Tag: election 2021

Eco Blocks Update, Sawant Replacement Rumors, Another Preventable Outbreak,and Another Sweep In Ballard

City Light anti-RV fencing

1. Last week, PubliCola reported on the widespread use of “ecology blocks” to prevent people living in RVs from parking on the street in the Ballard industrial area. Although blocking public right-of-way without a permit  is against the law, the city’s transportation department has chosen not to enforce the law, and at least two government agencies—the US Postal Service and Seattle City Light—have installed their own barricades to keep RV residents at bay.

Seattle City Light spokeswoman Julie Moore, following up on our questions from late November, said the electric utility decided to install a double line of fencing, which completely blocks the sidewalk on the north side of its Canal substation in Ballard, after two RVs caught fire next to the substation earlier this year.

City Light installed the fencing, at a cost of about $15,000 a year, “to mitigate risks to our critical infrastructure, specifically lines that provide communications to the System Operations Center and 26kV capacitor banks, which, if damaged, would create a power loss at the King County Wastewater Treatment Plan,” Moore said.

Moore said City Light did not install the eco-blocks that block off parking on the south side of the substation.

Ethan Bergerson, a spokesman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, said the department’s street use team “is working with Seattle City Light to consider possible solutions to create a pathway or detour for pedestrians while still addressing their safety concerns.”

“Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”

2. As voters in Seattle City Council District 3 decide the fate of City Councilmember Kshama Sawant in a recall election today, the city council is reportedly already mulling her potential replacement.

One name that has risen to the top of the list is that of Alex Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition. Hudson, who first rose to prominence as the pro-transit, pro-density director of the First Hill Improvement Association and the co-founder of the website Seattlish, told PubliCola, “I like the job I have now,” adding that she “never wanted to be a politician” or subject her family to the kind of toxicity elected officials have to endure. (Case in point: The Kshama Sawant recall election).

Another rumored contender, Marjorie Restaurant owner and Capitol Hill EcoDistrict executive director Donna Moodie, said she had heard her name “mentioned as well,” but added, “I am currently so enthusiastic for the work I’m doing at Community Roots Housing [formerly Capitol Hill Housing that I can’t imagine anything distracting me from that.”

3. Shigella, a gastrointestinal disease that can be prevented by providing access to soap and running water, is on the rise again among Seattle’s homeless population. According to King County Public Health, there were 13 documented cases of shigella among people experiencing homelessness in King County in November.

According to the Seattle Human Services Department, as of late last week, the HOPE Team had relocated 51 people living at the Ballard Commons into tiny house villages or emergency shelter.

Additionally, Public Health spokeswoman Kate Cole said the agency has see more reports of diarrheal illness in general, “but we have no testing or other clinical details to indicate type of illness, so we don’t know if this could be Shigella, norovirus, some other pathogen, or something non-infectious.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic almost two years ago, advocates have asked the city to provide access to running water and soap so that people living unsheltered can prevent the spread not just of COVID but of other diseases more likely to be transmitted by unwashed hands, like shigella and cryptosporidiosis, which can result in severe illness and hospitalization. To date, the city still has not installed the street sinks the city council funded in 2020, citing a dizzying array of supposed logistical and public health problems with giving homeless people opportunities to wash their hands.

“Pathogens that cause GI illnesses, including Shigella, are highly transmissible, particularly in settings with large numbers of people living unsheltered,” Cole said. “Without access to shelter—especially access to a toilet, a place to wash your hands, and clean water – this type of outbreak should come as no surprise, and is an exceedingly difficult problem to control.”

4. Outreach workers and members of the city’s HOPE Team, which offers shelter placements to people living in encampments the city plans to sweep, have relocated most of the people living at the Ballard Commons and behind Broadview Thomson elementary in the Bitter Lake neighborhood in preparation for the closure of both encampments. The Commons, incidentally, has been the site of several previous outbreaks of shigella and other gastrointestinal illnesses. Continue reading “Eco Blocks Update, Sawant Replacement Rumors, Another Preventable Outbreak,and Another Sweep In Ballard”

Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office

1. Mayor-elect Bruce Harrell announced a 129-member transition team yesterday that includes Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, current city council member Teresa Mosqueda, former mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell, a long list of former Greg Nickels, Ed Murray, and Jenny Durkan staffers, and an entire committee overseeing “sports and mentorship” programs, headed by regional NAACP president Gerald Hankerson. Also on the team: Two of the leading opponents of a bike lane in Lake City that Mayor Jenny Durkan ultimately killed.

