Tag: Stephen Brown

Single-Issue City Attorney Backs Candidates Who Support Drug Prosecutions; District 1 Candidate Rob Saka Benefits from Bagel Mailers

1. In a last-minute endorsement (of sorts), Seattle City Attorney Ann Davison sent out a mass email on Saturday urging voters to support the city council candidates who have consistently supported legislation—which will almost certainly pass later this summer—that would empower her to prosecute drug users for simple possession and for using drugs, other than alcohol and marijuana, in public. The law would incorporate a new state law into city law, granting the city attorney the authortiy prosecute misdemeanor-level drug use and possession.

The letter painted an apocalyptic picture of the city where Davison serves as chief local prosecutor.

“Parents should be able to take their kids on the bus without inhaling plumes of fentanyl smoke. We all should be able to walk in our parks and sidewalks without stepping over needles and drug paraphernalia. We should be able to get to work without dodging a gauntlet of drug deals,” Davison wrote.

“Unfortunately, some members of City Council voted not to allow Seattle to adopt our new State law on drugs. For me to have authority to prosecute and intervene, the new state law must be put into our city code by City Council.”

Although Davison’s letter, sent from her campaign email address, claims the proposed law would empower her to “intervene” in drug users’ cycle of addiction, the law itself is silent on intervention and diversion. In reality, according to a city council staff analysis, the legislation only gives the city attorney the authority to prosecute.

The city council candidates who unequivocally said yes to a Seattle Times survey question about prosecuting drug users, according to a survey conducted by the Seattle Times, are, in order of district: Rob Saka and Phil Tavel (District 1); George Artem and Ken Wilson (District 4); Boegert Bibby (District 5); Pete Hanning, Victoria Palmer, and Shea Wilson (District 6); Bob Kettle, Olga Sagan, Aaron Marshall, Wade Sowders, and Isabelle Kerner (District 7). District 7 incumbent Andrew Lewis also told the Seattle Times he supports prosecuting drug users, but because he cast the tie-breaking vote against the bill before saying he would support it, he does not meet Davison’s criteria.

2. Meta attorney Rob Saka, a frontrunner in District 1, may be the primary beneficiary of billboards and mailers advertising Eltana Bagels, the company founded by another D1 candidate, Stephen Brown. As we’ve reported, Brown has insisted the mailers and billboards, which look strikingly similar to his campaign materials, were just ordinary advertising for the Montreal-style bagel stores.

That didn’t stand up to scrutiny by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, however: The mailers, which featured the phrase “Seattle Deserves Better…—Stephen Brown” and offered $25 in free bagels, look like campaign literature, and the billboards—which also featured Brown’s name—were mostly located in District 1, which does not have a single Eltana store. After conferring with Ethics and Elections director Wayne Barnett, the Brown campaign filed an amended campaign report that included $33,000 for the West Seattle portion of the mailing and billboards.

Last week, the ethics commission went even further, voting—in response to a request from Saka—to allow him to raise and spend more than $93,750, the maximum allowed under Seattle election law unless another candidate goes above the spending cap. Ordinarily, this happens when a candidate’s own campaign spending, plus independent expenditures on their behalf, breaches the cap, but the city also allows candidates to spend more than the mandatory maximum if another candidate violates election law.

Ironically, Saka himself has already benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in spending from an independent expenditure campaign backed by real estate moguls and a Trump-donating billionaire, putting him over the limit himself. Maren Costa, a labor-backed candidate, requested a lift on the cap for her own campaign and received it last week.

Because last week’s hearing was about Saka’s motion to lift the cap, the Brown campaign’s $33,000 valuation for the mailers was not in question. The commission will likely seek a new valuation, but hasn’t yet, so as of now, the old, under-the-limit valuation stands. This creates a bizarre Schrödinger’s cap situation in which the Brown campaign has both spent more than the legal limit (according to the ethics commission) and is within the limit (according to the commission’s executive director and the campaign itself).

