During late August and mid-September, the candidates in this year’s hottest local races came to Seattle Met’s offices to respond to our nosy inquiries about their resumes, explain why they should serve on the Seattle City Council, and answer our questions about affordable housing, transportation, and police accountability.
Based on those conversations, candidate forums, our review of campaign finance reports and candidate questionnaires, and our coverage of city hall—here are our endorsements for the historic 2015 council elections.
We focused on the most contested races, or in one case (at-large Position Nine), one of the most meaningful races.
District One: Vote for Lisa Herbold
There isn’t a more qualified candidate running for city council than Lisa Herbold, a longtime aide to popular veteran city council member Nick Licata. Herbold’s opponent, Shannon Braddock, certainly has promise, but she’s outmatched by an experienced pro like Herbold, who got her start as an organizer with the Tenants Union in the late 1990s while also working with Licata against public subsidies for stadiums and sweetheart downtown development deals. Herbold displays an unmatched bandwidth for policy details and a focus on the pragmatic political groundwork it takes to get to five votes. And her progressive values run philosophically deep.
The annoying fact that Herbold is aligned with a faction of old-school Seattle populists that casts developers as stereotypical bad guys while championing developer fees on top of developer fees (“I want to marry impact fees” Herbold told us) should certainly give urbanists pause. But thanks to Herbold’s mature political chops, intellectual tenacity, and demonstrated commitment to social justice (she’s helped Licata pass landmark legislation on police reform, immigrants rights, tenant protections, and paid sick leave), we endorse Herbold with zero reservations—and a long list of acclamations. (And heads up to city greens who don’t think Herbold gets it: She was behind the scenes last year, with highlighter and pen in hand, helping Licata craft legislation demanding that the city’s pension fund divest from the fossil fuel industry.)
Herbold will be an alert SPD watchdog. Long before the Department of Justice’s sweeping court order forced the SPD to address excessive force and biased policing, Herbold spotted systemic problems and was fighting for greater police accountability at the legislative level. As Licata’s lead staffer, Herbold (city hall code name “Council Member Herbold”) helped establish an independent police oversight auditor position and fought for the public’s right to unredacted police files.
It’s hardly a surprise then that Herbold enthusiastically supports the comprehensive proposal that would give the Community Police Commission greater oversight of the SPD. But Herbold is also campaigning on one of the most original ideas we’ve heard from a candidate this season—a set of specific rights to protect cell phone camera-wielding observers monitoring the SPD at demonstrations. “I think observation is one of the most cherished and effective tools in dealing with police misconduct,” Herbold told us when asked what was missing from the CPC legislation.
Social justice has become a trendy buzz word, but Herbold was using a race and class lens to reform regressive city policy—like the city’s old car impound ordinance and its nightlife regulations—long before hashtag politics were in play.
On Herbold’s current justice league docket? Protecting tenants from source-of-income discrimination, reinstating the SPD’s community service officer program to deal with civil crimes like delinquent landlords, and shifting affordability metrics to account for the lowest wage workers at 50 percent of median income, not 80 percent. Oh, and she’s still suspicious of stadium deals. It’ll be good to have Herbold’s voice and fastidious fact-checking on council when the SoDo deal is placed back on the front burner. “I don’t think it’s a good deal. I think there’s still too much public money in it,” Herbold says candidly.
Shannon Braddock, Herbold’s opponent, an aide to Democratic King County Council member Joe McDermott, is a single mom with PTA activist chops and progressive values; she helped budget chair McDermott amend the budget to protect social services for youth, the LGBTQ community, and women. But we have yet to get a real sense of her mission. Asked why she was running, she told us: “I had been with Joe for about five years, and I started thinking, ‘What’s next? What am I going to do?’ I hadn’t thought about running for city council, but when Tom Rasmussen decided not to run, I was one of many people who got a note saying, ‘Hey, what about you?’” To be fair, Braddock also noted a bill she’d like to pass to make it easier to provide in-home child care service, but that’s hardly a platform.
Lisa Herbold, a diligent, class-conscious advocate for the little guy, has a clear and important platform.
DISTRICT THREE: Vote for Kshama Sawant
Yes, PubliCola has often been critical of socialist city council member Kshama Sawant. Unfortunately her opponent, Urban League leader Pamela Banks, is not a strong candidate. And despite our criticisms of Sawant, the truth is: Sawant plays an invaluable role on the council as an inimitable provocateur for equity.
