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A battle over Amazon? Sawant vs. Orion in their own words on District 3 issues — housing, homelessness, public safety, and the environment

The night of the August Primary as early results pointed to a Kshama Sawant vs. Egan Orion showdown, CHS predicted the race for District 3 would be a battle over Amazon.

Three months later, it is impossible to separate the campaigns from the dollars as millions are being spent.

CHS is not going to try to tell you that money is not the story of the race. But there are other stories to tell.

With ballots finally being filled in and dropped in the final days of the race, here is a look at the District 3 candidates using their own words and positions. Remember the actions, intentions, and promises as the dollars are totaled, the votes are counted, and, eventually, when one of the combatants takes the D3 chair.

THE CANDIDATES — FromA movement leader and community leader want the D3 seat for City Council — Here’s how they got there


KSHAMA SAWANT — ‘MOVEMENT LEADER’
AGE: 46 / CAREER: Ph.D in economics, software engineer, instructor, city council member since 2015, member Socialist Alternative national committee / LIFE: Married, no kids, owns a D3 home / FAVORITE D3 PARK: “The Arboretum. We walk there with our dogs almost weekly.”

Sawant grew up in a working/middle-class household in Mumbai, India, where she studied computer science. Upon moving to the US, she briefly worked as a software engineer. But the questions she’d been asking herself since she was young — “why is the world like this,” and “why should it be like this?”— kept nagging at her, and a Ph.D. in economics was another way to find more answers. She finished her dissertation in Seattle after moving here for her then-husband’s job at Microsoft. Around the same time, Sawant started attending political meetings and rallies. During an anti-war meeting where an Iraq war veteran spoke, her eye fell on some Socialist Alternative publications on a table outside. Their analysis of class-based capitalism was something she could get behind. “And then I attended a meeting and then I never looked back.” While she cobbled together “a poverty wage” teaching at various universities and volunteering for nonprofits, Sawant’s star rose at Socialist Alternative, an international Trotskyist political organization. As the SA candidate, she unsuccessfully ran for the Washington House of Representatives in 2012, later beating four-term incumbent Richard Conlin for a seat on the City Council, where she’s served since.

EGAN ORION — ‘COMMUNITY LEADER’
AGE: 48 / CAREER: retail, design, event producer, PrideFest organizer, former Capitol Hill chamber director, current head of Broadway Business Improvement Area / LIFE: Partnered, no kids but expecting, owns a D3 home / FAVORITE D3 PARK: “Volunteer Park”

Born to two teachers in Auburn, Orion grew up a few blocks from Green River Community College, where he was one of the few kids who took part in its theater productions. As a closeted “theater gay” in “very white, very middle class” Auburn during the AIDS crisis, theater was a reprieve from bullying and a way to express himself outside of the confines of school. In high school, Orion ran Students Against Driving Drunk and led his school’s chapter of Students Opposed to Apartheid. For the MLK Day assembly, he invited then-mayor Norm Rice to his school and set up a U2 “Sunday Bloody Sunday” slideshow with music. “Sort of my first foray into doing events,” Orion says. Summarizing what would come next is nearly impossible in just a few paragraphs. Orion has lived many lives, worked many jobs, traveled to many places. “I don’t look to see five steps ahead to see where I’m going and how I need to get there,” he says. “Everything to me is sort of an end to itself. And so I get to enjoy the process of everything.” He worked in a clothing store, stockroom, frame shop, movie theatre, dropped his last quarter at Central Washington University after studying abroad in France, and moved to Seattle to write a novel while working in a shop that sold “rocks and slugs you could throw against the wall” and Enya CDs. He’s been a barista at Starbucks, a self-taught web designer, a production specialist at Microsoft, a night club event producer on Capitol Hill, organizer of a flopped environmental benefit music festival, a tour guide and naturalist on cruise boats in Alaska and the San Juans, and he once joined the boat crew sailing down the Pacific Coast through the Panama Canal to Antigua and the Caribbean. But Seattle, particularly its LGBTQ+, creative heart of Capitol Hill, was where he felt like he’d come home. “It felt like I had finally landed in bohemia,” Orion says. In the mid-90s, Orion founded a “vegetarian co-op” house in Wallingford and changed his name to Egan River Zigzyakutakek Orion. “I sort of felt myself become an adult finally, finding a settling place.” The switch to his current name, Egan Kennedy Orion, came five years ago, on June 6, the day of Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968. Orion would rather discuss another reinvention. In 2007, he took over the financially troubled PrideFest, where he is now executive director, a mere six weeks before it was slated to start. He reinvigorated and reinvented the yearly LGBTQ+ celebration. Last year, he also took the helm of the Broadway Business Improvement Area. He was hired as executive director of the now-defunct Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce in early 2019.

HOUSING AND AFFORDABILITY

Developed in conjunction with Africatown, The Black Community Impact Alliance, and Byrd Barr Place, Capitol Hill Housing’s Liberty Bank Building opened in March


With echoes of her long and successful “$15 Now” fight, Sawant has made rent control the next big step in the Socialist Alternative movement and the battles she is waging in Seattle. “It is going to be the most important citywide anti-displacement strategy because people who are homeless now or economically evicted now, today, will be economically evicted next year, next month, even next week,” Sawant says. CHS reported here on her proposed legislation that would tie increased rents to the rate of inflation. Orion has told CHS that he thinks Oregon’s rent stabilization, which limits rent increases to 7% annually plus inflation and exempts new construction for 15 years, would be a “more balanced remedy” than Sawant’s plan. Orion has also called has called for a vacancy tax on empty units to build a fund to get people into temporary and permanent supportive housing.

