With District 3 candidates forum season underway, Speak Out Seattle leads with homelessness, displacement in the Central District, and gun violence

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.

Gun violence is surely at the top of the mind for some District 3 residents as a string of shootings in the Central District killed one and injured several more on Friday and early Saturday morning.

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.

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21 thoughts on “With District 3 candidates forum season underway, Speak Out Seattle leads with homelessness, displacement in the Central District, and gun violence

  1. I really wish they required only people in attendance to be D3 voters. I felt like Sawant had a group of people that I even question are registered to vote cheering after every time she spoke off her pieces of paper. Most sat on phones the whole time clearly uninterested in what others had to say. She kept talking about the movement and bashing big business she’s a bully and last night she demonstrated that once again. I felt bad for Egan Orion he was seated next to her. I also knew nothing about Sara Brereton until last night and though she’s a little out there she seems right on with her realistic take on what Sawant has been up to which is absolutely nothing to help this city or her district.

    • I lost all faith in Sawant when I watched her at city council meetings, from the dais, orchestrate her cheering squad via text. She would text. They’d look at their phones. She’d say something and they’d all jump up and holler. Rinse and repeat.

      What I learned about her last night is that she cannot speak to issues on the fly – she has to read (shout) prepared statements on each issue. She totally avoided the issue of the shootings in the CD, none of which appear to have been done with automatic weapons so banning those (which I support) doesn’t address the problem. She avoided the idea of police in the neighborhood despite the open air drug dealing going on. I’ve been listening to politicians since the 80’s talk about stopping the problem by changing things in the schools, in social services, etc. but we still have CD shootings every year. I’d like to hear one finally address solutions that aren’t pie in the sky 30 years in the future. It’s 30 years since I started hearing those solutions but have yet to see anyone promising them deliver.

    • I appreciated Sara being a 180 degree change from Sawant although, like you said, she was kinda out there. But she was out there in a refreshingly different way than what Seattle is used to. DeWolf, Nguyen, and (especially) Sawant gave pretty much the same rhetoric we’ve been hearing from progressives for over half a century. For how long can you continue to forward failed ideas and programs while still maintaining the label “progressive”? Endlessly, it seems.

      • CD Resident:

        If you want to defend a violent man with a history of assaulting women, that harassed, stalked, then attempted to physically attacked a gay couple on, and off the bus while they were with their four young kids, good luck with that.

        From your link: “Furthermore, Brereton did not use an unnecessary amount of force to defend herself. Brereton displayed the weapon to stop a perceived threat. Despite the display, Salters did not stop his advance. Under state law, Brereton has no duty to retreat. She can reasonably take into account her inability to use her gun to defend herself if Salters got close enough to physically assault her and be concerned that she could lose the gun in a struggle. As a result, her firing of the gun once to stop Salters was not an unreasonable amount of force under state law.

        For these reasons criminal charges will not be filed against Ms. Brereton in this matter.”

    • I really wish they required only people in attendance to be D3 voters.

      The elected candidate from District 3 will sit on the Council, which makes decisions for all of Seattle. Just because somebody doesn’t live in District 3 doesn’t mean they don’t have the right to attend a forum for District 3 candidates.

      Your kind of “us versus them” thinking is exactly what the people who created the Seattle Council districts hoped would happen.

    • I hear you Ella, but while the CMs are elected by district, their work often impacts the entire city. We may live in D3 but we have a vested interest in who gets elected everywhere. So when I have the time, I pay attention to all the district races and am glad of the chance to attend events. That said, they are now so often on YouTube, etc., I can watch from home :)

      • And if we can give our democracy vouchers to anyone running in any district, why should we not be able to attend any or all the forums? Especially since our CM thinks she is an at-large CM rather than our district rep. All the more reason to learn about the people running for council who might actually do something that we like when elected.

  2. I’m not against common sense gun control, but seriously…. these neighborhood shootings are not typically being done by people with AK style weapons…. they are done with handguns – more than likely illegally purchased or stolen ones. Banning assault style rifles could help curb mass shoots and school shootings, but will do nothing at to stop garden variety crime or gang violence. If Sawant thinks this stance might suddenly make liberals who are not socialists and otherwise disagree with her on probably all other policies suddenly come over to her side on this single issue, I think she’s insulting our intelligence.

  3. I attended last night’s forum in order to learn more about the candidates. It was helpful to hear from each one, although unpleasant to be harangued/yelled at by Ms. Sawant.

    Your article characterized forum sponsor Speak Out Seattle as “controversial.” Please clarify why you described the group in this way. Thanks.

  4. Sawant’s robot-like reading of her prepared texts (in response to questions), and her minions automatically cheering her every word, remind me of Hitler’s mass rallies of the past. The only thing missing was some kind of salute and chant (“Heil, Sawant!”). Kind of creepy, really.

    • It’s garden variety, hive moind Marxist cell behavior. She’s not a warm, fuzzy Grampa Bernie socialist. She’s a hell-bent Communist. And electing that, as they say, has implications.

  5. Big business causes problems but they have brought jobs and prosperity to many. Many of the people who love living here would have to migrate
    Without big business.
    The problem is our CM who resisted the needed
    development of housing, infrastructure and public safety.
    Sawant has no vision nor answers to Seattle’s needs. Some lefties may find the idea of a moderate
    distasteful but look at what the Uber progressives have wrought over the last 20 years.

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