Campaign Fizz: The Case of the Carbon-Copy Mailers

1. Elliott Bay Neighbors and University Neighbors, two independent expenditure groups funded by local real estate developers and Republican donors, including Trump 2020 contributor George Petrie, sent out mailers supporting District 1 city council candidate Rob Saka and District 4 candidate Maritza Rivera. The identically worded mailers include the same factual errors about the history of homelessness in Seattle.

One one side, the Saka/Rivera mailers both promise “[Saka/Rivera] is endorsed by people you know and trust,” followed by a quote from a supporter (Community Police Commission member Harriett Walden and Attorney General Bob Ferguson, respectively) and a snippet of the Seattle Times’ endorsement for that candidate.

On the flip side, both feature the headline “After years of failure on homelessness…” followed by a list of six points in time (plus “2023: UTTER FAILURE”) that are supposed to represent that failure.

The timeline—whose only job is to be a timeline—includes two dates that are wrong. Mayor Ed Murray declared a homelessness emergency in 2015, not 2016, and the JumpStart payroll tax (“additional taxes for housing”) passed in 2020, not 2021. Perhaps more substantively, Murray’s declaration, King County’s Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness; the “failure” of that plan; and the establishment of the original Nickelsville encampment have nothing to do with the city council; they were the responsibility of Ed Murray, King County, King County, and a group of unsheltered people, respectively.

Although the mailer describes JumpStart as “additional taxes for housing,” the fund was (pretty famously) crippled in its first few years as former mayor Durkan and current Mayor Harrell used it to backfill shortfalls in other spending areas, and does not exclusively pay for housing.

According to campaign finance reports, the mailers were designed by a consultant in Wisconsin.

Direct campaign donations are limited in Seattle, but independent political committees can spend unlimited amounts supporting or opposing candidates and ballot measures. Two of the chief supporters of the pro-Saka and -Rivera campaigns, George Petrie (and his wife Alyssa) and John Goodman, contributed a total of $190,000 to a pro-Bruce Harrell campaign and $100,000 to Compassion Seattle, the unfunded shelter and encampment-clearing mandate that a judge struck from the ballot for going beyond the scope of a local initiative.

2. Stephen Brown, the founder of Eltana Bagels and a candidate for City Council Position 1 (West Seattle), reported spending $33,577 to reimburse Eltana for billboards and mailers that appeared to promote Brown’s campaign. The mailers read “Seattle Deserves Better…—Stephen Brown” on the outside and opened to reveal an offer for $25 in free bagels. Brown maintained that the billboards and mailers, along with a Youtube video that concluded, “Stephen Brown fixed the bagel problem in Seattle—who knows what’s next?” had nothing to do with his campaign.

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission disagreed, sending Brown a list of questions about the ads and warning him that his campaign could no longer access public funding if he did not “resolve this issue.”

Had Brown not resolved the issue by paying for the ads, the ethics commission could’ve added his official campaign mailers to the pile of evidence suggesting the Eltana ads were meant to support his campaign. The design of the Vote Stephen Brown ad is extremely similar to the Eltana ad, from the fonts to the striking deep-purple-and-yellow color scheme to the photos of bagels to the choice of fonts.

3. Saka, who is one of Brown’s competitors, has asked the elections commission to lift spending limits for his campaign, arguing that Brown understated the true value of the ads and mailers and has actually spent more than the $93,750 limit for candidates using the city’s democracy voucher program. The ethics commission will hold a meeting tomorrow to consider his request.

UPDATE: Turns out our prediction (that the commission wouldn’t grant Saka’s request because they had already accepted a $33,000 estimate for the Eltana billboards and mailers) was wrong: The commission voted to grant the request on Thursday, agreeing with Saka’s campaign that the Brown campaign should have included the full value of all the money Eltana spent advertising bagels/Brown citywide, and not just in District 1.

During a lengthy discussion, commission director Wayne Barnett argued that it wouldn’t make much sense to advertise a West Seattle campaign in, say, Ballard. Commissioner Zach Pekelis, an attorney at Pacific Law Group, countered that ordinarily “we don’t think of campaign expendtures being discounted based on the efficacy or the inefficacy of the campaign expenditure,” and noted that if a District 1 campaign directly spent money on ads in another district, it “would definitely count” as a campaign expense.

