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”→
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.
When public defender Nicole Thomas-Kennedy decided to run for city attorney in May, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, one fueled by her frustration that there were no candidates in the race who believed that the current criminal legal system is not just flawed but broken.
Thomas-Kennedy didn’t expect to end up with more votes than incumbent Pete Holmes, or that she’d be facing off against Ann Davison, a three-time candidate who joined the Republican Party during the Trump administration and whose spotty record as an attorney dried up around 2010. Davison ran for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket, led by far-right conspiracy theorist and gubernatorial candidate Loren Culp, in 2020, after running for Seattle City Council the previous year with a platform that included plans to confine unhoused people in large warehouses.
Now, the unabashed abolitionist—Thomas-Kennedy argues that we can eliminate the need for police and prisons by “developing programs and support systems for our communities to decrease the need for police”— is in the spotlight. Critics, including some former elected officials and the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board, have created a cartoon version of the candidate, claiming she wants to unlock jail doors and end all criminal prosecutions. Cable news, social media, and—again—the Seattle Times’ ill-informed editorial board have also shown an almost pathological obsession with tweets Thomas-Kennedy posted during the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, turning them into endless #content while soft-pedaling Davison’s hard-right views and her lack of qualifications.
The tweets, which cheered property destruction and violence against cops, look bad when taken out of the larger context in which they were posted (the 2020 protests against police violence; Twitter) and splashed across cable-news websites and Facebook feeds; if they were someone’s campaign platform, they would be disqualifying. But they aren’t a political platform; they’re tweets —tweets expressing a growing mainstream consensus in the summer of 2020 that the criminal justice system was beyond repair.
Nonetheless, the tweets seem to be all anybody wants to talk about. That’s a shame, because Thomas-Kennedy’s plan for the Seattle City Attorney’s Office is far more nuanced and thoughtful than the hysterical headlines suggest. Those who say they disagree with her ideas should be willing to actually listen to what they are.
PubliCola sat down with Thomas-Kennedy last week. We talked briefly about the tweets before jumping into her plans for the city attorney’s office, what it means to stop prosecuting misdemeanors, and how she would defend legislation that she personally finds abhorrent.
PubliCola: Can you tell me a bit about where your mind was at when you were posting on Twitter in June 2020? I know was a time of really heightened emotions.
Nicole Thomas-Kennedy: I was outraged. People went out to protest racist policing and the Seattle Police Department responded with a level of retaliation that I was not expecting, including tear-gassing the neighborhood I live in 11 times. And, you know, I had to buy a gas mask for my nine-year-old daughter. And, yeah, I was really upset, and I feel like I had every right to be. They’re not private citizens, they’re out here as a group, making these decisions that affect other people—that kill people. I remember the guy that called into the city council meeting saying, “My infant was foaming at the mouth from tear gas,” and it kept happening. So that’s kind of where my head was.
PC: What has the fallout been like for you in the campaign and how has it impacted your ability to focus on the issues in your race?
NTK: Initially, we were just like, “This is dumb.” Like, let’s not give any heat to this. But it’s just being pushed so heavily now that I have had to address it in the media, which to me is just an utter waste of time. Because my opponent is so deeply unqualified for this role and doesn’t understand what the job is. And my platform is backed by evidence, by stuff that’s happened in other places that have shown to be effective. We’re all, I think, pretty aware of the fact that mass incarceration is a failed social experiment. And we are not the safest country in the world even though we lock up the most people.
“At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, ‘I don’t want to do that.'”
I’m here to make things better. And if people have to hate me for it, then I’m fine with that. And the unfortunate thing about the tweets is that it gave [Davison’s supporters] something to distract with. I think that’s the worst part, because I do think that my knowledge, my plan is very tight. I’m specific about what I’m going to do. I know what needs to happen, and it’s really hard to speak back to that. I mean, my opponent really doesn’t talk in specifics, ever.
PC: If you win, what are your top priorities for your first weeks and months in office? Do you plan to shake things up at the office itself?
NTK: I’m going to leave the civil division largely as it is. I do think Pete was doing a great job in the civil division defending the JumpStart tax and [prosecuting] the lawsuits against Monsanto over polluting the Duwamish. I would like to call in a couple progressive, more aggressive lawyers over there. But I don’t intend to make huge changes over there because it is working.
