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Oliver and Nelson square off in Position 9 debate: ‘Public safety’ vs. ‘law and order,’ how a police abolitionist can keep the city safe, and ‘root causes’ vs. ‘rhetoric and the idealogical bent’

(Image: Rainier Avenue Radio and Converge Media)

With ballots out and votes already being collected, the candidates for the citywide Position 9 on the Seattle City Council went head to head in a debate Wednesday night hosted by two leading outlets in Black media in the city.

The most illuminating moments of the night came as the candidates got the opportunity to question each other with Nikkita Oliver defending their ability to create a safe city as a police abolitionist and Sara Nelson clarifying her position in the race as a “law and order” candidate.

Nelson, she said, would not call herself the “law and order” candidate. “I’m more of a public safety person,” the brewery owner and one-time city council aide said, adding that ongoing and repeated misdemeanors “are not small crimes.”

Nelson, meanwhile, ran out of time before answering Oliver about there are cement “eco blocks” outside her Fremont Brewing in an area of Ballard where many homeless campers park and live in RVs and cars.

During the night, Nelson also acknowledged that one of her campaign’s perceived biggest strengths may not play well across the city.

“I’ve got to admit, I’ve taken some heat for being the ‘small business owner’ in this race,” she said.

Oliver, meanwhile, was forced to defend their support for the Defund SPD movement in the exchange between candidates. “What’s your plan to keep people safe?,” Nelson asked. The activist, educator, and lawyer said the math is simple. Half of Seattle’s 911 calls don’t require an armed police officer so we should send mental health professionals, and medical help instead, when needed.

CHS reported more on the candidate’s positions regarding homelessness, the environment, and defunding SPD here over the summer.

Wednesday’s event was hosted by Rainier Avenue Radio and Converge Media and streamed live with Rainier Avenue Radio’s Tony Benton plus trans activist, speaker, and community organizer Mac McGregor and “The Def Chef” Jermaine Miller of Soulful Dishes providing questions for the debate.

Wednesday night’s forum comes in what is expected to be a neck and neck race for the citywide seat on the council left open with incumbent Lorena González’s run for the mayor’s office.

Nelson is making her second run for the council and touted her experience as a small business owner as the foundation for a role on the city council that would help create “generational wealth” and safe streets in the city.

Oliver has also mounted a Seattle campaign before but this time is targeting the council, not the mayor’s office. A leading voice from Seattle’s Black Lives Matter and #defundSPD protests, Oliver said Wednesday the end goal is “a green and thriving Seattle” that includes ending exclusionary zoning, addressing the “climate catastrophe” with Green New Deal spending, and ending our dependence on regressive tax systems and replacing those sources with “progressive revenue” and new taxes to “always meet the basic needs of our residents.”

Both candidates took positions during the night that might confound conventional wisdom around their campaigns. Nelson at one point said she believes the city should revisit the “$15 Now” movement and begin the process to, again, raise Seattle’s minimum wage. Nelson’s opponent, meanwhile, broke away from a major initiative for District 3 representative Kshama Sawant, distancing the Oliver campaign from the push for rent control. While saying allowing rent control in Seattle is “absolutely something we need to be pursuing at the state level,” Oliver called the campaign “not the only answer,” and said initiatives like utilizing American Rescue Plan and Seattle’s JumpStart tax on big companies to increase “direct cash assistance Black and Brown communities.”

Wednesday, Rainier Avenue Radio’s Benton asked the toughest question of the night. Why should a Black person vote for you?

Oliver, who identifies as “a black mixed queer womxn,” said they would bring “a sense of urgency” to equity and civil rights issues in the city and said they are tired of “incremental change.”

Nelson, a white business owner, and, yes, the “public safety” candidate, said she would take a more pragmatic approach, saying there are “things” she and Oliver agree on, but “our approach is different.” Nelson, she says, is “the person who is actually going to get things done” and not “someone who is going to fall in step with the rhetoric and the idealogical bent.” It’s not as lofty as “getting at the root causes,” Nelson admitted, but said she is “the best shot at returning Seattle” or “at least getting it to a place where we can enjoy a healthy and safe city for everyone.”

Ballots from King County Elections have been sent out to voters and must be postmarked or dropped at collection boxes by Tuesday, November 2nd at 8 PM.

