By Erica C. Barnett
The 2023 election will dramatically reshape the Seattle City Council. Four council members are not seeking reelection, while a fifth, Teresa Mosqueda, is running for King County Council and will be replaced by an appointee if she wins. Even if all three of the incumbents who are running win reelection, the council will probably have at least five new members next year—a new majority of freshmen on a council whose most experienced members will, at most, be entering their second terms. If all eight seats turn over, it would make Sara Nelson, an at-large council member who started her first term last year, the most senior member of the council.
Debates over issues and ideology are understandably front and center in campaigns. But with eight of nine council seats up for grabs, I want to focus for a moment on an often overlooked question that impacts how the city council makes decisions and functions on a daily basis: Can these people work together? Among the current council, the answer is frequently no. At best, there’s a sense that council members aren’t talking to each other outside public meetings, which are still largely virtual. At worst, the hostility bursts out into the open—as it has during this election, when one council member, Sara Nelson, is actively campaigning against three of her incumbent colleagues.
In this setting, five—and up to eight—new council members could provide a needed reset and eliminate some of the bad blood that has built up over the past several years.
Less optimistically, an inexperienced council could leave Mayor Bruce Harrell’s exercise of executive power unchecked, allowing the mayor to push through any number of priorities that the current council has shot down—like raiding the JumpStart payroll tax, which is supposed to be spend on housing and equitable development, to pay for general city obligations.
The next council will have to get up to speed fast, because they’ll soon face challenges that are only growing in scope—from homelessness, gun violence, and addiction to a looming $250 million budget deficit that will require tough decisions and could mean significant service cuts.
To get a better sense of how council incumbents, challengers, and first-time candidates would tackle these challenges, PubliCola spoke with 10 of the 14 council candidates, representing every council district.
Two candidates—Rob Saka in District 1 and Tanya Woo in District 2—ignored our emailed requests to sit down for an interview and did not follow up after I asked again in person. One candidate, District 3’s Joy Hollingsworth, set up an interview but then canceled, and did not respond to my request to reschedule. Maritza Rivera, running in District 4, would not sit down for an interview but did provide emailed responses to written questions. And Cathy Moore, in District 5, declined my request in an email.
The number of candidates who declined, canceled, or ignored our requests for an interview is unusual. While PubliCola isn’t shy about expressing our views on issues, that has rarely been an impediment to dialogue in the past. These candidates’ refusal to sit down for an in-depth conversation about the issues they will have to address if elected could bode poorly for transparency on the new council; in our experience, candidates who refuse to talk to members of the press they perceive as critical rarely become more tolerant of tough questions under the pressure of public office.
I’ll be rolling out interviews with the council candidates in every race over the next two weeks. I hope readers will learn more about the candidates from these in-depth conversations and use them to inform your vote. Ballots go out on October 18.
Today’s interview is with Fremont Chamber of Commerce director Pete Hanning, who’s challenging Councilmember Dan Strauss in District 6 (northwest Seattle, west Magnolia). For 20 years, Hanning owned the Red Door, a bar in Fremont; he’s also a longtime member of the Fremont Neighborhood Council.
PubliCola [ECB]: On my way [to Lighthouse Roasters], I passed a ‘Defund Dan’ sign on Phinney Ridge. Was that yours?
Pete Hanning [PH]: It was!
ECB: Are you saying people should vote against Strauss because of his vote in 2020 to cut funding for the police, and is that a fair characterization, given that he has since clarified his position and called that vote a mistake?
PH: ‘Defund Dan’ is more an acknowledgement of how he has flip-flopped on the issue, saying he was for police and police hiring, and then he was for defunding. Now, he’s saying, ‘Oh, I have great relationships [with police].’ I think it’s indicative of his lack of leadership in a really important area.
If he was really strongly for standing up a third [first responder] agency, if he had real ideas about what that would look like and how that would make us a safer community, that would be great. But all he talks about is money. That’s not the only resource that we’re talking about here. We’re also talking about a relationship that needs to be rebuilt on both sides, between law enforcement and the city, and the city council in particular. I have a strong intention to rebuild that relationship with law enforcement so that they know that they are part of the solution, that they are respected, that we understand their role, and that we support them as best we can—while, at the same time, understanding that they have to be both reflective of our community, and also have work to do on their end to make sure that they really are being the civil servants we have.