The team seems likely to grow; late on Tuesday, city council member Andrew Lewis confirmed that he will serve on the team’s public safety committee, one of 12 subject-area committees that make up the advisory group.

Harrell’s transition team also includes a “philanthropy” committee that includes representatives from the Ballmer Group, Amazon, Tableau, and a number of local foundations—echoing Harrell’s campaign promise to fund some city needs, such as programs to address homelessness, using voluntary donations from individuals and corporations.

The new administration’s transition team, for those keeping score (sports metaphor?), is more than twice the size of the transition team outgoing mayor Jenny Durkan announced when she was elected in 2017, and almost three times larger than the team ex-mayor Ed Murray set up in 2013.

Transition teams typically help mayors staff up and set priorities, but their primary role in recent years has been to demonstrate broad political support after a bruising election campaign, which this very (very) large and diverse group certainly does.

Harrell’s niece and campaign manager Monisha Harrell told the Seattle Times that Harrell would comb the transition team for potential members of the administration.

Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team.

As a point of recent historical reference, just two members of Durkan’s transition team joined the administration: former Transportation Choices Coalition director Shefali Ranganathan, who was one of Durkan’s deputy mayors, and former Building Changes director Helen Howell, who served briefly as interim director of the Human Services Department before joining the King County Regional Homelessness Authority as deputy CEO in July.

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2. Harrell’s campaign also set a record this year—it was the most expensive mayoral campaign in Seattle’s history by a long shot (sports metaphor?). According to campaign records, the official Harrell campaign raised just over $1.4 million in direct contributions, including $19,250 from Harrell himself.  By the same point in her campaign, Durkan had raised just over $970,000.

That’s a significant increase—Harrell has raised half again as much as Durkan had by the same point in November 2017—but it’s dwarfed by the total amount of money poured into the campaign by independent spending, primarily a real estate-backed IE called Bruce Harrell for Seattle’s Future. That campaign has raised $1.4 million, almost entirely from commercial real-estate developers and property managers; combined with independent spending from the National Association of REALTORS and the Seattle Firefighters PAC, independent groups spent almost $1.6 million getting Harrell elected, a sum that dwarfs the $835,000 an Amazon-backed group called People for Jenny Durkan spent on Durkan’s behalf.

At the time, editorial and news writers found it at least noteworthy that at a time when publicly financed “democracy vouchers” were supposed to get big money out of campaigns, the mayoral election went to the candidate who had hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate money propping her up. This year’s election, in which the winning campaign cost $3 million, or almost $20 per vote, makes 2017’s shocking outlays look almost quaint.

3. Ann Davison, the city attorney-elect, had a simple campaign platform: Unlike my opponent, I will prosecute crime. (Davison’s opponent, public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, pledged to phase out most misdemeanor prosecutions.) She’ll enter office with her work cut out for her: Since the August primary election, when voters kicked three-term incumbent Pete Holmes off the ballot, the city attorney’s criminal division has lost eight prosecutors, or nearly a quarter of its entire prosecution team. The chief of the criminal division, Kelly Harris, left the division for a private-sector job last month.

Continue reading “Harrell Announces 129-Member Transition Team after Most Expensive Mayoral Race in History; Davison to Take Over Depopulated City Attorney’s Office”

“In This House,” Seattle Votes for the Status Quo

Bruce Harrell campaign sign with extra sign reading "MODERATE."

By Erica C. Barnett

On Tuesday, less than 18 months after nationwide protests against police violence prompted Seattle leaders to consider new approaches to public safety, Seattle voters endorsed a return to the pre-pandemic status quo, electing a slate of candidates who promised to hire more cops, crack down on crimes associated with poverty and addiction, and remove more unsheltered people from public spaces, with “consequences” for those who refuse to go.

