When Zachary DeWolf took the mic at Tougo Coffee on Yesler Way to announce his candidacy for Seattle City Council District 3 Tuesday morning, he made sure to make one thing clear. “I’m not running against whoever is in office,” he said, flanked by his husband, friends, and community leaders including Tunny Vann from the Port of Seattle and Sokha Danh of the Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation Development Authority.
With his candidacy, DeWolf, a citizen of the Chippewa Cree Nation, the first out gay Seattle Public Schools board member, former Capitol Hill Community Council president and program manager for regional homelessness agency All Home King County, joins an already-crowded race to dethrone incumbent Sawant, who is running for a third term.
During his speech, DeWolf posited that his opponent was not Sawant, but rather “homelessness, rising housing costs, anti-worker values, regressive taxes and fees.”
Still, he also said “we need to ask ourselves if any of us are better off than we were eight years ago or if any of our community’s problems have been solved during that time. I also believe we need a leader who is uncompromising and absolute in their commitment to listen to their constituents rather than allow their own personal politics to set their agenda. While it might be easier to deliver soundbites or yell our problems away, we simply don’t have time for that anymore,” which reads as a critique of Sawant, who has been charged by opponents and critics of choosing rallies over results, her Socialist Alternative organization over D3 constituents.
In an interview, DeWolf, who voted for Sawant in 2013 and 2015, avoided directly criticizing or even mentioning Sawant, likely his main opponent, even when asked what he’d do differently. “What I mean is we need to slow down, listen to each other, come to the table and make sure that people that have influence are not the same players we see over and over again.”
“To me, it goes back to the folks that actually need solutions,” he added later. “Our students can’t get to school safely and on time. The NAACP Youth Coalition [a group of high schoolers, educators and other adults working towards racial and social justice in the Seattle School District] has come out with recommendations, and I haven’t heard her [Sawant] advocating for those,” he said.
With huge name recognition, passionate following and fundraising abilities, Sawant represents a formidable opponent in a crowded D3 race. The list of candidates includes Ami Nguyen, a Yesler Terrace public defender who announced she was joining the field in March, Beacon Hill business owner, neighborhood activist and past council candidate Pat Murakami, housing-first candidate Logan Bowers, and Capitol Hill LGBTQIA activist Asukaa Jaxx. Just last week Egan Orion, the newly-hired Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce head and administrator of the Broadway Business Improvement Area, announced his run. Orion was more than willing to talk about the incumbent.
All of the candidates running in D3 except Sawant have pledged to use the Democracy Voucher program, though Bowers is the only one thus far to complete the qualification process, jumping over a threshold of 150 contributions of at least $10, half of which from within the district. DeWolf also plans to raise money for the campaign through the program.
That might not be too much of a challenge. Partly thanks to his work at All Home King County and the Capitol Hill Community Council plus run for School Board, DeWolf arrives to the race with some name recognition plus early endorsements from council members Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González, as well as from Seattle Port Commissioner Ryan Calkins, the Seattle School Board, and community leaders. During his campaign for the Seattle School Board District 5 seat, which he was elected to with 64.73% of the votes, DeWolf received $50,398.18 in contributions, according to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.
DeWolf has made equity and homelessness a focus during his tenure on the School Board, which he joined late 2017. He currently works as a program manager for All Home King County, focused on youth and student homelessness as well as diversion and prevention policies.
DeWolf said he considers his candidacy and potential council position a continuation of this work. “I got to serve students while on the School Board, I’m excited for the opportunity to continue serving them, but be a different advocate for them on the city council.”
In March, DeWolf told CHS he was not planning on running until after he could “bring ethnic studies to our schools,” referring to ethnic studies as a graduation requirement action report he’s planning to introduce to the school board. During his 2017 campaign for School Board, many wondered why he wasn’t running for City Council. So why is he now, under two years into his tenure on the school board?
What has changed, he says, is a sense of urgency and the fact that certain issues, including homelessness and problems with school buses, in the school district, might be better served from a council seat and macro-perspective. “The fact that our busses can’t get to school on time, part of that is a driver shortage, but what’s really a part of that, is our transportation and traffic gridlock. So having someone on the council that prioritizes bike infrastructure, safe sidewalks and roads will help, just attack it upstream.”
Asked how his ideas around traffic infrastructure and bikeability are different than those of Logan Bowers, who’s made walkability and bike safety and infrastructure improvement some of his talking points, DeWolf said: “Knowing the buzzwords is different than helping to drive towards solutions and get results.”
As for homelessness, DeWolf said he wants to invest in “strategies that are working.” This doesn’t necessarily mean spending more on actual homelessness services, rather invest in programs that include diversion (which focuses on one-time, more personalized types of financial help for at-risk rather than longtime support to get housing) and prevention, and eliminate “things that aren’t working,” such as the decentralization of diversion funds, DeWolf said. When asked for another example of things that were not working, he responded: “I’d say this, 48% of adults experiencing homelessness experienced homelessness as a young person. Focus on youth/young adult homelessness because it is a smart prevention tool.”
He also said displacement prevention with “shallow rent subsidies can keep people in their homes,” and that “diversion is a really great, low-cost intervention. Compared to emergency shelter, transitional housing, we’re spending around $10,000 or $12,000 less [per successfully housed family] just to exit people out of homelessness.”
Asked if he would be attending forums of Speak Out Seattle, a pro-policing group opposed to drug-consumption sites, tiny house villages and encampments (and the head tax), DeWolf answered: “I’m not really sure that they are completely unbiased and coming to the table in good faith, so my inclination is no.”
What sets him apart is lived experience. As a queer, native student, DeWolf experienced homelessness. Later, upon moving to Seattle in 2012, he worked two jobs and had to choose between “rent or groceries or applying for a credit card.” He said he has also experienced sexual assault. “So when I am talking about things for people needing to feel safe,” he said, “I come from deep understanding.”
You can learn more at electdewolf.com.
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