More: 10/22/19 — With ballots out, here’s where District 3 candidates stand on housing and affordability / 9/24/19 — 20% inflation vs. a 69% rise in Seattle rents: Sawant’s rent control legislation unveiled

Here is what the candidates said during the Primary when CHS asked them about creating more housing in the city that families can afford and their support for the Mandatory Housing Affordability effort and upzones.

CHSWould you support requirements that new apartment buildings, particularly where density increases such as HALA are involved, contain a minimum number of 2 or 3 bedroom units that can accommodate families (or roommate shares, which are often more affordable than separate micro-units)? Are there other policies you favor that would help to prevent families from being pushed out to the suburbs?

ORION: We need family-sized apartments and condos in Seattle! I would favor policies that would require a minimum number of family-sized units in both new, market-rate development as well as affordable and low-income housing developments like those produced by my friends at Capitol Hill Housing. If we don’t implement such changes, working families will be forced out of the city, and another layer of diversity we desperately need in our communities will be lost. On housing, we simply need more of it all the way around. Currently, in areas not zoned for single-family houses, only townhouses and large apartment or condo buildings are being built, but we also need “light density” options to fill the missing middle of housing, like duplexes, triplexes, and small multi-family buildings with single floor living for ADA accessibility and for seniors to age in place. We must incentivize ADUs and DADUs, as the recent backyard cottage bill did, so that we can further build out density, especially in single-family neighborhoods. We must all share in solving this intractable problem of housing affordability, and the solution is density in all of Seattle’s neighborhoods.

SAWANT: Yes, I supported the passage of MHA, which does include some progressive steps forward. However, many of the units designated as “affordable” by the MHA are still priced out of reach for working people, and the for-profit housing market is utterly failing to meet the needs for affordable housing in our city. Our city has been the national leader in the number of construction cranes four years running, yet the crisis of affordable housing in Seattle remains among the worst in the country. We need to build tens of thousands of energy-efficient social homes (publicly-funded permanently-affordable homes), paid for by taxing Amazon and big business, to provide a public alternative to the broken, for-profit development system. We need rent control as an emergency measure to stop Seattle’s skyrocketing rents. In the midst of this crisis, luxury apartments are sitting vacant all over downtown and South Lake Union — we need a vacancy tax on big developers and property-owning corporations.

CHS: How would you make childcare more available and affordable for working families?

ORION: We need to do more to ensure everyone in Seattle—especially working families—can take advantage of affordable and meaningful childcare. The market price for childcare is outrageous and makes having a family nearly impossible for those on a lower income. We shouldn’t make families choose between work and having children; they should be able to do both. If Seattle truly believes in working class families, it will create programs to subsidize childcare and streamline requirements for childcare facilities without sacrificing health and safety. This would be a major priority in my first term on city council.

SAWANT: Childcare today poses serious financial hardship on working-class and middle-class families. My office has consistently raised this issue in the City’s legislative agenda, alongside other workplace issues impacted by the affordable housing crisis. The most effective way, as we have seen, of winning progressive change in Olympia, is to build fighting movements right here in Seattle, such that politicians in the city and state level are not forever passing the buck to one another while the lives of working people get more and more difficult. In fact, my idea of legislation for a massive expansion of social housing is that it should address workers rights and community needs in an all-encompassing way. Meaning, publicly-owned affordable housing for working families should be massively expanded by taxing big corporations, and by ensuring social housing buildings incorporate publicly-funded childcare and other vital social services with good jobs (with high standards for wages and benefits). Achieving any of this will require fighting movements, and elected representatives with the political courage to stand with those movements. Otherwise, these will remain merely good ideas on paper.

CHS: Do you support policies to streamline the delivery of city services with regard to real estate projects and development, the intent of which would be to lower developer costs per unit of housing?

ORION: If the result was lower housing costs for renters and homeowners, then I would be in favor of exploring such a bill. If the only objective was to lower costs for developers and it would have no demonstrable impact on the high rents in this city, then no. The rich and powerful are doing just fine. We need more housing, lower rents, and a more level playing field for working families in Seattle.

SAWANT: I support policies to streamline permitting and other similar city services, as long as they do not prevent working people from having the opportunity to impact projects in their communities. Particularly, I support making every effort to accommodate the affordable housing development projects of non-profit organizations that house so many people who would otherwise be priced out of housing. I also support increasing staffing at the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to reduce the backlog of permitting applications. However, I totally reject the premise that reducing the costs to for-profit developers would have any positive impact on affordable housing in Seattle. They are already boasting 25% returns on their investments. Reducing their development costs will only go to further increasing the huge profits of the major shareholders and executive salaries, not toward increasing the needed affordable housing for working people.

CHS: Do you support a blanket upzone across all residential zones in the city, and if so, how high? Do you support allowing duplexes on all properties, and 4-plexes on corner lots?