Longtime former city council member Bruce Harrell will be mayor;  longtime city council aide-turned-“take back Seattle” brewery owner Sara Nelson will replace Lorena González on the city council, and Republican (and three-time candidate) Ann Davison will be city attorney.

The new regime is a significant win for the business and political leaders who have been shouting for the past year and a half that Seattle Is Dying because the city’s mushy progressivism has gone too far. What’s ironic about that view is that “the left”—that is, people on Twitter who have the unique ability to send mainstream pundits into fits of derangement—has essentially no power in Seattle city government.

Yes, there are a few more progressive faces on the council than there were a dozen years ago. But that doesn’t mean they’ve had much luck changing city policy (and on many issues, the council is still sharply divided). Under Seattle’s form of government, the mayor controls almost every city department and has the authority to ignore or reverse the council’s policy and spending directives, meaning that even if the council were to tell the mayor to, say, cut the police department by 50 percent, the mayor could and probably would just ignore them—as Seattle’s current moderate mayor, Jenny Durkan, has done with policy after policy. If the council’s progressive bloc could spend money or establish policy by fiat, you would see a whole lot more hotel-based shelters, public restrooms, and handwashing sinks around the city.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created.

For the past several years—the period when centrist pundits claim that Seattle was controlled by a far-left progressive bloc—the city has stayed the course on any number of policies that previously failed to address the city’s problems—pouring money into downtown Seattle at the expense of other neighborhoods, offering huge hiring bonuses to new police officers, and ramping up encampment sweeps to pre-pandemic levels. (Prior to the current administration, encampment residents generally got 72 hours’ notice before a sweep.)  Progress on Vision Zero, a plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030, has not only stalled but reversed, with more people killed by traffic violence last year than in any year since 2006. Exclusionary zoning laws continue to prohibit new housing except in tiny strips of land along major arterial roads. And overdose deaths have increased dramatically, an outcome that could have been mitigated by opening the supervised consumption site King County recommended in 2016, and which Durkan has consistently (and successfully) opposed.

The claim that Bruce Harrell, Sara Nelson, and Ann Davison represent a set of “fresh new faces” with “new ideas” may be the most confusing piece of conventional wisdom being pushed by Seattle’s pundit class. Harrell served on the council for 12 years before stepping down at the end of 2019. His homelessness policy, a copy-and-paste of the failed Compassion Seattle charter amendment, was drafted by 12-year council veteran Tim Burgess. And Nelson’s old boss, Richard Conlin, was a 16-year incumbent.

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As mayor, Harrell’s campaign promises sound pretty much the same as Durkan’s when she came into office: More, better, reformed police, lots of new shelter beds, and a “pragmatic” approach to the city’s basic issues, like transportation. (Cycling advocates have considered Durkan particularly hostile to their requests for safer infrastructure; at a recent campaign forum, Harrell made a point of mocking bikes as a viable transportation option.) Durkan never did build all 1,000 tiny houses she promised to complete by the end of her first year, and the police department is so far from “reform” that it remains under a federal consent decree, after Durkan and outgoing city attorney Pete Holmes prematurely tried to terminate the agreement in 2020. At the beginning of her term, Durkan vowed to apply a compassionate but tough approach to the city’s most pressing issues. Now that her four years are up, Harrell is proposing more of the same.

Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Of course, if your entire understanding of how politics currently operate in Seattle is based on Twitter, you might believe that the “Nikkita Oliver left” is actually in charge of things. It’s an analysis that feels right—if you choose to ignore the list of people who are actually running the city and the policies they have created. For people who are well represented by the current status quo, it can feel like oppression to listen to how people talk about you and your political allies in an online space that you chose to enter. But look around: Seattle has always been a wealthy, mostly white, fundamentally centrist city that wears its thin veneer of progressive politics like a “Black Lives Matter” sign slapped in the window of a single-family house in a segregated neighborhood.

