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The 2019 Seattle City Council Candidates: Debora Juarez

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This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez. Juarez, a former public defender and pro tem Seattle Municipal Court judge, has served on the council since 2015, and has developed a reputation as a blunt-spoken, fierce advocate for her district. We sat down the same week that a conversation about criminal-justice funding devolved into a debate about why women become sex workers, and we started our conversation talking about that.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): A recent conversation about whether to expand the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program went off the rails when the deputy police chief, Mark Garth Green, said some women who engage in sex work aren’t good candidates for LEAD because “aren’t necessarily substance abusers” and do sex work for fun. Unlike your colleagues Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez, you didn’t make any comments during that discussion, so I wanted to ask you what your reaction was.

Debora Juarez (DJ): My reaction was the same as council member Mosqueda and council member [Sally] Bagshaw. We still have this misunderstanding about what sex workers and trafficking, and that it isn’t a victimless crime. They are victims. I’m not outraged. I’m more afraid that if that is what frontline officers think, that affects their ability and their discretion in how they do their jobs. So it could’ve been any officer sitting there saying that. And I’ve heard that [sort of talk] when I was a public defender and a judge.

ECB: It seemed like the larger context that got lost in that discussion was the discussion about whether offering sex workers access to LEAD would be a more effective approach than SPD’s new policy of arresting women on Aurora Ave. And what SPD and the mayor’s office seemed to be saying that there are some people for whom LEAD just doesn’t work. What do you think of that?

“LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. We had the same arguments then. ‘You’re enabling;’ ‘Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.’ Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.”

DJ: There is some truth that LEAD doesn’t work for everybody, but I would say overall, it does work if you have a bed ready. If you have somewhere safe for them to go, it does work. And I hate to get into this whole patriarchy thing, but you really need some women in leadership that understand it from a DNA level that sometimes [sex work] is [women’s] last way to take care of themselves. And I would say the majority of women are amenable to LEAD.

ECB: So you think that LEAD needs to be expanded?

DJ: There’s no doubt. I think everyone agrees that it works, that it should be expanded, and that LEAD is just an example of a lot of do-no-harm philosophies that this city has embraced, [though] not in the beginning. I remember when I was a public defender and we started doing needle exchanges and everyone was mad. Now it’s normal stuff, right? We had the same arguments then. “You’re enabling.” “Drug addicts are going to come from everyone.” Well, that didn’t happen and now it’s [considered] a public health issue.

ECB: So do you think LEAD should be funded at the level they’re requesting, which would require an additional $4.8 million?

DJ: I think we just have to land on a number and I err on the side of more than less.

ECB: You’ve supported expanding the Navigation Team, even though a lot of what they do now is just removing encampments and telling people to move along. Do you think that the problem has gotten so bad that just clearing encampments is a worthwhile thing to be spending money on?

DJ: Yes, I do, because I think you have to do something. And I know people don’t want to hear this, but what I’ve seen, particularly in our district, [is that] you have 27 tents and not one person wants to accept services or housing. Or we have these tents and we know that they’re doing sex trafficking and selling drugs. My philosophy has been this: If somebody in Pinehurst is selling drugs out of their house, they should be arrested. If they’re selling drugs out of their tent, they should be arrested. That’s really what I think. We have to do something. Looking away from that issue isn’t good enough.

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ECB: When you say, ‘We’ve offered them all the services,’ I think that the counterargument would be that there aren’t enough treatment beds or even enhanced shelter beds available.

DJ: I’m physically out there [talking to people who refuse services]. I know what I saw. On the flip side, I have also seen where we have offered services and we’ve had success, mainly when we’ve people into enhanced shelters. That is more palatable [to people living in encampments], and that’s what we need more of. That’s been my big push.

ECB: Do you think the region needs more revenue to address homelessness, in addition to the new regional homelessness authority?

DJ: Yes, in a general sense. Absolutely. And in fact, my original thought six months ago was, I wanted them to also have a part in building housing, not just [providing] services. I wanted them to be able to assume debt and issue debt and actually build housing stock, along with the social service piece and the enhanced services piece. Maybe we can get to that point, because I think there’s a lot of for-profit and nonprofit developers that would feel more comfortable writing a check to a [Public Development Authority] than to the city of Seattle or the King County. That’s what I’m hearing from the private sector.

ECB: Would you be open to revisiting any of the recommendations that came out of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force, besides the head tax?

DJ: I wouldn’t;. I’m going to be candid with you on that. That was seven months of not our finest hour. You know, I wrote this memo deconstructing the progressive revenue task force’s report. My position had always been from the beginning that that should be a voter initiative and I wanted it on the ballot. I worked with Mayor Ed Murray when we were looking at imposing a tax, and then you saw what happened—he and the county executive [Dow Constantine] said the people are tax-weary [and dropped it]. It was ready to go, raising $52 million a year for five years.

I would have liked that kind of structure to have that kind of discussion with the head tax. Continue reading “The 2019 Seattle City Council Candidates: Debora Juarez”