“Jail is the least preferable outcome for many situations. But it has to be one of the options, to really put some tension on those diversionary opportunities for people. Fentanyl is a different kind of drug. It’s a poison in our community. And I’m really concerned that we don’t have mechanisms to really encourage people to seek treatment, and we’re just allowing them to stay in that cycle.”
ECB: There have been some very high-profile incidents recently where police were caught behaving abhorrently. So when you’re talking about repairing relationships, it sounds like you’re saying that’s the city and council’s responsibility, and not the responsibility of police to fix the culture of the department.
PH: Any relationship has multiple sides. But we have to find a way forward, I strongly believe that we want and need healthy law enforcement to be part of our solution.
The police department is a reflection of our culture, and us as a totality. It is not us versus them in any situation. It is us versus us. And one of the things I’ve been really noticing, as I’ve run for city council, is that we are so polarized in almost every issue. There is this desire for purity, whether we’re talking about environmental issues, the trees, our response to homelessness and addiction, or reforming our police and criminal justice systems.
ECB: Can you give me a concrete example of a law-enforcement policy that you would support that Councilmember Strauss does not support?
PH: I believe that we need to be able to know when our officers are using—when they are struggling with substance use. We know in the general public what the percentages are. And we know that when you work in stressful jobs, certain substances are abused even more. We have a right to know and we should want to know, because a they have a job in which they have a legal firearm, and they are in positions where really difficult decisions have to be made in a snap of the fingers. And I also am concerned about their own internal culture—I want a police force that’s healthy and whole. [Police] Chief [Adrian] Diaz talks a lot how we should always be making sure that we are putting the tools in place. One of those is making sure that people know addiction is not a crime, and it is treatable. And we need to know when those officers are struggling.
ECB: You mentioned the SPOG contract. The Seattle City Council doesn’t have that much direct say over it, but they are responsible for laying out their priorities and passing legislation that can guide the terms of the contract itself. Are there any must-haves for you in the next contract?
PH: I think the must-have is we have to a respect their right to be able to collectively bargain. They need to be working under a contract for them to change their culture. They also have to have some of that protection. And so this is a two-way street where neither side is going to get everything they want. It’s kind of analogous in a different way to the Missing Link [the long-delayed bike lane connection along the Burke-Gilman trail in Ballard]. We’ve wasted too much time. The continuation of not having them under contract really causes more harm in our community. [Editor’s note: The Seattle police are under contract; it’s just the contract signed in 2018, which still applies during contract negotiations.]
ECB: The drug criminalization law that just passed gives the police more new responsibilities, like enforcing the new law, directing people to diversion programs, and deciding whether people pose a risk to themselves or others. How do you think the police should implement the law, and what kind of diversion programs do you support?
PH: Jail is the least preferable outcome for many situations. But it has to be one of the options, to really put some tension on those diversionary opportunities for people. Fentanyl is a different kind of drug. It’s a poison in our community. And I’m really concerned that we don’t have mechanisms to really encourage people to seek treatment, and we’re just allowing them to stay in that cycle. I am not a proponent of arresting people who are suffering from drug addiction. That’s not going to solve anything. The police officers themselves recognize that, nor do they want to be doing that.
If you and I were to go down to Leary Way and be around those encampments, it’s pretty quickly apparent the vast majority of these people need our help and services. And then one or two of those vans, RVs, or tents—those people aren’t in crisis. They’re the ones who are perpetrating the crime on our most vulnerable and keeping them in this cycle of addiction. We should put more emphasis on them. And we have to be supportive not just of law enforcement but we have to make sure that all the systems along that pathway are also in line and they all understand that our goal is to heal people and to get them back into community. And that so that’s the prosecutor, whether it’s the city attorney or the King County Prosecutor, it’s the courts, and it’s jail or diversionary programs, and treatment.
And then those folks who are selling the fentanyl, that is typically not the only crime in which you’re engaging. You’re forcing people into sex work, you’re fencing stolen goods, and that puts pressure on our businesses that are being shoplifted at such a high rates. We have to start holding folks accountable for criminal activity. Because it is affecting not just the businesses—it affects my pocketbook. It impacts our feeling of safety in the community. It affects how people feel our government is being responsive or not responsive to what’s happening. And so we definitely have a responsibility to prosecute those kinds of crimes.
ECB: I have another example. There was an incident recently where a man experiencing a mental-health crisis, someone who is well-known to social service providers and police, chopped down a tree in Ballard and dragged it down the street. Do you think he should have been arrested?