Davison, admittedly, is a special case—one Seattle’s center left may soon regret supporting as gleefully as they backed moderates Nelson and Harrell. On election night, several Davison supporters at Harrell’s party referred to her, somewhat apologetically, as “Republican-Lite,” but there’s little question about the views she has expressed in public. When Davison ran against city council incumbent Debora Juarez (one of those moderate council members the pundits who scream about the “far-left council” never mention) in 2019, she proposed fixing homelessness by rounding up unsheltered people and busing them to warehouses on the outskirts of the city, where they would somehow be kept alive for less than $1,500 a year. A year later, she declared herself a proud Republican and ran for lieutenant governor on the Donald Trump/Loren Culp ticket. Her plans for that office were even easier to fit on an index card: If elected, she said, she would abolish the office.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue.

And there is considerable overlap between Harrell’s supporters and Davison’s (they even share some of the same consultants). On election night, after Harrell made his celebratory speech, a number of people from Harrell’s party piled into their cars and headed over to Davison’s celebration party. One was former Ed Murray public safety advisor (and Davison endorser, Chris Gregoire’s son-in-law) Scott Lindsay, who could hold a high-ranking position in the Davison city attorney’s office. Although most of the work of the office is in the civil division, Davison has said her top priority would be prosecuting misdemeanors—a radical reversal of the policies Holmes has put in place over the past 12 years, and a retreat into the zero-tolerance, broken-windows approach Lindsay has advocated.

Seattle spent much of 2020 in righteous convulsions over Trump’s revanchist, neo-1968 law-and-order rhetoric. But when it comes to quieter dog whistles—protecting single-family zoning, “reclaiming our parks,” and “reforming” the police department—Seattle always responds on cue. “In this house,” Seattle votes for the status quo.

On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate

By Erica C. Barnett

With reporting by Paul Kiefer and Clara Coyote

Even before election results appeared on the big screen at presumptive mayor-elect Bruce Harrell’s campaign party Tuesday night, the mood in the room—a cavernous upstairs event space overlooking Second Avenue downtown—was jubilant. The campaign for mayor has been unusually ugly, and the candidates’ dislike for each other has been palpable.

A late-breaking dispute over a González ad that the Harrell campaign denounced as “racist” didn’t help González’s campaign, but it’s hard to attribute a blowout margin of almost 30 percent to a single event. Instead, it looks like Seattle voters went hard for a slate of candidates who promised to return Seattle to the time before last year’s Black Lives Matter protests, when there was no question that the city’s job was to hire more police, remove encampments, and make Seattle a business-friendly climate with parks activated by giant Connect-4 sets and jazz trios, not marred by the visible evidence of the homelessness crisis.

Besides Harrell, the leading candidates in last night’s city of Seattle races were Republican city attorney candidate Ann Davison (leading public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy 58 to 41 percent) and Fremont Brewing owner and Position 9 candidate Sara Nelson (leading attorney and activist Nikkita Oliver 60 to 39 percent). Even Kenneth Wilson, the Position 8 candidate whose campaign against incumbent Teresa Mosqueda boiled down to “reopen the West Seattle Bridge,” tallied almost 60,000 early votes, trailing Mosqueda by just 47 to 52 percent. This wasn’t a long-tail election; it was three separate blowouts, plus a warning: Candidates who (like Mosqueda) are seen as progressive can’t count on their seats anymore, not even in Seattle.

The undercurrent of backlash was evident at Tuesday’s Harrell celebration, attended by a long list of current and former Seattle power brokers who no longer wield the influence they once did at city hall. Current deputy mayor and former mayoral candidate Casey Sixkiller was there, as were ex-council member (and “Compassion Seattle” founder) Tim Burgess, former Murray public safety advisor-turned-pro-police quote machine Scott Lindsay, former city council member Jan Drago, and the CEOs of both the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Rachel Smith, and the Downtown Seattle Association, Jon Scholes.

The current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was in Glasgow for the C40 climate conference. She did not endorse any candidates in this year’s elections.