ORION: I don’t think we’re quite ready for the Minneapolis model just yet–they just passed that zoning change there and there’s no proof it will result in the changes they’re looking to achieve. I will always use data-informed solutions to solve our most intractable problems. I agree that we need to be shifting the borders of our urban villages outward, but part of the reason people live in Seattle is for the charm of its neighborhoods. We need to balance the need to maintain the character of our neighborhoods with the need for more housing. These aren’t binary choices; you can do both with nuanced policy. That said, allowing for more duplexes and triplexes in every community in Seattle will help considerably in our efforts to increase density. Let’s be honest: most communities won’t take advantage of it, but for communities where more duplexes and triplexes make economic sense, the city shouldn’t stand in the way of that increased density.

SAWANT: I strongly believe that densely organized, walkable urban neighborhoods are an essential component of sustainability and livability. However, unless housing is made affordable for working people, the upzoning will not by itself address the housing crisis or the carbon footprint of the region. The for-profit housing market has completely failed to generate affordable housing, because it builds to maximize profits for a few at the top, it does not build to affordability. Our city has been the national leader in the number of construction cranes four years running, yet the crisis of affordable housing in Seattle remains among the worst in the country, with the average rent now over two thousand dollars a month. What we need is greater density on the basis of a massive expansion of quality, social housing, paid for by taxing Amazon and big business, to provide a public alternative to the for-profit market. We need rent control to stop Seattle’s skyrocketing rents. In the midst of this crisis, luxury apartments are sitting vacant all over downtown and South Lake Union — we need a vacancy tax on big developers and property-owning corporations.

 

HOMELESSNESS AND ADDICTION


Sawant has repeatedly attacked Orion on housing and homelessness, accusing him of using the same tactics as people who are “peddling Republican talking points.” “My position is that no one should be sleeping on the streets; that we should be providing housing for everyone who needs it and that if we are moving people without giving them shelter or housing, that that is inhumane, unless it’s for a public health or public safety concern,” Orion said in a forum in October. “It’s retraumatizing people that have already been traumatized and it’s costing us like $10 million a year that could be used on housing.”

Sawant has focused her response on homelessness on larger issues of housing affordability and social housing, rent control, the expansion of tiny home villages, and the end of sweeps of encampments. Orion, meanwhile, has said he would look at how other cities are finding solutions including an Atlanta housing program and following New York City’s lead  to enshrine the right to shelter in the city charter.

More: 10/3/19 — Sawant and Orion trade blows on housing and homelessness in Real Change debate

CHS: Seattle’s efforts to create a safe injection/”community health engagement” resource have so far been stymied. What has gone wrong in the process and what new resources would you fund to help address addiction?

ORION: We must look comprehensively at how we will address the addiction crisis by better utilizing programs we already know to work, like drug courts, diversion programs like L.E.A.D., improving counseling services, and offering treatment on-demand. Safe injection sites may ultimately represent one part of a comprehensive solution to addressing Seattle’s drug problem, but we need to be sure to use data-informed solutions, and on safe injection sites, the data is far from clear at this point. Whatever solutions we employ must provide a pathway to recovery. I believe we must lead with compassion and part of that is to lead with data-proven solutions.

SAWANT: Community Health Engagement Locations (CHELs), also known as safe consumption sites, have been shown in scientific study after scientific study to reduce overdose deaths and increase people entering treatment for addiction. Similarly the so called “honey pot” effect that CHEL opponents claim (essentially that it will attract or promote addiction), has been shown to be totally unfounded. I fully support Seattle opening a CHEL, and would be happy to see one in District 3. Our People’s Budget movement, launched through my office in 2014, fought for and won a $1 million budget amendment that I sponsored to fund a community health engagement location (CHEL) in November of 2017. Unfortunately, Mayor Durkan has left those funds unused. Last fall, I proposed and won another budget amendment, this time requiring the mayor to announce her progress finding a location to use those funds. Unfortunately Durkan’s response was to state that she had intentionally not made progress finding a location, because she is waiting for the legal challenge between Philadelphia and the Trump administration on this same issue to be resolved. This is unacceptable. Seattle should boldly move forward with a CHEL, which would open up a second front on the Trump administration’s recalcitrance. The Mayor’s unwillingness to open a CHEL over the last two years shows the importance of building a movement for this lifesaving service.

CHS: What have you done in your current position to help address the homelessness, mental health, and drug problem facing Seattle?

ORION: As a gay man who came out in Seattle in the late 80s, I have been no stranger to addiction, mental health, and homelessness issues. I’ve seen the devastating toll addiction and mental health issues can take on one’s life and I’ve been dedicated to fighting for those suffering from these problems as a result. When the city cut District 3 funding for homeless outreach workers, I worked across neighborhoods such as First Hill, Broadway, and Chinatown/ID to successfully resecure that funding through my role with the Broadway BIA. In order to do so I had to go around Councilmember Kshama Sawant to connect our unsheltered neighbors with the services they need. I currently have a close friend on our streets suffering from addiction to Meth. Any solution I would suggest comes from an informed place about his journey and what it takes to put him on a path to recovery. Compassion is always the first tool in my toolbelt when it comes to substance abuse disorder, mental health, and chronic homelessness, and I’ll employ that compassion at every turn when I’m a councilmember for the city of Seattle.

