “status quo.”

González has caught some flak from the left for voting, along with seven of her eight council colleagues, to approve a 2018 police contract that nullified some elements a historic 2017 police accountability ordinance. But activists who want to castigate her for this vote should consider a bit of context. At the time, the police union had been without a new contract since 2014, after members rejected a negotiated contract in 2016. Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan was working overtime to convince the public and the council that police would quit en masse if they didn’t get the raises promised in the contract. Most council members, including dogged police accountability advocate, council member Lisa Herbold, agreed that the new contract, though inadequate, was an improvement on the existing 2014 contract, keeping parts of the accountability law intact and preserving a law requiring cops to wear body cameras on duty.

Finally, a lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González—a former civil rights attorney who secured a $150,000 settlement for a Latino man who sued the city after a Seattle police officer threatened to “beat the fucking Mexican piss out of” him—has expressed support for this core agenda. She recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”

González has a real vision for Seattle’s recovery—one that doesn’t rely on clichés or empty promises (how exactly will philanthropic giving fund the $450 million to $1 billion the region needs to spend every year to address homelessness, Bruce?) For starters, she wants to make it easier for renters to stay in their homes, providing rental assistance as well as caps on move-in costs that can add thousands of dollars to the price of an apartment. Continue reading “PubliCola Picks: Lorena González for Mayor”

Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!

1. Compassion Seattle, the group backing an initiative that would require the city to divert funds from other purposes to pay for 2,000 shelter beds in order to “clear” parks for housed people to use, announced Thursday that it had collected 64,155 signatures—about twice as many as the number of valid signatures the campaign needs to get the measure on the November ballot.

Even in victory, the campaign claimed to be the victim of “harassment, theft of petitions, assault and significant time delays”—claims it has made in multiple emails to supporters. The campaign did not immediately respond to questions about the incidents, including a request for case numbers in the event that they reported any of the alleged crimes to Seattle police.

UPDATE: In response to PubliCola’s questions, Compassion Seattle provided a list of eight incidents involving signature gatherers. Six involved people ripping clipboards out of people’s hands or destroying signature sheets. The remaining two examples were more dramatic; in one case, someone threw a garbage can at the signature gatherer, and in the other, a woman was “harassed and pushed down” on Capitol Hill.

2. Mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston received permission from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Thursday to raise money beyond the legal maximum under Seattle’s democracy voucher program, which limits mayoral campaign fundraising to $400,000 in the primary election. Houston argued (and the commission agreed) that mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell has already exceeded the cap through his own fundraising and that of a political action committee organized on his behalf.

Under city election law, any candidate who has maxed out on campaign spending or fundraising, unless the excess is “minor” or “inadvertent,” can seek a release from the cap as soon as another campaign, or the combination of a campaign and an independent expenditure (IE) campaign acting on the candidate’s behalf, has busted through the cap.

Because IE campaigns can raise and spend unlimited dollars from any source, IE fundraising routinely provides leads to a campaign fundraising free-for-all. Houston’s release from the cap will trigger other candidates who have reached the fundraising limit to seek similar permission to raise and spend more money, effectively neutralizing rules adopted by initiative in 2015 aimed at limiting the impact of money on elections. The initiative, known as Honest Elections, created the voucher program, which gives $100 to every Seattle registered voter to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice; it also imposed a number of campaign-finance rules, including new contribution and spending limits.

During the 2019 election, the campaigns for city council candidates Jon Grant and Teresa Mosqueda, including a pro-Mosqueda PAC, raised and spent more than $1 million despite a total “campaign valuation” (fundraising) limit of $300,000. Similarly, spending on behalf of successful mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan totaled well over $2 million, despite a formal cap of $800,000.

Ultimately, the only thing that will stem out-of-control spending is a court ruling overturning or limiting the impact of Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruling that effectively barred limits on campaign spending by corporations and interest groups. Limiting spending by candidates but not committees, commission chair Richard Shordt pointed out Thursday, would limit the “voices” of “the thousands of Seattleites who are using their democracy vouchers” to support campaigns.

3. An online poll—apparently conducted on behalf of mayoral candidate Lorena González’s campaign—tested messages for and against the candidate in a hypothetical election between González and her former council colleague Bruce Harrell, who is currently the presumptive frontrunner.

The poll, which focuses on homelessness, describes González as a former civil rights attorney who was inspired to run “after watching Jenny Durkan give big corporations too much say in city government, side with the police union when cops tear-gassed Seattleites, and let the homelessness crises get worse”; it describes Harrell, more generically, as a former council president who “has the experience and skills to unite our city.” Continue reading “Mega Campaign Fizz: Compassion Seattle, Mayoral Money News, González Polls on Homelessness, and Much More!”