Surrounded onstage by family members and former Seattle mayor Norm Rice—the city’s first Black mayor—Harrell said he and his team were “going to put Seattle on fire with our love. … We’re going to have a new conversation on homelessness, a new conversation on education, on transportation, on climate change… rooted in the love we have for each other and the love we have for the city.”

Support for Harrell’s campaign came largely from business and real estate interests, which poured more than $1.3 million into an independent expenditure effort on his behalf. (Harrell’s own campaign raised about $1.2 million, making the campaign the most expensive in Seattle’s history).

Over at González HQ—for election night, Hill City Tap House in Hillman City—the mood was less dour than one might expect, oddly, even jovial, given the immense hill González would have to climb to reverse the night’s results. (Officially, neither mayoral candidate declared victory or conceded). Campaign staff and supporters passed around pints of beer, union members and a large group city council staffers packed together under the outdoor awning, and a who’s-who of progressive political figures, including 37th District state Rep. Kirsten Harris-Talley and former mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston gestured at one another with slices of pizza. Gonzalez’s sister and nephew flew in from Kansas City.

Speaking to the crowd, González said it was still too early to concede. “We are used to being underdog in every which way, and this is no exception,” she said. “The fact that so many of the votes of our voters, who tend to vote at the very end, means that we may not know who will be the next mayor until later this week.” Her own longtime staffers, however, looked visibly shaken. Continue reading “On Election Night, Voters Reject Progressive Slate”

The Other City Attorney Candidate’s Radical Tweets

By Clara Coyote

The Seattle City Attorney’s race has been dominated, thanks to recent mass mailings and a huge online ad in the Seattle Times, by criticism of left-wing candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy’s tweets. The Seattle Times, Q-13 FOX, and KOMO News (among many, many others) have taken the bait, framing Thomas-Kennedy’s online history as “reckless” “toxic” and “crude.” The tweets, most of them posted during the nationwide summer 2020 protests against police violence, are intentionally inflammatory, referring to police as “pigs” and “serial killers,” and celebrating damage to SPD’s East Precinct and the county’s youth detention center. Thomas-Kennedy addressed the tweets in a recent interview with PubliCola, saying she was “outraged” by the way police retaliated against protesters and repeatedly tear-gassed her neighborhood.

In comparison, Thomas-Kennnedy’s opponent, Ann Davison—who joined the Republican Party after Trump was elected and ran for state lieutenant governor on the Loren Culp ticket last year—has received relatively little coverage for her own social-media history, in which she has aligned herself with far-right figures like Ben Shapiro while referring to her own city as a lawless, “Marxist” hellhole where homeless people are allowed to “choose” a “lifestyle” that makes it impossible for housed people to sit on their porches.

Davison’s Twitter account  @NeighborsforAnn, which she has used in three successive bids for office, reveals a candidate with political views that are deeply out of sync with most Seattle voters.   

Last year, for example, Davison recorded a video conversation with Bradon Straka, a right-wing influencer for the “Stop the Steal” conspiracy theory and a recently convicted January 6th rioter, in which the pair encouraged people to leave the Democratic Party. Davison used her Twitter account to promote the event, which she described as “Bradon & I on a livestream talking about the far left takeover of the Democratic Party in Washington.

Davison embraced radical Republican positions during her run for lieutenant governor as well. During the early days of COVID, she argued for “local control” over mask requirements, railed against “cancel culture and Marxism,” trashed the centrist Washington Women’s Caucus as “extreme far-left” because they did not endorse her, and referred to Democrats as “Socialists” for waiving bar exam requirements for law students during the COVID crisis.

During a 2020 legislative debate over whether to require comprehensive sex education in Washington state’s public schools, Davison relentlessly promoted a far-right disinformation campaign against the bill, joining a nationwide right-wing effort to mischaracterize the legislation as an attempt to teach five-year-olds about sex using “graphic photos and descriptions of sexuality and sexual acts.” During the same period, she also promoted a conspiracy theory about homeless people being a “COVID threat” to housed people promoted by right-wing radio personality Jason Antebi (“Rantz”), frequently tagged far-right Youtube pundit Ben Shapiro and his outlet, the Daily Wire, and began regularly adding the hashtag “#republican” to her tweets and touting her support from Republican elected officials and pundits from across the state.