SAWANT: I have consistently fought to massively expand the resources available for affordable housing and homeless services. Without affordable places for people to go to, there will be no solution to the homelessness crisis. For example, when the mayor and most of the City Council attempted to spend $160 million to build a new police precinct, I organized with community groups to build the 1,000 Homes campaign which urged those funds be used for affordable housing instead. Our movement, led by the Block the Bunker coalition, successfully stopped the police bunker, and then won $29 million of those funds for affordable housing. Those funds are currently used for several affordable housing projects in District 3. I have also fought for and won several budget amendments each year to increase available funding to Seattle’s shelters and homeless hygiene services. I sponsored the budget amendments to fund, for the first time, tiny house villages in Seattle. Under the previous question I detail the steps I have taken in support of opening a CHEL in Seattle. Seattle must also stop the homeless sweeps. Forcibly removing homeless people from encampments is inhumane and ineffective. Without affordable places for people to go, the sweeps only move people from one street corner to the next, only with fewer belongings and greater desperation – to the tune of approximately $10 million annually in city funds. We need a major expansion of tiny home villages in Seattle. They have proven to be the most effective way to transition people out of homelessness, by providing the safety and dignity necessary to start the work of finding jobs and permanent affordable housing (if it exists). Studies show that when the average rent in a metropolitan area increases by $100, homelessness increases by at least 15%, often higher. We need universal rent control to stop Seattle’s skyrocketing rents and hemorrhaging of affordable housing. That’s why my office, alongside Be:Seattle, the Tenants Union, and the City of Seattle Renters Commission, has launched a campaign to win universal rent control – free of corporate loopholes – that would go into effect the moment the state ban on rent regulation is lifted.

CHS: What solutions for homelessness have worked in other cities that you’d like to try here?

ORION: It’s important to recognize that every city is different and that there is no panacea, nor a “one-size fits all” solution to the challenge of homelessness. Atlanta’s housing program called “Open Doors” is based on a model first piloted here in Seattle in which those who need housing are placed in market-rate housing at no cost to them, which only proves there is housing available if we are willing to pay the price to house those who are currently unsheltered. I admire New York, which has enshrined in its city charter the right to shelter as fundamental–I would fight for such a change to our city charter. Salt Lake City made some progress but then bowed to pressure from outside groups for their approach and has since lost ground. One thing I know to be true because the data says it’s true: Housing First for our chronically homeless has the best outcomes, period.I believe Seattle can lead on this issue, but we must have the moral fortitude and the clear vision required to take on such an immense task. We have some of the best minds on homelessness in Seattle, as well as some of the world’s greatest innovators. This is something we can do, if only we had the right leadership.

SAWANT: Homelessness has strong causal links with the lack of housing affordability, the lack of living-wage jobs, and the lack of funds for services related to healthcare. In recent decades, countries like Finland and cities like Vienna have made great strides forward in reducing homelessness. The key factor in this was providing more affordable social housing. On top of this, Finland has expanded public services for people escaping homelessness, including social support and advice in finding affordable housing. Seattle needs to tax big business and the super rich to massively increase affordable high quality social housing. This will make available affordable homes for homeless people to move into. In just the past month, Berlin has instituted a 5-year rent freeze, prohibiting all rent increases. This was the result of a powerful movement led by renters and working people in the city. Movements in New York State just won historic measures on renter protection and expanded rent control. Oregon instituted a form of rent control statewide. Seattle needs rent control. This will massively reduce the number of people being pushed into homelessness as well as maintain affordable housing for working people and oppressed communities currently being gentrified out of their neighborhoods. Countries that have serious investment in healthcare have a strong track record also of ensuring people do not end up in a bout of homelessness. We need Medicare For All, and I strongly support the grassroots movement fighting for it.

PUBLIC SAFETY AND POLICE

Police in riot gear move in with smoke bombs as officers attempted to extinguish a rubbish fire set by protesters in the middle of the intersection of Broadway and Pine (Image: Bryan Cohen for CHS)


Sorting out the candidates when it comes to policing in Seattle might be as simple as looking a single day in the long campaign — on October 9th, the Seattle Police Officers Guild held a candidates forum. Orion spoke about hiring enough new officers to “stabilize” the force. Sawant boycotted the event.

“Far too often, the conversation on police accountability has had to start at the grassroots level in the wake of tragic events, with the political establishment rushing to catch up, and the SPOG standing in opposition,” Sawant said in a statement on her boycott. “I stand with the Movement for Black Lives, which has called for independently elected community oversight boards with full powers over police departments.”

Orion with his experience working with small businesses on Capitol Hill looks at public safety issues through the prism of every day challenges. He worked to bring city homeless outreach resources back to Capitol Hill to give businesses someone to call besides police about day to day homeless, addiction, and mental health issues around the neighborhood’s Broadway core. While he has called sweeps inhumane, Orion has also voiced support for cleaning up the city. “My position is that no one should be sleeping on the streets; that we should be providing housing for everyone who needs it and that if we are moving people without giving them shelter or housing, that that is inhumane, unless it’s for a public health or public safety concern,” he said. “It’s retraumatizing people that have already been traumatized and it’s costing us like $10 million a year that could be used on housing.”

Sawant, meanwhile, remains focused on the larger issues of accountability and bias. She cast the only vote against the city’s proposed contract with the SPOG, which has over 1,300 members, almost a year ago, arguing that it would roll back necessary provisions in the city’s new police accountability law. She opposes sweeps and has been a lone voice calling for the defunding of the Navigation Team charged with sweeping out illegal encampments.