Campaign Will Pay for Bagel Giveaway After All; Harrell Backs Light Rail Station that Will Inconvenience Amazon

1. After PubliCola reported on a mailer and billboards from Eltana Bagels that appeared to promote the District 1 City Council campaign of Eltana founder and president Stephen Brown, his treasurer contacted us to let us know that the campaign will reimburse Eltana approximately $33,000 for the promotion, along with a billboard in West Seattle and a June 2023 Youtube video that concludes, “Stephen Brown fixed the bagel problem in Seattle—who knows what’s next?”

The mailers, which went out shortly before ballots arrive for the August 1 primary, read, “Seattle Deserves Better… – Stephen Brown” and open to reveal the word “…Bagels!” along with an offer for free bagels valued at $25. About half the mailers went out to addresses in West Seattle, which does not have an Eltana location. (Brown says Eltana targeted people who live near grocery stores that sell the bagels).

Last week, Brown characterized the billboard and mailers—on which “Eltana” appears off to the side in much smaller font than Brown’s name—as a routine advertising expense. “The intention was to use a banal, stereotypical message as a parody—to use humor to sell bagels,” Brown told PubliCola. Similarly”This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.”

Brown’s campaign decided to pay for the billboard and mailer after Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission director Wayne Barnett sent Brown a letter posing a series of questions about the promotion, including when the mailers went out and where they went, what vendors Eltana used for the ads, and how often Eltana has sent out similar mailers. Barnett also asked whether previous Eltana promotions have prominently featured Brown’s name, and requested examples of other advertising materials from Eltana over the last two years.

“As you know, all money spent to promote your candidacy must be timely reported, and is limited by your choice to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program,” Barnett wrote. “Therefore, we must resolve this issue before the Voucher Program can release any more funds to your campaign.”

The reimbursement has not showed up yet in campaign filings.

2. Transit advocates were dismayed when Mayor Bruce Harrell wrote a letter to his fellow Sound Transit board members in May suggesting the agency study alternatives that could move a future light rail station north or west of Sound Transit’s preferred alternative. The goal of considering both of these alternatives was to prevent a four-year closure of Westlake Ave. that would impact Amazon, Vulcan, and other large employers in the area. One of those alternatives, the “shifted west” option, would have eliminated the Denny station altogether.

Last week, at a meeting of the board’s system expansion committee, Harrell said he now plans to support the preferred alternative and focus on ways to mitigate the impacts of construction in the neighborhood. “I’m waiting for the ridership analysis [to see] how it affects all of this, but I [am]  leaning towards support for the DT-1 preferred alternative that will preserve the two stations in South Lake Union with a strong emphasis—again, I can’t repeat this enough—on mitigating construction impacts,” Harrell said.

During public comment, a number of representatives from South Lake Union businesses testified that closing Westlake to cars for the four-year construction period would be like signing a death warrant for the (booming) neighborhood. Dan McGrady, a longtime lobbyist for the developer Vulcan who now lobbies on behalf of PEMCO Insurance, said light rail station construction on Westlake would cause “devastation” similar to the COVID pandemic, creating a “lasting scar on the community” that “I just don’t think the community can survive.”

Sound Transit is hosting two webinars about the South Lake Union station alternatives before the full board meets again on July 27, where they will have an opportunity to pick a different preferred alternative or keep the preferred alternative on Westlake just off Denny Way.

Candidate Says Bagel Giveaway Is Strictly Business; Big Business PACs Back Harrell-Allied Candidates; “Books Unbanned” Still Open to Minors In Library Book Ban States

1. Stephen Brown, the president of Eltana Bagels and a candidate for City Council in District 1 (West Seattle), said a mailer emblazoned “Seattle Deserves Better… – Stephen Brown” that included an offer for free bagels was just a routine promotional pitch for his local wood-fired bagel chain, not a campaign expenditure.

