Of the 16 Seattle City Council applicants, 12 showed up at the community-led forum Tuesday night at Seattle City Hall, where community groups asked candidates about their positions on housing, homelessness, and the city's sanctuary status, to name a few.
The new council member would have just one and half months on the city council and have little to no authority to act on any of the major controversial projects, like the new police station getting built in the North Precinct. But activists have said the process provides a benchmark for future city council appointments, many of which historically happened quickly and with limited public input, and ensures the person who takes over shares community organizers' progressive values.
"This is a huge victory for the social movements in Seattle because this is not what the majority of the council members were going to do," council member Kshama Sawant told PubliCola on Tuesday. "This is a model for the future, so I'm not only excited about this particular appointment. I'm excited about what we can do building on this."
The majority of the candidates had similar responses:
- All of them supported budget amendments to curtail encampment sweeps and community land trusts, and those who responded said free-market housing wouldn't solve the affordable housing shortage.
- Most supported Vulcan's "degentrify and inspire" campaign along the Yesler-Jackson corridor. Kirsten Harris-Talley said she thinks there should be community input, not corporate sponsors.
- Most supported the city's sanctuary city status or thought Seattle wasn't doing enough for people of color, with the notable exception of Lewis Jones (who at one point said "colored people," and complained about both Mexican criminals and "black on black" violence). ChrisTiana ObeySumner got claps from the audience with the response that "Seattle has the intention of being a sanctuary city, but its impact may be a little bit off the mark...What are we truly doing to welcome these individuals with open arms not just with our mouths but with our actions?"
- Many also supported cutting funds to a "bloated" Seattle Police Department but more funding for the Community Police Commission. Former council member Nick Licata said the city needs better control of police overtime.
- Most supported more taxes on big businesses. Brianna McDonald, who owns a business, said Seattle needs to be a friendlier city to companies or else they will leave.
- Most opposed the new North Precinct police station except Robert Radford, Abel Pacheco, and Brendan Kolding. Pacheco said when he ran for District 4, many community members said police needed better response times, and that the building is inadequate. Brendan Kolding, an SPD sergeant, said officers don't have a good work environment at the current building.
Another public hearing will be held by council members at 5pm on Wednesday to hear three-minute pitches from the applicants. After that, the council will have two days to deliberate before its deadline to vote on a candidate Friday. It's a short timeline—the question is whether council members will find city budgeting experience to be a determining factor, which would make it a good chance it would be Licata. He also aligns well with what community organizers advocating for the public process want from a council member.
"I definitely have a very positive recollection of council member Nick Licata's work on the council," Sawant told PubliCola on Tuesday, naming her work with him on the city authorized encampments, a resolution for rent control, and the Carl Haglund law. "(But) the issues are the most important so every candidate here has the opportunity to show their positions...and reveal which side they're on."
In a question about how candidates will be accountable to communities of color, Licata pointed out that the person who gets the council seat will be there for a limited time, and that the question should be put in the context of the budget. In the process, he lost some of the audience who said they wanted him to respond to the question. Licata said he tried to be realistic in his responses.
The list of applicants who showed up: Nick Licata, Robert Radford, Jennifer Perevodchikov, ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Kirsten Harris-Talley, Abel Pacheco, Doug Nellis, Brianna McDonald, Lewis Jones, Brendan Kolding, Tiniell Cato, and Alex Tsimerman.