More: 10/10/19 — At public safety candidates forum, Orion makes call to ‘stabilize’ force, Sawant makes statement by passing on Seattle Police Officer Guild event / 10/17/19 — Sawant vs. Orion on police accountability: ‘Public safety problems are not because we don’t have enough police, it’s because of inequality’

CHS: Groups like Speak out Seattle have roundly criticized Seattle officials for not more aggressively prosecuting repeat offenders. What is your response to the “Seattle is Dying” criticism of the city?

ORION: I believe Seattle is thriving, but that too many are being left behind. Seattleites deserve unity over division and action over absence—a council member who puts them first, not their own national priorities. Our current tactic of increasing prosecution isn’t working. We need to address the underlying issues which are resulting in the problems “Seattle is Dying” criticize. This is why I support the expansion of the LEAD program which actively looks to support individuals who are repeat offenders in the justice system and provide them with the tools and resources they need to stay off the streets and face addiction.

SAWANT: I completely disagree with Speak Out Seattle’s viewpoint that we can somehow arrest and incarcerate our way out of the issues created by deep inequality, poverty, crisis in affordable housing, and underfunded social services and mental health resources. My office has worked on statistically proven and effective public safety programs. For example, early assessments of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) show how these services can address crises as they arise. We need full funding for mental healthcare and the LEAD program, which my office has fought to expand and has won funding for its expansion to Capitol Hill and the Central District. In addition, the work of the Seattle Fire Department’s Low Acuity Task force shows that when patients have direct contact with a social worker, repeat patients decreased their reliance on 9-1-1. This decrease in calls, and decrease of units responding to low acuity alarms, allows the SPD to respond to serious emergencies with greater capacity, while making the job safer at the same time. Unfortunately, these programs are often severely underfunded because Washington has the most regressive tax system of any state in the country, thus undermining our first responders’ capacity to keep people safe.

CHS: Hate crimes are rising and concentrated in District 3. How will you combat these types of bias incidents and improve inclusivity?

ORION: With the recent spike in hate crimes, the city and SPD has to do a better job of ensuring all Seattleites feel safe in their communities. We can start addressing this by making sure that neighborhoods have a say in infrastructure programs and safety improvements and that the city is both responsive and accountable to promises made to those communities. Our District has a distinct, vibrant nightlife scene that draws in a diverse crowd of people every weekend. Let’s ensure that everyone coming into our District at night — both locals and visitors — are provided the basics to be safe such as well-lit corridors, increased transit and ride-shares, extra police patrols, and well enforced community watch. Our national politics as done a lot to shift the political discourse in and outside of Seattle. We must reaffirm that Seattle is a city that will not tolerate racism, bigotry, sexism, or anti-LGBTQ rhetoric. Let’s do this by protecting our most vulnerable populations from hateful, vicious crimes. We can do better than this. We must do better than this. I’m lucky enough to live in one of the most diverse districts in the city. In my work with PrideFest, I seek to celebrate and strengthen that diversity. In the Central District, I see how my diverse neighborhood is a sign of strength and is something I’ll fight for. Displacement and lack of leadership on pathways to opportunity for marginalized groups is unacceptable. I will fight for communities of color just as I have the diversity of our LGBTQ community. Diverse communities are one hallmark of District 3. We are defined by our inclusivity. Let’s prove that to the city, the region, and to the rest of the country.

SAWANT: Since the first Seattle Trans Pride celebration in 2013, where my City Council campaign and I marched with the trans community, my Council office has proudly supported and marched alongside the trans and non-binary community every year. In response to increasing hate crimes against the LGBTQ community, my office hosted a Capitol Hill forum on LGBTQ hate crimes in 2015, along with Gender Justice League and other LGBTQ organizations. Mayor Murray’s initial response to the rise in hate crimes was a call for “more diversity in the police force.” The LGBTQ hate crimes forum put pressure on Murray to immediately set up an LGBTQ task force to address violence in the community. That task force was a product of the public pressure we built through that town hall. The initial successful pushback against Trump’s Muslim travel ban came from tens of thousands of courageous people protesting at airports — from SeaTac to JFK. I was there at SeaTac with 6,000 people, and we shut down SeaTac Airport in an act of peaceful civil disobedience. In general, crime is also strongly linked with the brutality of deep economic inequality. We need elected representatives who will fight against big business for rational solutions, such as taxing the wealthy in this city with the nation’s most regressive tax system. Our city also needs a 24-hour hate crime hotline, and an independently elected office to investigate workplace sexual and gender harassment, with full powers to hold corporations accountable. These services are necessary to provide support and justice for those impacted by harassment or hate crimes. We need to fully fund anti-bullying and harassment education in all our schools and workplaces. Regardless of federal policy from Trump, Seattle should reject laws and companies that allow discriminatory practices and policies. Seattle must be a sanctuary city in more than just a name, but in action as well. In Seattle, LGBTQ and other marginalized communities are disproportionately impacted by the affordable housing crisis. Seattle needs rent control, and a tax on big corporations to fund a massive expansion of social housing and LGBTQ services. Our city cannot claim to be a truly accepting place for the LGBTQ community or immigrants until we make Seattle affordable for all.

