Questions the next Seattle City Council needs to answer

When I lived in Phoenix in the early 2000s, I was a one-issue voter — at least when it came to the politicians who routinely knocked on doors in our walkable historic district north of downtown.

“Do you support light rail?” I asked about the proposed and badly needed transportation alternative. If the answer came back negative, the conversation was over.

Light rail was built and thrived. Now in Seattle, I’m a multi-issue voter, especially when it comes to November’s City Council election. Seven of nine seats are open, including several for newcomers.

Columnists don’t endorse candidates. That’s the prerogative of The Seattle Times editorial board. But we can ask questions, and I have plenty. For this space, I’ll focus on business and the economy.

Are you an activist? Seattle’s politics have been dominated by activists on a timeline that coincides with the downward slope of good government.

These are not people who believe in the late John Lewis’ “good trouble.” This hero of the civil rights movement paid in blood as an activist then worked constructively and effectively in his 33 years in Congress.

Seattle City Council activists, especially Kshama Sawant, have sullied and trivialized the word at the same time. Most have little interest in effectively serving the needs of taxpaying, law-abiding citizens and are more in the theater of chanting crowds and waving signs. They proved themselves utterly incapable of dealing with the pandemic and crime-related damage inflicted on the city. The “homeless emergency” only became worse on their watch.

The trouble is that the activists are well organized, and centrists aren’t. How will you change that? Seattle couldn’t even mount something as ambitious as the 1962 World’s Fair, nor would the City Council want to. That’s a sign of a deeper malaise.

Have you ever run a business? Only Sara Nelson ticks off this box. Before her, someone who met a private payroll was Tim Burgess, who served from 2007 to 2017.

This would be a broadening experience for several reasons, especially because attracting and retaining jobs and companies has been the primary goal of nearly every local politician I’ve ever covered in other cities.

Seattle had the economic wind at its back for so long, politics didn’t seem to matter. Until they did. Then the council majority’s hostility to Amazon, the city’s largest private-sector employer, caused the company to seek a “full equal” HQ2. Some 240 localities offered hefty subsidies for a major taxpayer we got for free. We need a mayor and council with a constructive relationship with all Seattle businesses.

Running or even working in the private sector shows what it’s like to deal with the government on the receiving end (or giving end, with taxes). Lost parking spaces can reduce customers, something an activist would never know. Business also exposes one to the costs of retail theft and the danger of violence by thieves being done all over the city.

What’s your position on public safety? If you’re not supportive of Mayor Bruce Harrell’s emphasis on this issue, including getting tents off the street and clearing encampments, my door is closing.

Readers tell me about being terrified to come downtown. Shop owners and employees talk of being attacked by thieves. The unsheltered are among the largest number of victims of these predators.

A Pew Research Center poll in 2021 found that growing numbers of respondents nationally wanted more spending on police in their neighborhoods.

At the same time, the beating death of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers shows the need for greater training and professionalizing of law enforcement.

The huge sums of money spent on homelessness have been ineffective. What’s your plan to bring accountability to social service providers and bring help for those who need it, including those suffering from mental illness and addiction? What’s your Plan B if the King County Regional Homelessness Authority doesn’t get results?

How about downtown? The pandemic, protests and persistent crime deeply wounded the center city, the largest source of business taxes and, at least pre-pandemic, the largest employment hub of Seattle. It’s also home to some 90,000 people.

Will you be willing to work with the Downtown Seattle Association to retain existing businesses and attract more? Will you vote to stop criminal activity so employees, customers and arts and sports enthusiasts feel safe? How about the First Avenue streetcar — we need it.

And housing? “Affordable housing” is an imprecise term that might mean low-income housing, workforce housing or market-rate units. Seattle needs all three. Will you vote to speed the permitting process, especially on buildings that have been held up for years in some cases?

And will you stop considering all landlords as “class enemies,” as Sawant might put it? In some cases, small landlords are being forced to sell their properties because of overregulation while still carrying the burden of mortgages. The result: Their buildings are sold and demolished for high-end houses, taking affordable rentals off the market.

Are you from here? It shouldn’t matter. New blood with experience in other cities would be welcome. But so would natives and long-term residents. People who know we held two world’s fairs, have one of the most diversified economies in the nation, enjoy international connections including through a natural deep-water port, and the headquarters of important companies. We need a council that will build on these strengths.

My door is open. Step on through.

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