Tag: Brianna Thomas

PubliCola Questions: Brianna Thomas

Brianna Thomas 2021 Questionnaire – Seattle City Council Pos. 9 | The  Urbanist
Image via peopleforbrianna.org

As PubliCola prepares to endorse candidates in the August 3 mayoral and council primary elections, we reached out to the leading candidates for mayor and City Council Position 9 with questions about homelessness, housing, police accountability, and economic recovery.

Their answers to these questions will help inform our endorsements, coming out next week. Endorsements will be based on each candidate’s record of action, public statements, interviews with PubliCola and other media outlets, and responses at the many candidate forums that have taken place over the summer.

Today, we’re highlighting two of the leading candidates for Seattle City Council Position 9, the seat currently held by council president Lorena González, who’s running for mayor. First up, González’s lead staffer, Brianna Thomas. Stay tuned for candidate Nikkita Oliver.

A third candidate for this position, Sara Nelson, is the only candidate in any race who did not respond to our questions.

Brianna Thomas worked on campaigns to raise the minimum wage in SeaTac and fund public financing in Seattle—and ran for office herself, losing in the crowded 2015 primary for the District 1 council seat that ultimately went to Lisa Herbold—before joining council president González’s office in 2016.

Since then, she’s gained an insider’s perspective on how the council operates, working on police accountability legislation, proposals to reduce corporate influence on elections, and a “secure scheduling” law that provides more predictable schedules for hourly workers. Thomas talks almost reverently about leadership and service, and her answers to policy questions often contain a reality check about process and political capital. If elected, she says she’ll work to pass “legally defensible progressive revenue” to address homelessness, reform cumbersome design review and permitting processes, and work toward 24-hour affordable child care, among other priorities.

Here’s what Thomas had to say in response to the eight questions PubliCola posed to the Position 9 candidates.

When responding to people living outdoors, the city has historically focused on large or highly visible encampments, and reserved resources and enhanced shelter or hotel beds for people at encampments removed by the city. This focus on large, visible encampments tends to exclude many unhoused people of color, such as Native Americans, from access to the most desirable services. What would you do to improve equity in access to services for unsheltered people of color, particularly the Black and Native homeless populations?

Maintaining the hoteling program would be a great way to get people off the streets and into a temporary indoor location. There they can have access to toilets, showers, clean water, and privacy, whereas outdoors on streets they couldn’t. Allowing people to live on streets as a permanent solution is inhumane. As Black and Native people are overrepresented in homeless populations, we must focus on wraparound services that will prioritize them (i.e. the Chief Seattle Club), including working with partners that are dedicated to serving these specific communities, in a way that isn’t predicated on such onerous/micromanage-y requirements that take away from the time needed to do the actual WORK.

I am prepared to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure our budget reflects the urgent need for housing and wraparound services. Programs like JustCARE center getting folks out of tents, and into appropriate shelter that restores our community and our neighbors’ dignity.

In 2020, a majority of the city council said they supported defunding the police by at least 50 percent. Was it a mistake for them to make this commitment? What gaps in Seattle’s non-police public safety network can be filled on the shortest timeline, and which are the most pressing priorities?

I had a front row seat to last year’s discussion, debate and subsequent action around the movement to Defund the Police. I do believe that this commitment was well intentioned, and that the commitment was made in earnest. Unfortunately, the realities and restrictions on our current ability to fulfill this promise made it an empty one.

I stand by the council’s decision to divert millions of dollars from the general fund and SPD budget to reinvest in community based alternatives. The Council also identified approximately $30 million for a participatory budgeting program, which is unprecedented in the City’s history.

“As a Black woman, I deeply understand the call to dismantle the current carceral system, reinvest in community, and right generations of race based violence suffered by my community.”

One of my top priorities is criminal justice reform, beyond the police department’s budget. I was part of many of the difficult conversations and resulting council actions around police funding, informed by community. As a Black woman, I deeply understand the call to dismantle the current carceral system, reinvest in community, and right generations of race based violence suffered by my community. As a public servant and policy advisor that has been working on issues surrounding the reform and reimagining of policing since 2016, I feel trapped between the limitations of our continued monitoring by the [Department of Justice], which community called for, and a Collective Bargaining Agreement that patently refused to accept many of the calls for accountability set out in the City’s 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance.

I don’t believe there is a magic number that we can commit to until we do the thorough work of looking at what the police should actually respond to. What I am certain of is that we don’t need a gun and badge holding officer to respond to things like folks facing houselessness needing help, mental health calls, or giving out parking/speeding tickets.