TRANSIT AND THE ENVIRONMENT


This has not been an urbanist’s race. Debate over public transportation or issues of the Green New Deal have mostly fallen to the wayside while the arguments over political style and campaign influence played out. Both candidates say they support Green New Deal ideals. Both are proponents of increased spending on public transit — though Orion has frequently included a line about fixing potholes in the street first. Sawant, meanwhile, has also sought to further socialize the city’s resources with a call for a study on strategies to make public transit free in Seattle.

CHS: What is your plan to support safe streets and continue to reduce car dependence in our district?

ORION: More people arrive in Seattle every day, and some of them have cars. We can’t build more roads, so we have to take some of those people off the streets, and the best way to do that is to incentivize using transit and provide safe, efficient solutions for bikes and for micro-mobility solutions like e-scooters. On public transit, we need a system that’s more efficient and cheaper than commuting by car, and to do that we have to have connected rapid ride bus lines both north and south and east and west. Same thing for bikes–bike lanes won’t work unless they’re connected, and with the advent of electric bikes the hills of Seattle become less of a factor and bikes become a real solution for some commuters. Other small but effective solutions like signal prioritization will keep our transit and bike systems moving faster and safer than they are today, and will encourage more people to get out of their cars and into these other transit options.

SAWANT: First and foremost, we need to massively increase our investment in public transit to make it free for all to use and to increase the number of routes and busses in service. We cannot expect people to forgo using cars when they do not have a viable and convenient alternative. We also need to build a stronger movement to demand that the City stay on schedule for building the bicycle master plan, which has been delayed! I fully support all steps in order to make zero fatalities and serious injuries by 2030 a concrete reality. This should include projects to address high crash corridors, prioritize pedestrians and bicyclists at intersections, expand protected bike lanes and protected bike intersections, develop safe routes to schools, and expand neighborhood greenways. I oppose – and have spoken strongly against – the Mayor’s decision to abandon the bike lane on 35th Ave, which is creating increasingly unsafe conditions for bicyclists and drivers. This also shows the importance of continuing to have a movement-building approach, as bicycle and transportation activists have correctly had, in order to ensure the completion of the master plan, and to win further gains. Unlike Mayor Durkan and most political establishment politicians, I do not support the current proposal for congestion pricing. While I understand the motivation to discourage car use, I do not agree that tolling is an effective solution as it represents what are essentially regressive taxes on working people and the poor. Tolls can backfire: a 2009 University of Washington study found that: “As a percentage of income, the poor pay much more.” We need to massively expand the density of the network and routes of public transit, frequency, and the number of stops – this will need serious political courage on the council to build a movement to tax big business and the wealthy. Finally, half of all traffic fatalities in the United States are related to drunk driving. We need widely available late-night Metro service, and we should also explore other public transit options, such as free late-night ride shares.

CHS: What specific areas of D3 are most in need of new transit and transportation infrastructure investments and resources?

ORION: Many of our solutions have been focused on north-south corridors, but in order to get folks out of their cars and produce the most efficient systems possible, we also need east-west solutions, like the Madison Rapid-Ride, or the Union and Pine Street protected bike lanes. Other areas that have asked for help? Mount Baker. Residents in the area have expressed concern that there is a lack of sidewalks near schools and largely trafficked thoroughfares. Those who live in Madrona complain of poorly paved streets. Portage Bay has limited Metro Bus access and it almost always involves a transfer, which just encourages more car use. We need to do more to improve our street infrastructure and connect District 3 through accessible, affordable, and electrified mass transit lines.

SAWANT: The #3 bus comes too infrequently to accommodate the ridership between downtown and First Hill. I have seen many buses skip the 5th avenue pick up because they were so full of riders, there was no point in stopping. Metro should increase the frequency of this route, along with many other routes. Because Washington State has the most regressive tax system in the country, our transit system faces constant shortages. For example, the Madison Rapid Ride corridor, for example, is dependent on a $100 million grant from the federal government. Public transit, and safety, should be the top priorities for SDOT’s resources. However, they should not have to choose between Rapid Ride, bicycle safety, and filling potholes – Seattle needs to tax big business to fund all of the city’s transit and infrastructure needs.

CHS: Last time you were on a Metro bus? Last time you were on light rail?

ORION: I was on a Metro bus just yesterday going to my campaign consultant’s office down in Pioneer Square. Last week I was on light rail going from Capitol Hill to downtown, going from my BIA work on the Hill to meetings downtown. Both are incredibly efficient and pleasant ways to get around town without the high cost of parking or the frustration of traffic.

SAWANT: I regularly take the 27 or the 14 to and from City Hall. Most recently, I took the 27 home from a community meeting yesterday (Tuesday July 16th) at the Yesler Community Center. I last rode the light rail some weeks ago.

CHS: What specific legislation will you put forward to help address climate change? No symbolic answers like a Green New Deal please.

ORION: Specifically, I would like to electrify our public transportation systems to reduce carbon emissions in the city. I would also incentivize builders, architects and developers to design green buildings, pursue green remodeling, and promote wind and solar power to create long-lasting impacts on climate change. With all the innovation in this city, we should be leading on climate change policy. Green roofs. Wind farms, Solar arrays. Incentives for all of it. Let’s produce so much beautiful green energy that we can dismantle the dams on the Snake River so we can bring back salmon runs and give a fighting chance to our resident orca whales. Seattle is at the perfect place to lead on climate change, we just need the leaders to, well, lead. Imagine a carbon-neutral Seattle and help invent the technology of tomorrow to enable that. Now that’s real change.