While Sawant’s outsize presence is sometimes showy rather than substantive—she lists town hall meetings as accomplishments, her platform is based on the iffy hope of a millionaire’s tax in a state where so far the courts have held income taxes unconstitutional, and she passed a resolution (!) saying the council supported the teachers’ union strike—her lefty atmospherics actually do often translate into bottom-line policy. To her credit? She amended the budget in her freshman year when she overrode Mayor Murray by making the city government pay all its workers the $15 minimum wage in 2015. She added $100,000 to support basic amenities at transitional encampments. And she scored $120,000 to support year-round, low-barrier women’s homeless shelters.
Indeed, Socialist Alternative Party member Sawant has established an effective equation for impacting policy at city hall on behalf of the underclass—a long neglected, important constituency that she serves with unshakable dedication. Continuing the Malcolm X–hammer role she first established during the $15 minimum wage talks—threatening to rebuke any watered-down solution with a more left wing initiative of her own—Sawant has emerged as a constant check on business as usual at city hall (a “dirty game” as she describes it, where “big businesses contribute to candidates and expect a return on their investment. I do not accept corporate contributions.”)
Not only does Sawant deserve much of the credit for Seattle’s famous $15 minimum wage, but she stopped Seattle Housing Authority’s welfare-reform-style rent increase, put bonding to build affordable housing on city property squarely on the city’s agenda, and made local rent regulation (including overdue protections such as preventing delinquent landlords from raising rents) a defining issue.
Sawant’s opponent, Urban League leader Banks, a veteran advocate for economic and racial equity, is much too wary of necessary urban upgrades such as pod apartments (“Now there’s no parking for people already in the neighborhood,” she told us) and road diets (“There’s no reason to do a road diet on 23rd”). Banks also frowned on a PubliCola pet favorite, the Pike Street ped-friendly street closure project. (Sawant was excited about the project. And as for the important 23rd redesign, Sawant cosponsored key legislation to ensure the project happened.) Banks’s cranky traditional leanings are not a good fit for the city’s incubator neighborhood, Capitol Hill, a key part of District Three.
Sawant has been accused of going on the offense with a divisive class war. But her incorrigible agenda and nonstop organizing is actually a political Legion of Boom in defense of those whose livelihood has been jeopardized in Amazon-era Seattle.
DISTRICT FOUR: Vote for Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson, the longtime executive director of the pro-ped, bike, and transit group Transportation Choices Coalition, is the premier urbanist on this year’s ballot. He’s running against up-and-coming Democratic party activist Michael Maddux.
The first thing supergeek Johnson will (eagerly) tell you about District Four is that three of the seven new Seattle light rail stations are in his district, and he wants to ensure that city policy takes advantage of this great news to transform District Four into a model of networked, pedestrian-friendly, family-friendly, affordable neighborhoods.
On that last point, Johnson, who sees everything as part of the transit equation, connects transportation policy with social justice. He emphatically told us he was disappointed in Mayor Murray’s decision to forego additional density in single family neighborhoods; conversely, most of the candidates we interviewed said the mayor shouldn’t have proposed such a radical idea in the first place.
As for Johnson, he took a cell phone picture of a triplex that had been grandfathered into a single family zone in his district and started showing it around to skeptics while he was doorbelling to try and push the density conversation. Johnson reports that about half the people he talked to were “superexcited and ready to go” on the idea of filling in “the missing middle of duplexes and triplexes. I think that missing voice” didn’t get reported in the press, he says.
Johnson was also one of the few candidates who told us he didn’t approve of the council’s bill to rein in pod apartments nor the council’s follow up legislation against low-rise development. And, again, he’s critical of the mayor; as one of the original “Yes, In My Backyard” activists who fought to build light rail right through the Roosevelt business corridor instead of along I-5 back in 2004 (long before transit-oriented development was cool) and then fought for an upzone in the neighborhood in 2011, Johnson recently came out for affordable housing rather than Murray’s shortsighted plan for a park near Roosevelt’s light rail stop.
There are lots of Jane-Jacobs-Come-Latelys to the urbanist cause, but as the longtime director of TCC, which helped establish the low-income Orca Lift fare card, Johnson has the experience and expertise to continue delivering on the city’s most pressing planning issues. (Full disclosure, Josh Feit’s partner works at TCC.)
Johnson’s opponent, outspoken Democrat Maddux, is no slouch. A quick study and dedicated activist who fought for permanent parks funding, Maddux has a fine-tuned civil rights barometer. And he’d be the only gay member of the new city council.