Perhaps more noteworthy for a city attorney candidate, Davison’s social media history shows her embracing Seattle Police Officer Guild President Mike Solan. Solan notoriously blamed the January 6th riots on the BLM movement, and publicly follows known white supremacists on social media. Davison, who posted a graphic of a Thin Blue Line flag at the height of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, featured Solan on her “After Homeschool” video series in May 2020. In the video, the two championed the reactionary statement that the “overwhelming majority of homeless people in Seattle choose that lifestyle.” 

Given her history of espousing right-wing talking points alongside conspiracy theorists, it’s not surprising that Davison has called state mask mandates an unfair “double standard” compared to the “lawless” existence of people living in homeless encampments.

Davison has portrayed herself as a centrist, middle-ground alternative to Thomas-Kennedy, but her own radical Twitter history suggests otherwise.

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.

In the Seattle Mayor’s Race, A Flawed Ad Raises Fair Questions

Mayoral candidate Bruce Harrell and his supporters have spent several days denouncing his opponent, city council member Lorena González, as “racist” because of an ad she ran featuring a white, female sexual assault survivor. In the ad, the woman—identified only as Caitlyn F.—says she could “never” support Harrell because he defended former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned amid allegations that he sexually assaulted young men, including Black boys, in the 1980s. The ad also notes allegations that Harrell advised a legal client to “discredit” women who raised allegations of sexual harassment at a Seattle nonprofit he represented.

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best. On Tuesday, González conceded this point, pulling the ad and apologizing for centering a white sexual assault survivor instead of survivors of color.

Having said that: The allegations the ad alludes to are both substantive and well-documented. That Harrell questioned whether Murray should be “judged” for “maybe” assaulting his own foster children is not in dispute. Nor is the fact that several of Murray’s alleged victims were young Black men, including one who died of suicide in 2018.

Here is what Harrell had to say on July 17, 2017, hours after González became the first Seattle elected official to call for Murray’s resignation: “The people of Seattle … did not ask us to judge anyone for something that happened 33 years ago or that maybe didn’t happen. We just don’t know. And I would ask that I don’t want to be judged for anything 33 years ago.” Addressing his council colleagues, he continued. “And I would challenge any of you to think about where you were 33 years ago. The question is, are you doing your job right now?”

Harrell has repeatedly evaded questions about his decision to make a public statement supporting Murray when the allegations came to light. (He eventually joined the rest of the council in calling for Murray to resign.) When Real Change asked him why he defended Murray, he said he didn’t. “I never defended Ed Murray,” Harrell told the paper. “I stated the facts.”

Given the long history of racist attacks on Black men in America, including vile, centuries-old tropes about Black men preying on white women, having a white woman issue this criticism of Harrell was profoundly tone deaf, at best.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations made by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club. (The club does not allow women as members but does hire them as waitresses.)

When the city’s Office of Labor Standards began looking into the wage theft allegations, Harrell contacted the city employee who was investigating the case, Daron Williams, to remind him that the council and mayor had the power to cut OLS’ budget. According to Williams’ contemporaneous notes, Harrell also mentioned that the current mayor, Jenny Durkan, was a supporter of the club, complained about the fact that Williams, who had been on vacation, did not immediately respond to his call, and demanded to know who had initiated the investigation.

Harrell alluded twice in city council meetings to OLS’ “horrible” treatment of an organization currently under investigation in his district, presumably the Royal Esquire Club, and sought to add $50,000 to the city’s annual budget for a survey of businesses about how the office had treated them. (OLS investigates claims against businesses, including claims of wage theft, so the likely result of such a survey would be a negative review of OLS.)

According to the eventual settlement, the club had to pay the women about $12,000 in back wages and fines.