In the criminal division, I’m going to come in with my policies laid out: This is how they’re going to be implemented, this is how we’re going to do things from now on. There’s a huge backlog of cases, which is I think a great opportunity to really turn the corner with how we’re doing things, prosecution-wise.
I anticipate having maybe one or two more attorneys making the direct decisions about which cases to file, because my policy on filing is going to be much more nuanced. It’s not just going to be like a prosecute-or-not type situation. And then also, what can we do to make sure [unnecessary prosecutions aren’t] happening again moving forward? Because, you know, putting somebody to jail for sleeping under an awning doesn’t make them less likely to need to sleep under an awning.
PC: Are you concerned that there’s going to be a brain drain, either on the civil or the side? A lot of people who have worked for Pete for a long time are leaving, because they have concerns if you win, and they have concerns if Ann wins.
NTK: On the civil side, I think that’s a much bigger danger, just because there is a lot of institutional knowledge there. So one of the responsibilities that I will have going in, if I get elected, is to start talking to people in the civil division and letting them know that I want the work that they’re doing to continue and to see if they will stay under me.
In the criminal division, I’m not so concerned about that because there is no shortage of lawyers that want to do things the way that I am proposing. And because it is pretty different than what they’re doing now, I do anticipate a lot of people leaving. But there’s a lot of lawyers in this town that have reached out to me that would want to work in that division.
PC: If you have a mayor and potentially a city council who are proposing and passing laws that you personally consider abhorrent, are you going to be able to defend those laws, or would you feel the need to farm that work out to private attorneys?
NTK: I think that the city attorney has to work with the council and the mayor to craft defensible legislation and defensible policy. So that would be the role of the city attorney—not necessarily directing where policy should go or how it should go, but really making it as defensible as possible.
PC: What if someone living in their car sued to strike down the law requiring people to move their vehicles every 72 hours and you had to defend that law. How would you go about doing that?
NTK: Unfortunately, I think that’s part of the job. I was a public defender, and I did not agree with everything that my clients were accusing doing, yet I was their defense attorney. I don’t see it as any different than that. At the end of the day, the job is to be the defender for the city of Seattle. And so if there are elected officials that make these crappy laws, I don’t really get to say, “I don’t want to do that.”
“The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety.”
I do think that a bigger issue is implementation. So when it comes to the criminal realm, it’s not like a prosecutor files every time a law is broken. We know that only some people are criminalized. There is a recognition within the criminal system that it would be impossible to prosecute every single person for everything. So I would have to probably defend the legitimacy of the law, but if it’s a criminal matter, that doesn’t mean it has to be enforced.
PC: On the flip side, the city attorney can push an agenda from within their limited scope, and they can help the mayor and the council draft laws that reflect the city’s values. What kind of legislation would you be excited to work on and defend?
NTK: I’m really excited to defend the JumpStart tax and fair housing—all of our tenant protections. I’m really excited about that, which why I think the developers are really angry at me. Any sort of progressive revenue would be the thing that I would be most excited about, along with anything related to climate change. I think those two things are really intertwined in a lot of ways, because climate change is here, and we’re going to need revenue to deal with and to survive this crisis.
PC: How would you approach criminal prosecutions against people accused of misdemeanors? Is your plan to stop prosecuting certain laws on day one, and how realistic is that, given how slow the city has been to fund things like alternatives to arrest and prosecution?
NTK: The goal is to end misdemeanor prosecution. Do I think that I can get there in four years? I don’t know. I don’t know if it can happen in eight, 12 years. But that is the goal, because ultimately what we know is a lot of the prosecutions don’t result in actual repair or safety. I mean, prostitution—I’m never, ever going to prosecute that. Drug possession—not gonna prosecute that either. But for most things, it’s going to take a really nuanced approach to see what is really going on. Sometimes people think of criminal cases as if they’re really this very straightforward thing, and it never, ever is. And so that’s why I’m really hesitant to say that there are specific crimes that I wouldn’t prosecute, because there’s always going to be some weird fact pattern out there. Continue reading “PubliCola Questions: Nicole Thomas-Kennedy”→
1. The Human Services Department’s HOPE Team, a group that coordinates outreach by social-services groups like REACH, has begun showing up at a controversial encampment near Broadview Thomson K-8 School after months of deliberate inaction from the city—a sign, advocates and encampment residents fear, that the city is preparing to sweep the area.