But Maddux is running against one of this year’s truly outstanding candidates. Zealous urbanists aren’t the only ones who support Johnson. In addition to getting natural endorsements from local geek bible the Seattle Transit Blog, all-star activist Cary Moon, the Sierra Club, Washington Conservation Voters, TreePAC, and Cascade Bike Club, Johnson was one of just four candidates out of this year’s 40-plus field to score the official top “Outstanding” rating from the no-nonsense Municipal League. (Maddux only got the third ranking, “Good.”) Even the fiery United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21 and the hotel and restaurant workers union endorsed Johnson, debunking the trite notion that Johnson, who’s also supported by the Seattle chamber, is a tool of conservatives. His broad support is more a recognition of all the work Johnson has done over the years building coalitions to get things done such as putting Sound Transit 2 on the ballot and passing it.
In line with our enthusiastic endorsement of Herbold, we believe electing Johnson is a rare opportunity for Seattle.
DISTRICT FIVE: Vote for Sandy Brown
When it comes to our city agenda, it’s a lackluster draw between the two candidates in this race, Reverend Sandy Brown and attorney Debora Juarez. They’re both okay—vocally supportive of density and urban upgrades like the 130th Street upzone. But when pressed on details there are red flags. Brown, for example, wants to preserve the stifling ownership requirement on mother-in-law apartments, and Juarez supported the city’s crackdown on pod apartments.
Meanwhile both candidates match the changing demographics in North Seattle (Juarez is Latina and a member of Blackfoot Nation and Brown is Mexican American.)
Ultimately though, Brown, the senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of Seattle for six years until 2014, is the better choice. His resume of service and accomplishments are impeccable. Brown was the head of the activist-oriented Church Council of Greater Seattle from 2003 to 2008 where he defended the right of a synagogue in Bellevue and a church in Woodinville to have tent cities in single family neighborhoods, taking it all the way to the state supreme court for a 9-0 ruling after lower court losses.
Brown was also a founding member of Committee to End Homelessness in King County, chairing its lobbying efforts at the state level. Of course, the committee to end homelessness didn’t, in fact, end homelessness. But we’re not going to hold Brown responsible for homelessness. To the contrary, we applaud his heavy lift: CEHKC built 6,000 units, and Brown was on the campaign committee for the first veterans housing levy. Brown says candidly that the reason CEHKC ultimately failed is because the group misjudged the need for additional emergency shelter. Brown acknowledges that was “the mistake, and that’s what I want to undo now. We don’t have an emergency shelter infrastructure.” He pledges to dedicate millions in city general fund dollars to back up permanent housing with transitional services.
Other entries on Brown’s resume: He was a spokesman in TV commercials and in mailers for the 2012 gay marriage initiative and conducted same-sex weddings (“ I took on my own denomination’s stance, putting my ordination in jeopardy”). And on another premier social issue of our time: Brown was on the steering committee of Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, the campaign group that passed the statewide gun control measure (I-594), and Washington Ceasefire named Brown Citizen of the Year in 2013 for his efforts as spokesperson.
And back to the basics (district council members aren’t typically charged with grand issues like gay marriage and gun control), we like that Brown has a specific, creative plan to tackle North Seattle’s longstanding dearth of sidewalks; sidewalks are MIA on 68 percent of District Five’s streets. Brown wants neighborhoods to set up special local taxing districts to fund sidewalks, with the increased property value paying for the upgrade.
His opponent had little more to say on sidewalks than that she’d comb the budget and fight for funding in the new transportation levy. Nor does Juarez’s resume match Brown’s. She worked for the low-income Evergreen Legal Services nonprofit in the early ’90s and held a King County Superior Court five-month appointment in the mid-’90s before losing in the election. She has practiced at a private law firm for the last 12 years, where her docket includes some important legal work for Native American tribes.
We second the 46th District Democrats of North Seattle and groups like the Hotel Employees Restaurant Employees Local 8, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, and the Service Employees International Union 775 with our endorsement of Brown.
POSITION EIGHT: Vote for Tim Burgess
City council president and two-term city council incumbent Tim Burgess is supposedly the conservative on the council. But the accusation does not compute.
Burgess ushered through Seattle’s landmark paid sick leave law (Nick Licata gives Burgess much credit for that). Burgess pushed through Seattle’s progressive preschool funding pilot (and wants to expand it). Burgess, the former chair of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, sent a public financing measure to the ballot in 2013 (it failed, prompting caution in 2014, for which Burgess caught shit, but which also protected other important asks such as spending for preschool; his patience also cleared the way to send a campaign finance measure to voters this year, which Burgess did enthusiastically). And Burgess is the only council member (including supposed city green Mike O’Brien) who told us he wanted pod apartments back on the table.