 

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Glenn
Glenn
1 month ago

Where are we going to get all those trained mental health counselors, social workers, etc., to respond to half our 911 calls? Are they just sitting around waiting to be slotted into these roles envisioned by Oliver? If so, why can’t we use the skills of these people to assist homeless people currently living in tents all over the city? If they aren’t available for that task then they aren’t available to answer 911 calls currently handled by the police.
It takes time and a plan to change the way we respond to 911 calls. You can’t just get rid of the police before you ramp up the alternative.

p-patch
p-patch
1 month ago
Reply to  Glenn

This is critical. Hypothetical solutions need to work in practice – if the city has no mental health counselors actively shadowing SPD/SFD, then how are they going to step into these situation to provide alternate forms of “public safety”? And to be clear, current 911 calls don’t automatically route to armed officers – SFD handles a large number of the responses. Our leaders need to be able to both acknowledge past problems and respond with viable alternatives. The defund movement has yet to provide the later…

Pam
Pam
1 month ago
Reply to  Glenn

I don’t know, seems like the walkouts yesterday may have freed up some revenue for them

Disappointed in Seattle's Progressives
Disappointed in Seattle's Progressives
1 month ago
Reply to  Glenn

That’s one of the problems that the defunders have not addressed and why I can’t vote for them, despite wanting to support these alternatives. I had a dangerous situation (encampment in front of my home that was a fire hazard due to an electrical device). I reported it to the city’s established homelessness outreach line instead of calling the police, and they did absolutely nothing. 48 hours after my call, no one had come to assist. The camper wound up leaving on their own after throwing all of their belongings across the sidewalk, completely blocking it, which I then had to clean up myself, since the city told me only that they would send someone within 10 days (!!!) to do so. That’s just not a feasible alternative.

Richard
Richard
1 month ago

Lucky you didn’t get arrested for improperly disposing of his belongings.

In case this wasn't sarcasm...
In case this wasn't sarcasm...
1 month ago
Reply to  Richard

I looked up the law prior to removing it (not illegal, as it was an obstruction, according to section 4.1 of the FAS Encampment Removal Rule) and also told the city representative I spoke with that I was planning to clean this myself because it was unfeasible to wait 10 days to have the sidewalk cleared, as it was entirely blocked. And if you saw the way the person left things, it was very clear they were NOT intending to come back. It was like they or someone had freaked out and intentionally destroyed their site.

Park neighbor
Park neighbor
1 month ago

I reached out to the city about a similar situation. They did nothing, and sure enough, the tent and adjacent telephone pole went up in flames. A couple of years prior, I called about some sketchy meth dude in a tent on the block. The city did nothing until he raped two teenagers in his tent. It turns out he was a sex offender and meth dealer that migrated here from Florida.

CoCo
CoCo
1 month ago

Nelson all the way! Enough of ultra left! Look around, right! It’s not working!

JuliaJ
JuliaJ
1 month ago

Please vote for Sara Nelson everyone. She’s not perfect but I think she will be a good public servant. Nikkita is a disaster waiting to happen. Just listen to her rhetoric. For the sake of ALL people in this City who just want to live a peaceful life, we have to stop electing people like her to the Council. So incredibly destructive. Think about it. Nikkita has never had a real job as far as I can tell. How can she possibly understand what working people and families of all socioeconomic levels are faced with?

Grapevine
Grapevine
1 month ago
Reply to  JuliaJ

So much pearl clutching, your hands must be bleeding, eh? Nikkita has done more for youth, unhoused folks, and others in our community than most folks in this city and certainly more than Sara Nelson.

Also “Nikkita has never had a real job as far as I tell”? A quick google search and you will see that they are an executive director running their own organization, an attorney, has taught at universities, was a middle school teacher, worked for the ACLU, just to name a few. They have always and continue to dedicate their time and profession to working class folks, and especially to youth.

What about them makes you think they (as opposed to Sara Nelson) haven’t had a real job I wonder? hmmmm

district13tribute
district13tribute
1 month ago
Reply to  Grapevine

Why do you trivialize real concerns with dismissive insults? In 2019 Oliver testified on behalf of a youth charged with a drive by shooting, hit and run and unlawful possession of a firearm. At the time Oliver told the judge they were there to “commit my support to making sure the youth does what is needed and shows up to where they need to be.” In Dec 2020 the youth was arrested again and put on probation. One month later they were again arrested after participating in an armed robbery where two people were shot with one losing part of her kidney and intestine as a result.

Is this pearl clutching to wonder if this is Oliver’s vision for the city? Promoting restorative justice is noble but advocating for dismantling our safety system is not harm reduction. In this case it lead to actual harm for innocent people. If Oliver wants to be an activist then by all means they should continue in that role. This city needs people who are willing to deal in reality and sometimes that reality is that sometimes there is a need to remove individuals from society before they commit further harm.

