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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