Local elected officials and candidates have often emphasized the need to revitalize downtown Seattle as the primary focus of post-COVID recovery. What is one specific action you would take in Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods to promote economic recovery and neighborhood vitality?

Due to the impacts of the pandemic, hundreds of Seattle businesses have permanently shut their doors, including many with BIPOC owners. That is why I will propose a temporary abatement of B&O taxes for new small businesses, so we quickly fill empty storefronts. The Council should continue to work to simplify and improve permitting processes for businesses, like we saw with the extension of outdoor dining and Safe Street permits. I will also lead on expanding the Office of Economic Development’s budget, as it has the potential to become an incredibly important resource for BIPOC business owners, as well as creating a small business liaison. This is something I’ve heard would be beneficial directly from small business owners.

“I deeply and truly support our continued work to turn our upside down tax structure around, but I have done this work long enough to know that passage of legislation isn’t enough. We must find solutions that not only meet our most pressing needs, but will also withstand the inevitable legal challenges that we have become accustomed to after passage.”

Our zoning laws also play a role in economic recovery and neighborhood vitality. I’m a firm believer in 15-minute neighborhoods that are walkable and transit accessible. COVID highlighted the importance of having healthcare, childcare, grocery stores, recreation, small businesses, and work close to home. We have to prioritize changes to our restrictive zoning that currently keeps businesses and housing density out of our neighborhoods.

Assuming Charter Amendment 29 becomes law in Seattle, what city programs would you cut or deprioritize in order to dedicate 12 percent of the city’s general-fund budget to human services, and how would you go about adding 2,000 new shelter or housing spots by the end of next year?

I would like to take a good hard look at the current commission structure in the City. With over 80 commissions currently, many of which have disparities on technological access, requirements for inclusion of those with subject matter expertise (including lived experience) and staffing shortages, the system as built simply isn’t delivering. However, this sort of restructuring will not lead to the additional $16M needed to cover the investment gap laid out in the proposed amendment. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Brianna Thomas”

With González in Mayoral Race, Seattle’s Campaign Season Is Shaping Up


By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Council member Lorena González, who became the city’s first Latina council member in 2015, will run for mayor of Seattle, she announced this morning. The announcement, though hardly a surprise—González has been viewed as a likely candidate ever since current Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would not seek reelection last December—creates a race with two clear frontrunners so far, both women of color; Colleen Echohawk, the head of the Chief Seattle Club and a frequent ally of Durkan’s, announced she was running late last month.

In an interview, González said she decided to run for mayor, which will require her to relinquish her at-large council seat, because she wants to “ensure that things are actually being implemented” after the council passes legislation. During the Durkan yerars, the council has frequently passed policy or budget legislation, only to see it vetoed or ignored by the mayor and departments. “I am acutely aware of the importance of the legislative branch in this city, and I am also aware of how important it is to have a mayor that understands that,” González said.

Durkan will likely leave office with a significant amount of unfinished business, including the selection of a new permanent police chief to replace Carmen Best, who resigned last August, and the adoption of a new contract with Seattle’s main police union, which expired last year. González said the next chief of police should be someone who can immediately “identify what things we need to move out of the police department because they’re better addressed by other systems, and … who is going to be dedicated to rooting out racism, white supremacy, and bad officers from the rank and file—to demilitarize not just the ammunition locker but to demilitarize officers’ minds and make sure that officers understand that they are here to serve the people of Seattle, not to deploy weapons of war against its citizens.”

González drafted the 2017 police accountability ordinance, which included a number of reforms that could have significantly changed the way police interact with the people they are sworn to serve. She also voted for the 2018 police union contract that effectively nullified the 2017 reforms. She told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I would vote very different, because the police department has unfortunately not advanced as much in reform as we thought they had.”

González said the next chief of police should be someone who can “demilitarize not just the ammunition locker but demilitarize officers’ minds and make sure that officers understand that they are here to serve the people of Seattle, not to deploy weapons of war against its citizens.”

Specifically, she said she would keep interest arbitration—a process in which a state-appointed arbitrator listens to both sides and decides the terms of a contract—on the table during contract negotiations so that the police union knows “that we are willing to go all the way to the end of the line to force the police guild to be serious about these negotiations and accept these accountability reforms. That has never been done in the city. There has never been a mayor who has been willing to go to interest arbitration and to hold the line.”

