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Can DeWolf win District 3 running against ‘homelessness, rising housing costs, anti-worker values, regressive taxes’ — and not Sawant?

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.”

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25 thoughts on “Can DeWolf win District 3 running against ‘homelessness, rising housing costs, anti-worker values, regressive taxes’ — and not Sawant?” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. he worked two jobs and had to choose between “rent or groceries or applying for a credit card.”

    It doesn’t cost money to apply for a credit card, this makes no sense. You could do both with the same money. So he came as a recent grad with no money, how remarkable! No one’s ever done that. Being on the school board one year and being gay and Native, while interesting, are not qualifications. There are lots of young gays who have moved to Seattle with little money – how is this a story?

    He has that same obvious pandering that Durkan does. No thanks.

    • I think the quote of “rent or groceries or a credit card” is worded in a confusing way. My understanding after reading the quote again is that he could afford rent OR groceries, but not both; and if he had wanted both, he would have needed to go into debt.

      • Big deal. When I had to choose between rent or groceries I couldn’t have obtained a credit card if my life depended on it. And he was homeless as a student? Couch surfing in your youth does not really qaulify as homeless to me.

      • Man, Glenn. You are a BADASS! You should totally run with your “I’m a pedantic message board poster” platform!

        I mean, this dude actually served his community, or at least tried to. But you’re doing the real heavy lifting RIGHT HERE! Yeah!

    • Everybody likes to think they are the only one who’s ever scraped by for a while or couldn’t afford everything they could wish for….. I came here in 95, just out of college, without a job lined up, knowing absolutely no one, with a single suitcase and probably around $1000 in savings. I lived in a rent by the day boarding house (which at the time was mainly temporarily housing people heading up to Alaska to work on fish processing boats) for a month or so on condensed soup until I found a job and got an apartment -in which, luckily for me, the owner left a bed and couch. I bought basically nothing, other than a tiny, old b+w tv from value village, to afford rent, utilities, bus fare to work (no car for me) and food, until my husband graduated as well and could join me out here. Oh.. and occasionally, for fun I’d get $1 Chinese food from the Magic Dragon… if you went near closing they’d give you a lot…

      • “I’m sure you have zero meaningful success working as part of a legislative body but damn, that’s a touching personal story… You have my vote!”

        👆 alarming amount of voters these days

      • hot damn – I’m not even running for office but I can still get a vote just by having had almost no money at one point in time… oh wait… doesn’t that describe most people at some point in their lives…. Unless you have a trust fund, we all have to make a start of it somewhere and it’s not like it should be some surprise that it’s at the bottom…

  2. Hard no for me after being endorsed by Mosqueda and Gonzalez. As someone said above, this is more of the exact same.

  3. He has already decided not to listen to group of constituents he doesn’t agree with? Sounds like Sawant. And with with a Gonzales/Mosqueda endorsement it definitely sounds like more of the same.

  4. i’m excited about him. gonzalez and mosqueda are the two best CMs in the opinion of this d3 voter. i will remain open about nguyen and the others (can’t find any info on jaxx…) but i’m seeing a combination of experience, activism, balanced messaging, and thoughtful opinions that i’m not sure the other candidates have in the same proportion.

  5. Wow. Four articles in less than a week. If only he could put this much effort toward his current elected position as a school board member.

    He seems to want a title and then do nothing.

    I voted for him. Never again. Or Sawant.

  6. Unclear what being gay or having experienced sexual assault has to do with his candidacy or “sets him apart.”

    This town has lost its collective mind.

    • Just because he touts it, don’t assume the sizable LGBT electorate here will give him a pass and a sure vote just because he’s gay. Most of us LGBT voters are long since past the stage when we’ll automatically vote for somebody just because of that.

      • For me, sexual orientation and other identity categories are tiebreakers, kind of like how affirmative action works. If I have a choice between two candidates of similar merit, I’ll go with the gay guy over the straight guy, the lesbian over the gay guy, the person of color over the white person, the straight woman over the straight man, etc. But ideology and experience are more important considerations.

  7. “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.” A meaningless statement. The real work is providing funding, professional development, figuring out a way to incorporate ethnic studies into the state’s 24 credit requirement and OSPI makes graduation requirements- not school boards. Sounds more like a campaign gesture, to me. DeWolf only served a very short period of time on the school board. Aside from lefty feel good things, I’m not seeing any substance and no ability for this candidate to solve the city’s problems. BTW…where does he stand on the Head Tax??? The last I saw, DeWolf was unwilling to take a position.

  8. Lastly, a group of educators and Seattle Education Association has been leading the charge to bring ethnic studies to Seattle Public Schools.

    Most school board directors meet monthly with their constituents. Check with DeWolf’s constituents. Some say he has not met with his constituents on a regular basis.

  9. Hahahaha. He’s not sure they are completely unbiased?! They are not…it’s an advocacy group you ninny!!! Then you refuse to meet! He is Sawant! Just another crazy Seattle socialist. Not getting my vote!

    Lol…does he think any group he is meeting with is unbiased!!!!??

  10. He won’t get my vote. He ran for the school board making promise to bring about change and stay for the long haul. Ha. What a joke.

    • Well, he is endorsed by Mosqueda, who voted for the head tax and again not to repeal it, so I think you can guess he is for it.

      • He was also endorsed by Gonzalez who voted against the head tax, so is that why he is keeping quiet? He doesn’t know which side to align with?