Another bogus charge: Burgess is in the pocket of developers. Nope. He voted for a linkage fee with no upzones for developers. He amended former mayor Mike McGinn’s incentive zoning proposal to raise McGinn’s proposed fee on developers by 46 percent. He voted to scale back low-rise development and stall infill production.
Certainly, Burgess is not Bernie Sanders either. To the chagrin of the ACLU and the Seattle Human Rights Commission, Burgess tried to crack down on panhandling with questionable provisions against free speech. He also sided with antsy homeowners who wanted to redline temporary homeless encampments out of residential neighborhoods. And he regularly votes down amendments from the council’s bloc for things like employer and parking taxes (instead of sales and property taxes) to pay for transit. (Pressed on that point, Burgess told us reasonably: “I believe the mayor made a very compelling argument to conserve any potential revenue sources for the future.” And he added insightfully: “I’ve also said, if we’re going to reimpose the [employer] head tax, let’s not do it like we’ve done before. Let’s tie it to congestion.”)
Making big business pay for congestion hardly sounds like the Tim Burgess Seattle progressives are supposed to hate. Nor do these other Burgess moves: He passed a gun ammo tax, he supports UFCW’s call to give workers explicit legal recourse in wage disputes, he fast-tracked the council resolution supporting the teachers union strike, he’s all in on legislation giving ride share drivers the right to unionize, and he backed the anti–Pacific Rim trade agreement resolution and the anti-Shell resolution.
Burgess’s opponent, renters’ rights advocate Jon Grant, an intense progressive, but more suited for agitating than legislating, told us that while Burgess’s support for these measures is fine, Burgess is not leading the charge. And, Grant said, the council needs more progressive leaders. Maybe, but Burgess’s diplomatic skills—paid sick leave is the best example, and his winning proposal for local control of rent rules subbed in for Sawant’s losing measure, is the latest—translate into landmark legislation.
Burgess’s measured approach can frustrate activists, but on examination, his record has moved their agendas forward.
POSITION NINE: Vote for Lorena González
We are enthusiastically going with the consensus in this race between civil rights attorney Lorena González and neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd.
A first-generation daughter of Mexican-immigrant Yakima farmworkers who put herself through law school at SU (she famously sued the SPD in the “Mexican Piss” case and won), Gonázlez headed up the state’s leading civil rights group OneAmerica as its board president, has served on former mayor Greg Nickels’s Seattle Police Accountability Review Panel, and worked as mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel.
And don’t think for a second González is in lockstep with Mayor Murray. Asked about Murray’s crackdown on hookah lounges, for example, she told us: “The mayor’s office is not exempt from [the city’s] commitment to race and social justice equity."
Noticing a theme? González—who told us plainly “We can’t make policy with the assumption that everyone is white, makes $35,000, and is male”—is hyperfocused on race, class, and justice. And nowhere is that more crucial than in González’s top issue: holding the SPD accountable. The badass attorney wants to limit “the number of bites officers have at the apple” when it comes to challenging discipline. And if we can’t get rid of the disciplinary review board, which seems cozy with SPD, she says pragmatically, “let’s reform it by changing the composition of who sits on the board.”
González’s approach isn’t knee jerk, though. She doesn’t tow the left wing party line on body cams, for example, instead acknowledging that to get SPD buy-in, cameras will also have to be used for police work—with privacy rights fully enforced.
And González is not interested in the dissident push to undermine the current housing affordability grand bargain by making developers pay even more. “I’m doing a happy dance,” she said about the deal to give developers an upzone in exchange for mandatory affordable housing production. And we’re doing a happy dance that González did note one reservation she had about the mayor’s final plan: He rescinded his original recommendation to add denser development in single family zones. “My hope is that we don’t lose sight of the fact that that recommendation was made [and] help people understand why preserving 65 percent of our land as single family might not be sustainable.”
Her opponent, neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd, led the fight to overregulate pod apartments, and his “Take Back Seattle!” campaign appeals to a strain of local politics that idealizes single family zones.
Vote for González.
By the way, we’ve skipped over three races—Districts Two (Southeast Seattle), Six (Ballard, Fremont), and Seven (Downtown, Queen Anne, Magnolia)—because the respective incumbents, civil rights leader Bruce Harrell, classic Seattle progressive Mike O’Brien, and urbanist Sally Bagshaw, are all worth reelecting. And they’re all shoo-ins.
Josh Kelety contributed to this article.