The flyer (which opens to the word “Bagels!”) offers a half-dozen free bagels and a “spread of your choice”—a “more than $25 value!” to anyone who comes in to either of Eltana’s two locations, which are both located outside District 1. In small print below the offer, the mailer says the offer expires at the end of August and has “no cash value.”

Contacted by email, Brown said the flyers were part of Eltana’s routine direct-marketing strategy and went out “to various addresses in the city that are close to retail grocery stores selling Eltana bagels. … As part of its promotions, Eltana regularly gives bagels away in an effort to garner trial and acquire customers.”

“The intention was to use a banal, stereotypical message as a parody—to use humor to sell bagels,” Brown added.

“This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.” —District 1 city council candidate Stephen Brown

Eltana has also purchased four billboards, including at least one in West Seattle, prominently featuring Brown’s name.

“Eltana has never bought billboards in the past but the incredibly low price for billboards this summer ($1000 a month) made this promotional offer too attractive for Eltana to pass up,” Brown said. “We have used me, as the founder, in the past to promote Eltana[.] …. This effort is not a campaign expense—it is not electoral in nature.”

If the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission determines that the mailers, giveaway, or billboards do promote Brown’s candidacy, the campaign would be in violation of Seattle election law, which bars candidates who participate in the democracy voucher program (as Brown is) from accepting more than $300 in cash or in-kind contributions from any campaign donor. The commission declined to comment.

Brown said “the campaign will not be reporting on the performance of the Eltana trial promotion,” as “the offer is made and distributed by Eltana, is city wide, and doesn’t promote any candidate for public office nor does it mention any elections or geography.”

2. A developer-funded independent expenditure campaign poured more than $27,000 into the effort to elect Maritza Rivera—whose campaign focuses on hiring more police—to City Council District 4, where urbanist Ron Davis is the other top contender.

“University Neighbors Committee” received its largest donations from developers John Goodman and George Petrie—two frequent Republican donors who bankrolled the failed Compassion Seattle campaign and poured $150,000 into the political committee that helped elect Bruce Harrell in 2021. The other donors backing the pro-Rivera PAC include developer Jordan Selig, developer Martin Smith, developer Matt Griffin, and Amazon bigwig David Zapolsky.

The PAC’s first pro-Rivera mailer says that as a parent of a child at Ingraham High School, where a 17-year-old was shot last year, she “decided to run for city council because our current council isn’t doing enough to keep us safe. “If voters elect Rivera, the mailer promises, they’ll get “More cops. Better training. Faster response times”—Rivera has said wants to reduce Priority 1 911 response times to five minutes, which would require hiring hundreds more officers—a goal SPD has acknowledged isn’t realistic—and making Seattle the exception to a nationwide trend.

The exact same group of donors has contributed more than $32,000 to the “Elliott Bay Neighbors” PAC supporting Rob Saka—another Harrell-allied candidate—in District 1 (West Seattle).

If you’ve seen any mailers and want to send them our way, email erica@publicola.com. 

3. Earlier this month, the state of Mississippi effectively banned people under 18 from accessing e-books or audiobooks through any of its public libraries—part of the growing trend of book bans and other restrictions aimed at preventing young people from accessing information about gender, sexuality, race, and anything else Republican lawmakers consider objectionable.

The law requires vendors of digital materials like Libby and Hoopla to ensure that no minors can access anything the state deems “sexually explicit,” which includes everything from textbooks that include human anatomy sketches to “descriptions [of] homosexuality or lesbianism.”

Seattle Public Library spokeswoman Laura Gentry said the library will continue to offer Seattle library cards to people with Internet access living in Mississippi, whose ban on online materials for minors only extends to public and school libraries in that state, through its Books Unbanned program. Currently, she said, the program has 17 participants from Mississippi, including a 23-year-old teacher who submitted this comment: 

“Living in Mississippi, a lot of books with vital information/stories/perspectives are banned or being banned. Being a Black woman in the city with the highest population of Black people, I know how important it is for us to protect our history. Also, being a teacher, I see how certain books being banned has already affected the younger generation. There is a lot that they don’t know and may never know so it’s extremely helpful to have access to this catalog.”