HTS3
HTS3
1 month ago

Thank you, district13tribute. Your response demonstrates thoughtful consideration instead of merely jumping on the “oh, these pearl clutchers have no clue about reality.” I believe that Nikita is a committed, intelligent activist. Unfortunately much of our current City Council is made up of activists. This means that their singular motivations don’t leave them in a very good position to lead and compromise and demand accountability of our resources. Sara is someone with government experience and private business experience. She understands the needs of working within a budget rather than simply demanding new revenue sources. My opinion of course.

FabGov
FabGov
1 month ago
Reply to  JuliaJ

True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice. I voted for Oliver without thinking twice.

Bob
Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  FabGov

Probably without thinking once as well.

Nandor
Nandor
1 month ago
Reply to  FabGov

Yeah, because nothing makes your life serene and relaxing like knowing that at any point in time you might be randomly spit on or otherwise assaulted by a person who’s wandering the streets completely high or psychotic and totally untreated. And it’s oh so mellow to know that you cannot have any kind of package delivered to your house and expect it to actually be there when you get home. Not to mention the real feel goods you get from coming out of a store to discover someone has cut your bike lock or smashed in your car window….

And the best part of all… knowing that ‘justice’ means that the folks doing those things must have some sort of problem or trauma that completely excuses them from being at all accountable for their actions and but that you deserve whatever happens to you.

JonathanG
JonathanG
1 month ago
Reply to  FabGov

You don’t have a clue what justice means. Here’s a clue: it’s not justice when an innocent bystander is assaulted by a repeat felon high on drugs because of your desire to feel moral superiority and virtue signal.

csy
csy
1 month ago

I’d say *more* than half of all 911 calls *already* don’t require an armed police officer, but instead require only medical personnel, paramedics, and firefighters — *that* math seems simple enough to me.

D3 Voter
D3 Voter
1 month ago

I’m not voting for anyone that doesn’t have a plan to repeal zoning restrictions and increase housing – bottom line.

For the first time in 100 years there are more renters in Seattle than homeowners. It feels like there’s increasingly no pathway to homeownership for renters/middle class people. The current housing market in Seattle is incentivizing wealthy people to invest in the housing market instead of the stock market. I don’t blame them when home values in the city increased 25.5% in the last year – I’m just saying that that’s the issue. They’re eating up housing stock and increasingly pushing the middle class out of the housing market. It’s abominable.

Property owners in this city will tell you that they’re just concerned about the “character” of their neighborhoods (there’s so much there to unpack but I won’t even go there), but let’s be honest – they’re loving the 25% gains they’re getting on their property to the detriment of middle class people who just want to be able to afford a modest two-bedroom place. Is that asking for too much?

JonathanG
JonathanG
1 month ago
Reply to  D3 Voter

Seattle has increased density significantly in the past decade. Has your rent or home price dropped? Much like increasing highway lanes. You build it and the capacity will find a way to max out, meanwhile prices continue to rise. If density solved home prices, Manhattan would be a cheap place to live and not still the most expensive city in the country.

D3 Voter
D3 Voter
1 month ago
Reply to  JonathanG

It’s completely possible for housing supply/density to increase while home prices do not, if housing supply isn’t keeping up with population growth.

I would point you to the City of Seattle’s “Market Rate Housing Needs and Supply Analysis” published April 2021:

“Despite a historic surge in new construction, housing supply is not keeping pace with demand. The rate of new housing production in Seattle is higher than it has been in several decades. However, Seattle has been gaining jobs at an even faster pace. Between 2005 and 2019, Seattle would have needed to produce an additional 9,000 housing units to maintain its baseline ratio of jobs to housing units. This shortage of housing supply increases competition for each available unit, driving up rents and housing prices across the market.”

Saying Manhattan is dense and also expensive isn’t proof that more density isn’t a good solution – it just means that housing supply is low compared to demand for it. Yes, space is running out in Manhattan, but we’re nowhere near that point in Seattle. Nearly 70% of buildable land in Seattle has zoning laws that prevent larger development.

D3 Voter
D3 Voter
1 month ago
Reply to  JonathanG

It’s completely possible for home prices to increase while housing supply/density also increases, if housing supply isn’t keeping up with population growth*

Smart Voter
Smart Voter
1 month ago

Nelson seems only interested in clout for her business and helping the rich. Oliver is on our side and speaks to the D3 better. I’m voting for them.

Glenn
Glenn
1 month ago
Reply to  Smart Voter

Hey Smart Voter. Your simplistic analysis of the candidate’s positions does not lend credence to your title.

HTS3
HTS3
1 month ago
Reply to  Glenn

I do find it concerning when folks call themselves “good looking,” “really smart,” or “a talented artist.” I always wonder why they feel it’s important to lead with that rather than have someone come to that conclusion on their own? Oh well.

seawall
seawall
1 month ago
Reply to  Smart Voter

Running a business can be a legitimate form of community service.