SAWANT: First I do not agree at all that the Green New Deal is symbolic, and if we are to avoid climate disaster we need to ensure it is not. Concretely, it is a collection of proposals to heavily invest in public works, to expand green infrastructure, and to create quality, union jobs in the process that can take real steps forward on the climate crisis. Seattle can provide national leadership on this issue by passing a Green New Deal here. The Green New Deal is also a political process. There is no way to win it without directly taking on the power that the fossil fuel companies have in our society. I sponsored a resolution, unanimously passed by the Seattle City Council opposing the new multi-million gallon Liquid Natural Gas plant in Tacoma, proposed by Puget Sound Energy, a for-profit fossil fuel company that sells and burns the fracked natural gas. To do that, my office and our movementI had to stand up to PSE’s powerful lobby. It’s not surprising that PSE has now put $0,000 into the Chamber of Commerce-sponsored CASE PAC to defeat progressive candidates like myself. I think Seattle should use its green public utility, Seattle City Light, to carry out a major expansion of wind and solar energy. We are fighting for a Green New Deal for Seattle’s working people funded by taxing the rich – massively expanding public transit, and making it fully electric, and free at the point of use. We need a major program of clean energy retrofitting of residential and commercial buildings. Rent control and a massive expansion of social housing also are policies to address climate change. By making housing affordable, we can stop the displacement of Seattle’s working class and avoid the very long commutes that are not only highly inconvenient but deeply environmentally unsustainable. People could afford to live closer to where they work, shop, and play, which can dramatically reduces the time people spend in their cars and greenhouse gas emissions.

DISTRICT 3


Lastly, here are the candidates on two local issues for District 3. First, we asked if they would commit to keeping an office in the area — whether in a gas station office, or not. And, this being D3, home of the most expensive election in Seattle history, what they would do to make sure a race like this never happens again.

CHS: Will you establish a new location for a District 3 office where you hold office hours and meet with constituents? Where will it be located?

ORION: Unlike my opponent, one of my top priorities is constituent services and I am totally committed to being available to address the unique needs and challenges of our constituents. I would support opening an office in District 3 to be more accessible to constituents, but I am also interested in holding regular hours at coffee shops and community centers around the district, as I am doing now on the campaign trail. District representatives who spend most of their time downtown are already failing at the core responsibility of being a district councilmember, and I’ll make sure that’s stopped on my watch.

SAWANT: When Seattle created districts, I intended to open a Council Office in the district, and began looking for a suitable location at a reasonable rent. However, particularly because rents are high, I decided that the resources of my office could better serve the working people of the district by hiring more community organizers to work with tenants facing displacement and eviction, and activists fighting for a Green New Deal, to tax the rich, and for rent control. I am convinced that this was the correct decision, and is a far more productive use of my office’s budget than paying high-priced rent on a second office outside City Hall.

CHS: The District 3 race is shaping up — again — to be the most expensive in the city. What would you do to change that before 2023?

ORION: I think the best way to prevent another expensive, combative election is to elect a councilmember that lives up to their promises and meets the needs of their constituents. If I’m elected, I’ll actually make progress on District 3’s priorities—building more affordable housing, addressing the homelessness crisis, ensuring transparency and accountability in government, providing opportunity for small businesses, expanding access to transit and other methods of transportation, and implementing new and innovative technologies and services. On council, I will win back the trust of constituents by listening, acting with transparency, creating an effective coalition, enacting data-driven policy, and ultimately being accountable to every resident of District 3.

SAWANT: The District 3 race is the most expensive in the City because it is the race with the most at stake, namely who runs Seattle, big business or working people. That is why Seattle’s biggest businesses have amassed over $1 million so far in corporate PACs ($200,000 from Amazon alone), and are disproportionately focusing that money on District 3. They are intent in particular on defeating the Councilmember who used her office to build a movement to win the $15/hour minimum wage, has demonstrated how effectively an elected representative can be in winning landmark victories for workers and renters if they (the elected representative) are unshakably accountable to working people and do not sell out to corporate interests. And we are now building the movement for rent control. That is also why more and more working people are making the sacrifice to donate to our campaign – because they know what’s at stake. I have raised more than any other candidate, and have received more donations from District 3 than any other candidate, while accepting no corporate donations. I oppose the undemocratic Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. Corporations are not people. Corporate PACs represent the interests of millionaires and billionaires, and simply should not be legal. In order to win their own representation, working people make sacrifices to donate to genuine representatives of the movement. We should seek any possible avenues to block corporate PAC spending enabled by Citizens United, so that corporations can’t continue to try to buy elections. Our campaign is entirely funded by donations from working people, and as always doesn’t accept a dime in corporate cash. I only take the average wage ($40,000) of District 3 residents and donate the rest of my six-figure City Council salary to social justice movements. I encourage more candidates in this election to refuse corporate donations, reject the support of corporate PACs, and pledge to take the average wage of the constituents they represent if elected. This is why my campaign is “not for sale.”

More about the CHS candidate survey many of these answers came from here.


