2019 Election

Former Police Chief Is Running for Seattle City Council

Jim Pugel built a reputation as an early supporter of police reform.

By Hayat Norimine January 29, 2019

Former Seattle police chief Jim Pugel says he misses public service. And now, he's looking beyond law enforcement to pursue elected office. 

Pugel on Tuesday officially announced that he will run for Seattle City Council's District 7 seat, currently occupied by veteran council member Sally Bagshaw.

He said he ultimately decided to enter the race after news that Bagshaw would not seek re-election. Emphasizing his public safety and criminal justice background, he said he could bring a perspective that the legislative body has been missing.

Pugel served as interim chief of the Seattle Police Department for a year from 2013–2014. After that, he worked for four years in the King County Sheriff's Office until he retired in March. 

Pugel was appointed police chief by then-mayor Mike McGinn, when the administration was struggling with police reform after a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. He garnered a reputation for his support of criminal justice reforms, like the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which directs low-level offenders to community services rather than jail or prosecution. 

In 2013 the interim chief issued a public apology for a 1986 video, in which Pugel appeared mocking homeless people living under the Alaskan Way Viaduct. He acknowledged the video at the press conference Tuesday and said he and other officers had been disciplined at the time. 

"I clearly apologized," Pugel said. "I know it's still offensive to some, but I hope my record speaks for the 30-some years that have gone after that." 

Pugel said he's a big supporter of consolidating homeless services under the umbrella of a countywide agency, saying the region needs "one consistent approach" to the crisis. At the press conference Tuesday, he also said the state needs an income tax structure, adding that the city should look at its revenue streams but seemed to rule out increasing property taxes again. 

"We can't price people out of their homes," he said. 

The 59-year-old Queen Anne retiree is likely the most high-profile council candidate to enter the races, and he faces a challenging election in a wealthy district that also struggles with homelessness and human service needs; District 7 includes downtown Seattle, Queen Anne, and Magnolia. 

As housing advocates continue to push for more affordable housing throughout Seattle, wealthy homeowners have often posed barriers and legal challenges to the city's steps toward zoning that would allow for more density.

"I haven't reached a decision there, but it begs to be examined," Pugel told PubliCola, when asked whether he supports eliminating single-family zoning throughout the city. "We have to really give consideration to redeveloping or redefining our zoning if we are going to accommodate the growth and do it near, of course, the transportation lines. ...We have to be able to accommodate everyone." 

Pugel enters the race in a crowded field, with six other candidates who already filed to run. Andrew Lewis, assistant city attorney and campaign manager for Nick Licata in 2009, has so far raised the most with $15,480 in contributions, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Pugel said he intends to participate in the democracy vouchers program. 

He's received endorsements from Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association who helped create LEAD; Dan Malone, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center; Renee Hopkins, CEO of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility; King County sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht; and King County Council member Larry Gossett. 

Those who have worked with Pugel praised his integrity and ability to listen.

"There's a sense of frustration of not being heard," he told PubliCola, reflecting on a "listening tour" he said he took throughout his district. "They just want to be listened to and allowed some input." 

Updated 11:12am on January 30, 2019, to correct when Lewis was a campaign manager for Licata, and that he is currently working as assistant city attorney. 

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