PH: Yes. And then hopefully get treatment. I think that we should look at the tools we have around involuntary confinement in our community. Because it’s not just him who’s in crisis, he’s creating a crisis for the community. We have more and more people who are really affecting our community negatively and also hurting themselves or cannot make healthy decisions to be in community.
ECB: In District 4, particularly along and adjacent to Leary Way, businesses have illegally placed hundreds of concrete “eco-blocks” in public parking areas to prevent people living in RVs from parking there. Do you see this as a problem, and if not, why not?
PH: Eco-blocks are an issue. But they are way down the list compared to the bigger issues that we have in our community. And they are a desperate last response from somebody that recognizes that [RVs] affect the ability of their neighbors or their clients to park in the area. They are a desperate plea for help. The city [should say], ‘Okay, wherever the eco-blocks are, that’s we’re going to put the most amount of our attention, because that’s where the most issues are popping up.’
“The city of Seattle’s putting in plenty of money [to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority]. It’s the other cities that aren’t putting enough money in, if any, and that’s bullshit. And if there’s anything that the council can do, it is to say ‘bullshit’ to all those other cities. Step up, put the money in, because if they did, then we would have more resources to work with.
ECB: The King County Regional Homelessness Authority has experienced a number of major setbacks recently, including the end of the Partnership for Zero program downtown and the departure of its founding CEO. Do you believe the KCRHA can be successful, and if so, what are some steps you would take as a council member to get the agency back on the right track?
PH: I feel very strongly that we need to continue to support [the KCRHA]. I think it is the right approach, to look at it regionally. Standing up a new agency is hard, especially in a culture right now where we have such distrust of any kind of institution. But the piece I think is most important is that the city of Seattle’s putting in plenty of money. It’s the other cities that aren’t putting enough money in, if any, and that’s bullshit. And if there’s anything that the council can do, it is to say ‘bullshit’ to all those other cities. Step up, put the money in, because if they did, then we would have more resources to work with.
I’m also so thankful that the state took up housing [by passing legislation to allow more housing statewide] last year, because Seattle took on more of the growth than we should have. The growth should have been more regional. The other cities had a responsibility to allow for more density in their cities, and finally, this is putting some pressure on them as well.
ECB: You’re saying that every community in the state could use more housing. But people are moving to Seattle no matter what. Do you support adding more density in the city’s comprehensive plan, and what do you think of the unofficial Option 6, which would add more housing everywhere?
PH: I do support more density everywhere, because we all have a shared responsibility accept more of the change and growth. And the more we try to limit it to certain areas, the more the forced tension happens, when we could actually say, okay, we all are going to accommodate far more growth. That way, one community isn’t affected at such a high rate.
The reason the districts changed so drastically [in the recent redistricting process] was because in District 7, South Lake Union and downtown grew precipitously faster than anything else. So D7 had to shrink, and D4 and D3 shrunk. And so I’m concerned that if we don’t spread that out, we’ll start creating these different cultural neighborhoods in a way that we’ve never had before, where the people who live there, the way they view how government should be responsive is so different. And you know, Seattle is young right now—our median age is 35—and we have, just barely, a majority of renters. That’s not bad, it’s just new. It means that our city needs to be reflective and responsive to change.
ECB: Do we need a new progressive tax in the city to fund some of the stuff that we’re talking about, like more housing in Seattle?
PH: We have a lot of continuations of initiatives and levies that are okay. I’m supportive of the housing levy that will be on the ballot this year. Next year will be the renewal of the Move [Seattle] levy. I don’t think that currently, we are in a place where we should be looking at more taxes.
ECB: The mayor has put a lot of attention downtown. As a Fremont neighborhood advocate, do you feel like the city is neglecting other neighborhoods?
PH: Mayor [Ed] Murray tried to kill the neighborhood councils. Guess what? It didn’t work. They’re still vibrant. But where we let down our communities is that he took away those liaisons from the Department of Neighborhoods who went to the meetings. We need to restore those. We can do that while also not taking away attention from downtown.
Murray said the neighborhood councils were not reflective of the community as a whole. And he was right. They were primarily white retirees, older folks, homeowners. As someone who was on the board of the Fremont Neighborhood Council back when I was a renter, in my late 20s, we have always struggled with that. This is something where all our neighborhood groups struggle. How do we encourage more participation? Are there other groups that we can also add to this table? I feel very strongly that we need to revitalize that put and put more energy into it.