González also told PubliCola she would support purchasing hotels or other buildings with private rooms to serve as long-term non-congregate shelter; seek additional direct cash assistance and mortgage and debt forgiveness from the Biden Administration and state legislature, respectively, to address the looming eviction cliff; and “advance an actual work plan and strategy for implementation of universal access to internet service” in Seattle—a longtime goal of advocates for broadband equity.

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The mayoral field could begin filling up soon. Jessyn Farrell, a 2017 mayoral candidate who was on the fence last month, was reportedly testing the waters with labor groups over the past week. Farrell did not return texts or a call for comment on Tuesday. Nor did former city council member (and, very briefly, mayor) Bruce Harrell, who multiple sources said is leaning toward getting in the race).

In other mayoral election news, Echohawk’s original consulting team, the Black-led firm Upper Left, left the campaign and has been replaced by the Mercury Group, led by former mayor Mike McGinn’s chief consultants, Bill Broadhead and Julie McCoy. (McCoy went on to be McGinn’s chief of staff.) Asked about the change, Echohawk said, “Like all new campaigns, we are putting our team in place. We appreciate all the work everyone has done in various roles to ensure we had such a strong start to the campaign.”

Lower down the ballot, Brianna Thomas, a legislative aide in González’s council office who ran for Council District 1 in 2015 (Lisa Herbold won), will reportedly announce she is running for the seat soon, after a bit of background drama: At-large Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s up for reelection this year, had asked King County Labor Council leader Nicole Grant, who is white, to consider running for González’s seat as part of a slate.

Grant, whose union expelled the Seattle Police Officers Guild over their use of force and tear gas against Black Lives Matter demonstrators last summer, decided against it after finding out that Thomas was planning to run, and getting feedback that it would be inappropriate for her (as a progressive labor leader with a built-in left-leaning base) to run for the same seat as a progressive Black woman.

On Tuesday, Mosqueda told PubliCola, “Nicole would have been a great candidate and council member, and I deeply respect her decision not to run as the conversation continues about Black community representation in City Hall.”

Meanwhile, another former council candidate, Fremont Brewing Company co-owner Sara Nelson—who ran for the seat Mosqueda won in 2017—filed to run for Position 9 on Monday. Former Red Door bar owner Pete Hanning (whose bar was located just down the street from Fremont Brewing) said he is still deciding whether he wants in, and Seattle Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, another name that has been circulating in local-politics circles, said he’s currently focusing on his campaign to keep his Port seat, also on the ballot this year..

On Eve of Election, Grant Mobilizes Underdog Support

Council Position 8 candidate Jon Grant, who previously released his own “alternative” housing plan minutes after the HALA committee released a compromise plan ten months in the making, said in an email today that he plans to “announce a progressive housing plan to vastly increase affordable housing funding, strengthen tenant protections, reduce homeowner foreclosure, and prevent displacement.” Really, though, he’s announcing the support of several other council candidates, many of them viewed as viable (or not-so-viable) underdogs in their races.

I’m assuming this plan won’t look vastly (if at all different than the one he released a few weeks ago, which included rent stabilization and the maximum linkage fee, but it does have a few new supporters–Tammy Morales and Josh Farris in the 2nd, Michael Maddux in the 4th, and Mercedes Elizalde in the 5th–in addition to previous allies Bill Bradburd in Position 9, Kshama Sawant in District 3, and Lisa Herbold in District 1. (Lisa is a longtime aide to Nick Licata, who announced the plan jointly with Grant and council member Sawant).

Maddux and Morales are both clients of consultant John Wyble. Prior to Grant’s announcement today, rumors were floating that more (or all) of Wyble’s clients would be signing on to Grant’s plan, but his clients Brianna Thomas in the 1st, Morgan Beach in the 3rd, Halei Watkins in the 5th, and Mike O’Brien in the 6th do not appear to have signed on to Grant’s plan. (All of those candidates have rivals who have done so).

During Seattle Transit Blog’s interview with Thomas (in which I participated; first batch of outtakes here), Thomas likened the timing and content of Grant’s earlier announcement to “mud in your eye,” and said it was like saying, “‘HALA, nothing you came up with is as brilliant as what I could come up with’, which is sort of rude. Manners go a long way in this business, quite frankly.” That, or the presence of her electoral rival Herbold, could be why Thomas’ name wasn’t on Grant’s latest list.

Grant reported raising $2,039 in the last two weeks. His top opponents, John Roderick and council incumbent Tim Burgess, report raising $13,502 and $10,377, respectively.

Ballots must be returned to King County Elections by Tuesday, August 4.