For months, Mayor Jenny Durkan has maintained that the city bears no responsibility for helping the dozens of people living at the encampment, which is on school district-owned property along the shore of Bitter Lake in North Seattle. Earlier this year, Durkan said the school district should establish its own human services system to provide services and housing for the people living there, using district “reserves” to pay for it.
Once the district missed its self-imposed deadline of September 1 to move people off the property, however, the city changed its tune, sending HOPE Team members into the encampment to “do an assessment of the needs of the current residents of the encampment and identify the resources needed to permanently address the encampment,” according to HSD spokesman Kevin Mundt.
Mike Mathias, an outreach worker who has been on site at the encampment with his organization, Anything Helps, for months, says the sudden presence of city outreach workers has “freaked out” a lot of people at the encampment, leading to more disruptive behavior and residents giving out false information to the new, unfamiliar outreach staff. “Our whole goal was to be on site so that if outreach teams wanted to collaborate, they could come up or call us and we could give them warm introductions to people,” Mathias said. “Instead, the city keeps sending people without any notice, and it’s frightening for people.”
The city is reportedly about to stop referring new clients to the two hotels it has leased through next year, leaving rooms vacant as people leave, so the only options available to encampment residents are existing shelters and tiny house villages, which fill up quickly.
Mathias says the city has told him flatly that encampment residents will have to move into congregate shelters, rather than hotel rooms, while they wait for housing resources to come through. (Mathias is trying to sign most of the residents up for the Housing and Essential Needs program, subsidized housing for low-income people with disabilities, but it’s a slow process.) “Our priority [now] is ensuring that people can stay together and that they don’t go to congregate settings,” Mathias said. “That’s just not going to happen not here.”
Ideally, Mathias said, the city would open rooms in the two hotels it has reserved for people referred by the HOPE Team for residents of the Bitter Lake encampment. Originally, the hotels were supposed to serve as temporary housing for unsheltered people who would be moved quickly into permanent spots using “rapid rehousing” subsidies, so that each room could shelter multiple people over the life of the hotel contracts, which are supposed to start ramping down early next year.
However, not only did that optimistic scenario fall flat, the city currently plans to stop referring new clients to the hotels as soon as mid-October, PubliCola has learned, leaving rooms vacant as people leave. (HSD spokesman Kevin Mundt told PubliCola after this article was posted that the city has not picked a specific date to stop taking new referrals to the hotels.) This would mean that the only options available to encampment residents are existing shelters, which many people experiencing homelessness avoid, and tiny house villages, which fill up quickly. The contracts the city has signed with hotel service providers say that they will begin decommissioning the hotels at the end of this year.
Mundt, from HSD, says it is not true that the city has decided to stop referring people to its two hotels sooner than stipulated in the contract. If such a decision was made informally, the city could change its mind without requiring changes to the contract itself.
According to Mundt, the city now plans to offer encampment residents “resources” including “diversion, rental assistance, new and existing shelter, and permanent housing from combined resources of [Seattle Public Schools], City, and County.” In an internal presentation about the encampment, the city said it hopes to have everyone off the site by October 14.
2. Ann Davison, who ran for lieutenant governor last year on the Republican ticket (her platform: Abolish the office of the lieutenant governor), has touted her experience as an attorney and arbitrator working on “civil litigation, immigration, sports, contracts and business transactions,” according to her campaign website. But a review of court records in King and Snohomish Counties suggests Davison has represented clients in the Puget Sound region in just a handful of court cases, none of them after 2010.
Specifically, Davison (also known as Ann Sattler) has represented clients in five King County cases—four cases involving people’s wills, one business dispute that ended in a settlement, and one case involving unpaid commercial rent. Sattler’s most recent case in King County was in 2010.
The city attorney’s office does not primarily prosecute crimes (the sort of major and violent crimes Davison has talked about in her campaign literature are the province of the King County Prosecutor, not the city attorney), but it is constantly involved in litigation—defending legislation the city has passed, defending the city and city officials against lawsuits by outside parties, and enforcing civil laws like environmental regulations. Although the only strict requirement to run as city attorney is being an attorney, a lack of courtroom experience could be a serious impediment for doing the day-to-day work of running the office’s civil and criminal divisions.