The controversial but increasingly influential political group Speak Out Seattle hosted a forum for District 3 city council candidates to discuss issues of homelessness, displacement in the Central District, and gun violence among others over the course of the event that took place Tuesday evening in front of a standing-room only crowd at the Northwest African American Museum.
The first question of the evening from Speak Out Seattle stemmed from an issue that is informing much of this year’s city council races: the failed head tax.
“Look, big business has to do more to pay their fair share,” said Zachary DeWolf, the first out gay Seattle Public Schools board member, also arguing that the head tax has dominated the debate too much. “Everyday we talk about this unsuccessful policy, we have not talked about the other ideas, which are increasing the local estate tax” as well as basing fees and fines on income levels. (DeWolf is the only candidate to have written for CHS)
Council member Kshama Sawant, the Socialist Alternative incumbent, was the sole candidate to voice continued support for the tax.
“The problem with the Amazon tax was not that it wouldn’t have worked, but that our movement angered the Chamber of Commerce and Jeff Bezos and the billionaire class and they bullied and threatened our city,” she said.
Following Sawant’s answer, an audience member interrupted to ask the council member to “stop yelling at us,” a call that was met with strong applause from the crowd.
Tuesday’s event comes as the campaigns continue to ramp up with increased public appearances and the nearing August primary election. Just this weekend, several candidates will take place in a forum hosted by the 43rd District Democrats on Saturday afternoon and a series of town halls at Seattle University on Sunday. MLK Labor will also host a labor forum Wednesday night.
Urbanist and pot entrepreneur Logan Bowers, who, according to filings with the state Public Disclosure Commission, has raised more than $82,000 for his campaign, second only to Sawant, argued that the only way to stunt displacement is through changes to zoning given the rapid increase of jobs in downtown Seattle.
“We have to balance the number of jobs and the number of housing units in the city, so that everyone has a place to live,” said Bowers. “If we don’t do that, we have a structural problem that guarantees someone’s getting squeezed out.”
Egan Orion, the head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and resident of 23rd and Union, applauded the Liberty Bank Building affordable housing development for having African Americans as an overwhelming majority of residents through a community preference system, which allows people to remain in the neighborhoods in which they are rooted. He sees this, combined with support for minority-owned small businesses, as part of a solution for ongoing gentrification in the Central District. UPDATE: Capitol Hill Housing has clarified that it utilized “an affirmative marketing effort which emphasized outreach to local community members while observing fair housing laws” to achieve its mix of tenants in the Liberty Bank Building.
He later called for utilizing vacated apartments and hotel rooms in the city for dealing with the homelessness crisis and proposed a bond to fund over 1,000 supportive housing units that he vowed to implement within three years.
In a unique proposal, Pat Murakami, a self-described neighborhood activist, floated an idea to repurpose a cruise ship as a hub for beds and other amenities for a treatment facility.
Some of the most telling moments of the event came during the “lightning round” portion where candidates could only put up a “yes” or “no” placard. While all supported the council’s $219 million library levy proposal, Sara Brereton, a former Central District coffee shop owner, and Murakami, who lost a 2017 at-large council race to Lorena González, stood opposed to the Seattle income tax currently being fought in the courts.
Brereton, who says she has experienced homelessness, and Murakami also showed support for forced treatment for those with substance abuse issues who are homeless, and the former was the only candidate to support sweeping homeless encampments.
“Let’s be clear, okay? The current homelessness crisis and chronic homelessness is not about affordability; it’s about drug addiction and mental illness,” Brereton said to applause from the crowd.
Meanwhile, the candidates were split on allowing safe consumption sites, with Sawant, Orion, and DeWolf as the only firm supporters.
“I am in favor of them only if we can provide alternative housing for everybody that’s in the encampment,” said Murakami, explaining her answer on encampment sweeps in her closing remarks. “I am opposed to safe injection sites. Listen, you don’t let a toddler touch a hot burner, you protect them from that. You don’t remodel the kitchen and lower the stove so it’s easier to touch.”
Meanwhile, DeWolf and Bowers were the only candidates to say yes to congestion pricing for drivers entering Seattle.
Orion, who led a discussion with representatives from the Seattle Police Department and the mayor’s office Tuesday afternoon with members of the Capitol Hill business community, called for increased surveillance and foot patrols to deter crime.
“There is dealing going on on the streets out there and it’s creating a turf war and so there needs to be more monitoring of all that in order to create a safer neighborhood for everyone living in the Central District,” he said.
Sawant answered a question on stemming the recent uptick in violence by reading nearly verbatim from an email she sent out to supporters Tuesday, calling for “common sense gun control measures like banning semi-automatic weapons.”
Public defender Ami Nguyen looked at the issue through the lens of her background as someone who grew up in a “racially segregated neighborhood” as she urged measures that she believes would help young people avoid violence. UPDATE: We have updated this quote to clear up our misunderstanding of what was said.
“I was able to have teachers and counselors who were able to encourage me to continue my education,” she said, calling for social services at schools. “That should not be an exception to the neighborhoods I grew up in.”
With seven candidates — Capitol Hill LGBTQIA activist Asukaa Jaxx has recently withdrawn — it’s a crowded field. Will another candidate emerge? The filing deadline is May 17th.
You can view all of CHS’s Election 2019 coverage here.