In addition to Harrell’s supporters, a number of local right-wing pundits (including FOX’s Brandi Kruse and KTTH Radio’s Jason Rantz) have gleefully seized on the ad, using it as another opportunity to discredit González, a frequent target.  Meanwhile, the Seattle Times, which has endorsed Harrell, ran a story on the controversy that dutifully parroted Harrell’s claim that the entire Black community in Seattle is united in outrage on his behalf—an insulting oversimplification that is as exploitative as it is inaccurate.

One incident the ad doesn’t mention happened in 2018, when Harrell—then city council president—attempted to intervene in a city investigation into wage theft allegations by five women who worked at a Black men’s social club where he serves as chairman, the Royal Esquire Club, telling the investigator that he had the power to cut their budget.

In general, attack ads provide the opposite of useful information; they’re designed to stir emotion while drawing contrasts, all in the space of 20 to 30 seconds. But the fact that Seattle’s largely white pundit class has spent several days talking among themselves about whether one of two mayoral candidates of color, (a first in Seattle) is “racist” represents a win for Harrell, who continues to evade important questions, including one posed by González’ flawed ad: Why did Harrell support Murray for so long—long after many of his colleagues had demanded his resignation, and what does that say about his judgment?

Why is Harrell’s donor list dominated by big real-estate and corporate interests, including Trump’s largest Washington State donor, and are these the people who will have his ear as mayor?

And, if elected, will Harrell listen to advocates who happen to support different policies than he does (those who disagree with Harrell’s commitment to expand the police force and double down on encampment sweeps, for example)? Or will he continue to respond to substantive criticism by attacking, evading, and shutting critics down?

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.

Election Mega-Fizz: Hostile Architecture, Race, Misleading Ads, a “Not Qualified” Rating, and More!

1. At a debate sponsored by Rainier Valley Radio, Converge Media and the South Seattle Emerald on Wednesday, Sara Nelson, a candidate for City Council Position 9, ran out the clock on a question from her opponent about why her business, Fremont Brewing, has placed concrete “eco-blocks” in the public right-of-way around their brewing facility in Ballard.

Oliver asked Nelson why, as the candidate in the race who wants to prosecute misdemeanors like “stealing food,” she thought it was fine to violate the law against obstructing public streets. (As we’ve reported, it’s illegal to place obstructions like eco-blocks in public spaces, but the city says the law is difficult to enforce.) Nelson responded by protesting that she doesn’t consider herself the “law-and-order” candidate, but “a public safety person,” and said that the misdemeanors she wants to prosecute “are not small crimes, especially when they are repeated over and over again.” The clock ran out just as Nelson started responding to Oliver’s question.

Meanwhile, the eco-blocks around the brewing facility Nelson owns remain in place, and several more have been placed directly on the grassy planting strips nearby, another unambiguous violation of the law.

Next to Fremont Brewing, ecology blocks in the public right-of-way extend right up to a stop sign.

2. Voters across the city have received mailers from Nelson that not-so-subtly suggest broad support among Black leaders and other people of color, featuring five people of color (three of them Black, two Asian American) and no white supporters.

Nelson, who is white and lives in North Seattle, has made a number of controversial statements about what “the Black community” wants, suggesting during a September forum, for example, that the Black and brown people she has talked to “don’t want no police… they want better police.”

Oliver called that a “very racist” statement, adding, “to say Black and brown people don’t want a world beyond prisons and police, because you can name three that have endorsed your campaign, is making us into a monolith. We’re not.”

Of the five people of color featured on Nelson’s latest mailer, three are identified: Former Gov. Gary Locke, SPD Community Advisory Council leader Victoria Beach, and Harriett Walden, the longest-tenured chair of the Community Police Commission. The two unidentified supporters—an Asian American woman and a Black man featured in a stock “talking to community members” photo—are longtime Vulcan external affairs director Pearl Leung, who now works at Amazon, and her husband James Parker, an actor.

3. Several business and developer groups that previously supported King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert, who was removed from her leadership roles on the council after sending out a racist mailer that portrayed one of her colleagues, Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, as a bow-tie-wearing “Seattle socialist”—have quietly joined the Seattle Times in dropping their endorsements for Lambert.

The Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties tweeted on October 8 that their political arm, the Affordable Housing Council, had rescinded their endorsement and was requesting a refund of their contribution ($2,000, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission) to Lambert’s campaign. The account, @MBAKS_Voice, has 749 followers.

The endorsing body for the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, the Eastside Business Association, also rescinded their endorsement of Lambert, EBA executive director Caitlyn Gallagher confirmed.

And the Associated General Contractors of Washington no longer lists Lambert on their endorsements website. (The AGC did not respond to a request for comment.) The AGC’s political action committee, BUILD PAC, contributed $1,000 to Lambert’s campaign in March.

4. This week, half the front page of the Seattle Times’ website was taken up by an enormous flashing ad calling city attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy “reckless and extreme” because of tweets she posted during the June 2020 protests against police violence. The ad included a quote from “The Seattle Times” saying that Thomas-Kennedy’s “toxic tweets” show she is “unfit to be Seattle City Attorney,” omitting the fact that the quote is from the Times’ editorial board, not its news reporting. More egregiously, the ad did not include legally information identifying who paid for the ad—in this case, big corporate donors including Vulcan, the president of Microsoft, and the head of Goodman Real Estate.

The Times has endorsed Thomas-Kennedy’s opponent, Ann Davison.

State law requires independent expenditure groups that purchase ads, including online ads, to clearly identify the top five donors behind the campaign. The anti-Thomas-Kennedy ad did not list any donors; instead, in tiny white-on-black print, one of the flashing panels said the campaign was purchased by “Seattle for Common Sense.”

After I posted the ad on Twitter, someone filed a complaint with the State Public Disclosure Commission, charging that the ad violated state disclosure law by failing to include the contributors. In the meantime, about half an hour after my initial tweet, a new version of the ad appeared on the Seattle Times’ website, now including a list of the campaign’s top donors, if an outdated one (it excluded Microsoft president Brad Smith and developer Jon Runstad).

The responsibility for ensuring that ads don’t run afoul of the law is shared by campaigns and the companies that choose to publish or run them. Kim Bradford, deputy director of the PDC, says the fact that the ad was eventually fixed does not mean the agency won’t investigate. “We open a case if we think there’s something there and there’s enough evidence of a potential violation,” Bradford said. The PDC does allow an exemption to disclosure on the ad itself for “small” online ads, which Bradford defined as “the small embedded ads that you see on some websites—the ones that are kind of within the text.” It’s unlikely that a flashing ad that takes up half the front page of a website when viewed on a browser would qualify as a small ad.

The Times has a history of bending the rules to promote Republican candidates and causes. In 2012, the newspaper donated a full page of the newspaper to gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, the equivalent of an $80,000 contribution. The unprecedented decision to contribute free advertising to a partisan candidate made national news, and more than 100 Times employees protested the paper’s funding of McKenna’s campaign.

5. The Washington Coalition of Minority Legal Professionals—a coalition of state bar associations including the Loren Miller Bar Association (representing Black lawyers), Washington Women Lawyers, QLaw (representing LGBTQ+ lawyers), and several Asian American bar associations—has given Davison an “unqualified” rating. According to the group, their ratings reflect “our nonpartisan assessment whether a candidate will be effective in office, will serve the interests of the community and society, and is committed to the fair administration of justice and improvement of the criminal justice system from the perspective of the participating minority bar associations.”

One factor in the coalition’s ratings were the candidates’ answers to a standard questionnaire, which included questions like “how will you engage with communities of color?” and “as city attorney, how will you engage with tribal governments?”

In response to a question about whether “you or the organizations you have been a part of have contributed to white supremacy and/or the devaluation of the lives of Black and Indigenous persons or other persons of color,” Davison had this to say:

“I have spent most of my life working to help people in need. In my youth I worked in a refugee camp for people fleeing terrible violence from civil war and at a congressional office where I helped underserved people get access to services they needed. I currently serve on a board that gives housing and support to people in severe mental health and addiction. While my time working in professional sports, often as the only woman in an office of wealthy men of various races, was much less altruistic, it was still a position of service.”

The group gave Davison’s opponent Thomas-Kennedy a rating of “adequate.”