City Attorney's Race 2017

What to Know About the City Attorney's Race

Four major issues that will continue to play out in the months to come.

By Hayat Norimine August 29, 2017

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City attorney candidate Scott Lindsay.

Seattle's media, PubliCola included, has been overwhelmed by the mayoral candidates. But as the November 7 general election draws closer, an unexpectedly competitive city attorney's race—between incumbent Pete Holmes and the mayor's former public-safety advisor Scott Lindsay—will continue to heat up.

When Lindsay announced his campaign back in April, he already had two valuable endorsements: Community Police Commission co-chair Rev. Harriett Walden and Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, who co-founded the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program alongside Holmes. Other CPC members' endorsements followed. The Seattle Times also endorsed Lindsay on Tuesday. 

But Holmes, who's participating in the city's democracy voucher program, is still ahead in contributions with $112,000 raised from nearly 1,300 contributors, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Lindsay has raised $82,000 from over 300 contributors. 

Lindsay has criticized Holmes for not doing enough while he's been in office to address the heroin epidemic, crime, and the homelessness crisis, and not intervening more to prevent people from going through the revolving door of the criminal justice system—ironically, what Holmes ran his campaigns on since his first run in 2009. Lindsay says Holmes "talked the talk but failed to deliver results." Holmes in turn says Lindsay's criticisms have been disingenuous, and that Lindsay has been panning to progressive or conservative values depending on his audience.

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City attorney Pete Holmes.

Here's an overview of major issues in the race:

1. Homeless encampment sweeps: As Mayor Ed Murray's former public-safety advisor, Lindsay has been a key player in one of the city's most unpopular policies. (If you want to better understand why, read Common Cents's op-ed in the South Seattle Emerald.) Lindsay in response disputes the characterization that he's more "conservative" on homelessness.

"Nobody worked harder to create the RV safe lots in the city of Seattle," he told PubliCola on Tuesday. "Nobody worked harder to create the authorized encampment locations that we have now. I was the guy who created the navigation team. ... That is revolutionary."

2. Criminal justice reform and CPC members' role: Lindsay is also known for taking a tough stance on street crime downtown, contributing to his "conservative" reputation. That reputation is the reason endorsements for Lindsay from influential players in police reform came as a surprise. In a late June interview with PubliCola, Daugaard said she has seen Lindsay "listen, learn, and change."

"He did originally champion some approaches to public order and low-level crime problems that I did not agree with," Daugaard said. "There's been a process of dialogue and growth. ... I am less interested in people's abstract philosophies and stated principles than about how urgently they feel that things need to get better, and how principled they are in how they deal with people who they don't necessarily agree with. And Scott has really proven himself on both fronts." 

3. The LEAD program: Holmes gets particularly agitated about Lindsay's accusation that Holmes hasn't invested in LEAD, a diversion program directing low-level offenders to services rather than jail or prosecution. The program has become a regular talking point between the candidates, and Lindsay in earlier statements said it wasn't until this year that the city had a full-time position dedicated to the program. Holmes called the criticism "disingenuous" and said he wasn't able to get dedicated funding from the county until now. 

"I'm a founding member of LEAD. That was launched in 2011 before Scott had even moved to the state of Washington," Holmes told PubliCola. "How that ranks as lack of participation or support for LEAD is beyond me."

4. The role of city attorneys: Seattle is the only city in the state that has its city attorney as an independently elected position. But what does that mean in terms of its role in city policies?

Holmes blasted Lindsay for publicly releasing and criticizing an early draft of council member Mike O'Brien's car-camping legislation, which would allow people living in their vehicles to opt into a diversion program in exchange for one-year amnesty from ticketing or towing. Holmes, first brought up in a question at a Chamber candidate forum earlier this month, said a city attorney's job is to counsel and develop good working relationships with the legislative and executive bodies. 

"You will do harm to a trusting relationship if you release drafts like that," Holmes told PubliCola. "That's supposed to be your client, and you're criticizing their early thinking? That's nuts." 

Lindsay said at that point, the draft of the car-camping bill had been widely circulated among stakeholders, and the public had a right to know. 

"The city attorney represents the city of Seattle," Lindsay told PubliCola. "They can provide attorney-client privilege communications and advice to the city council and to the mayor, but their ultimate responsibility is to the people of Seattle." 

Holmes has been adamant about the city attorney's role in developing legislation and said he stays in his "separate lane"—the city attorney doesn't have a role in policymaking beyond having prosecutorial discretion on misdemeanor offenses. When there's pending or possible litigation, he says, he weighs in on the risks involved.

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