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42 thoughts on “A battle over Amazon? Sawant vs. Orion in their own words on District 3 issues — housing, homelessness, public safety, and the environment

  1. I just want to acknowledge and thank jseattle for this rather unbiased summary of the candidates for this significant city council election. And despite my perception that this site takes a pro-Sawant position, I appreciate that he has always allowed pro-Orion/anti-Sawant replies to be posted, letting the other side be represented.
    However, despite the stated positions of both candidates, the point of this election is whether District 3 will truly be represented on the city council. One thing that was not mentioned was Sawant’s out of city support and her pandering for funds from places that could have no knowledge or interest in the needs of District 3 of Seattle. For example, when she actually has fundraisers in Pennsylvania, that to me is just one example that reinforces the fact that she cares more about her East Coast political organization than the citizens of District 3.
    I can’t understand why people who love and live in District 3 would chose to forego local needs and support a candidate with national aspirations. Especially one who has already served in office for 2 terms in which there definitely has been a decline in the quality of life in this city
    By the way, I think your photographer did a great job of taking pictures that are flattering for both candidates :) .

    • I think J is doing a great job and certainly navigating a polarized landscape with tact, which is why I’m glad to support the blog on Patreon.

      And JerryL, I don’t think your criticism of J is merited here, even given your hyperbolic assessment of Sawant’s national supporters. The focus of this article is the candidate’s own words, and I think it does a great job doing that. I personally think J goes way too far in legitimizing a candidate who is merely a tool of big business, so you can see how impossible a task it is to make everyone happy.

    • Seconded! I moved out of the neighborhood a few years ago after 15 years there and CHS is still on my read-daily list. Particularly with the Sawant vs. megacorps (I’ll just go ahead and show my bias) battle going on, the reporting here is very valuable.

    • Don’t get too excited just yet. I am expecting Orion to be ahead on the first ballot drop (if he isn’t we are all screwed), but I am guessing the pension fund socialist activist millennials that Sawant has hired from all over the country to come canvas D3 will be out registering every homeless person they can find on 11/5. Don’t celebrate until the election is certified.

  2. I thought Sawant’s parents were University professors. If so, does that really merit your description of growing up in a working/middle class household? Where I am from, that is clearly an upper middle class household no matter what country you live in.

    • You are very misinformed.

      Sawant’s mother was killed by a drunk driver and her single dad was a civil engineer. Grew up in impoverished area of India.

      Do you research.

      • Notice how I prefaced my comment with “I thought” and continued with “if so”? These phrases clearly imply I do not know for certain but believe the premise I offer in my post is true. And it also leaves me open to polite correction, rather than the snarky put downs offered by you “in the cd.” What are yiu trying to accomplish by being so snippy with your responses?

      • Don’t say anything then if you don’t know. That’s how dumb rumors are spread.

        Hope you learned your lesson. And know Kshama got a job at a young age and had to work to support her family. Civil Engineer salaries were very low in India. And he wasn’t one her whole life.

      • According to Wikipedia, which is what it is, Sawant’s mother is now a retired school principal and very much alive. Her father was an engineer who was killed by a drunk driver when she was 13. So, maybe we both learned something?

      • Mumbai is the impoverished area of India?

        From wiki:
        Early life and education

        Sawant was born to Vasundhara and H. T. Ramanujam in Pune, in the Western Indian state of Maharashtra, in a Hindu middle-class family.[7] Her mother is a retired principal and her father, who was a civil engineer, was killed by a drunk driver when Sawant was 13.[8] Sawant’s observations of poverty in her native country and her unhappiness with the Indian caste system helped shape her political views before her adoption of socialism. Sawant grew up in Mumbai where she later studied computer science and graduated with a BS from the University of Mumbai in 1994. She married her husband Vivek, an engineer at Microsoft, and moved to the United States. Sawant’s husband filed for and obtained a legal divorce in 2014.[9] She remarried in August 2016 to Calvin Priest, a fellow Seattle Socialist Alternative organizer.[10]

        Shocked by the level of poverty she saw, Sawant decided to abandon software engineering.[3] She pursued studies in economics because of what she described as her own “questions of economic inequality.”[11] She entered the economics program at North Carolina State University where she earned a PhD. Her dissertation was titled Elderly Labor Supply in a Rural, Less Developed Economy.[12][13] Sawant moved to Seattle in 2006 and became a Socialist Alternative party member. She became a United States citizen in 2010.[14]

        My favorite part of this is that her observations and shock of the caste system and poverty in India drove her to the US rather than trying to improve conditions in her home country.

        New poster: Sawant cares about the residents of District 3 just as much as she cares about the people in her home country. Not at all.
        Let’s take bets on where she moves to after her stint in Seattle is up?
        Pittsburgh? maybe Virginia where she can take up her Amazon is evil stance with a fresh new audience.
        although not sure the east coast would have the same tolerance for her nonsense as the guilt ridden liberals here in Seattle.
        Tacoma?

    • As if a mega corporation trying to steal our local election wasn’t disgusting enough now we have to deal with deceitful mailers from Orion and completely dishonest blog comments from Amazon shills. These tactics reek of desperation.

  3. This was a thorough piece so thank you for that. From the tone of discussion everywhere, people seem less interested in what is right before their eyes and more interested in mud slinging and rumors. Let’s not pretend that residents of D3 have one size fits all needs. Let’s also not pretend there aren’t major conflicting interests here either. There are a lot of people who feel the city doesn’t represent them and they also have very diverse needs. Hearing from people who have high levels of societal privilege whine about not having their needs met knowing people are literally sleeping outside is infuriating.

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