Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined to sit down with me) over the next few weeks.
If you want to help me continue to do interviews like this one, plus on-the-ground reporting, deep dives on issues like affordability and transportation, breaking news, and incisive analysis, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter by pledging a few bucks at Patreon. This work costs money and (lots of) time, so I really appreciate every bit of support I receive from my readers.
Today’s interview is with Deborah Juarez, a lawyer, member of the Blackfeet tribe, and former King County Superior Court judge who’s running in North Seattle’s District 5.
Debora Juarez [DJ]: Because we now have a district elections system, two things are happening. People are feeling in the mix because we’re a district. Having a district system is getting people motivated and activated and getting more people involved in the process. And it isn’t just any particular interest group that wants a bike lane or to save the [Lake City] beach. What we’re actually talking about is, what is District Five going to look like in four years? I want to represent and advocate for the district and honor them while also serve the greater Seattle area.
When you run in a district, you live with the people who elected you, which is great. What I like about it is, because I’ve lived here for 25 years in five different neighborhoods, as a homeowner and a renter, people aren’t worried about me going on and on about Shell. They care about affordable housing, getting a transit center, connecting Thornton Creek and the North Seattle Community College, building a real community center with real services. A community center is almost like a neighborhood tribal center. Everything’s there: Social services, evening classes, open space. A real community center doesn’t mean a couple of rooms and a kitchen.
The other exciting part is economic vitality. Lake City is one the 18 urban centers targeted for development, and the question is, what does that look like? You know you want to be an economic anchor and engine and become a destination for the city. There needs to be equity and safety. When I say “equity,” I mean, you can’t just serve rich neighborhoods on Lake Washington but not the places that surround them. There are some neighborhoods that need sidewalks more than others. I live on the bottom of a hill, and up the hill, they’ve all got sidewalks and they’re all brand new because when they built, they had [erosion problems], and so they needed them. I hope it goes beyond the squeaky wheel gets the grease. In Indian country, you would call that nation building.
ECB: Would you have considered running for city council if we did not have a district system?
DJ: I would not be running for Seattle City Council if we hadn’t moved to a district system, because I don’t think one person can be accountable to a city as large and diverse as ours. [Under the current system], you have a council handwringing, and pandering, and not paying attention to their neighborhoods, because the downtown core and other certain groups had all the influence. This is my neighborhood. I have raised my kids here, despite the fact that I couldn’t have owned a house under the racial covenants that are mentioned in the HALA report. I’ve always been a renter. I didn’t know what a mortgage was until I went to law school. I was born in 1959 and my mom, in my neighborhood, could not have bought a house at that time.
ECB: Your opponent, Sandy Brown, has criticized you from taking a lot of money from out of town, much of it from members of Native American tribes outside the city. How do you respond?
DJ: There are no borders when it comes to Indian country and how this area was established. They have sovereignty. When you question that, you’re basically saying that the tribes are outsiders and their money is somehow from outsiders. These are tribes. This is their land. And if people want to label them as outsiders or say it’s money from outside city limits, that it’s “outside money,” I’ll bite. Yes, the tribes want to do business with the city of Seattle. But the tribes have been in this area long before the city sf Seattle and this is their land. The tribes are supporting me because I’m one of them. I was raised with them.
ECB: You’re running for a districted seat, with boundaries, to represent a city that also has boundaries. Why is it not legitimate to ask what interests the tribes might have in giving you money?
DJ: It’s the Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot who are in King County. If you people want to draw lines like you do, fine. You ask what is their interest. You have the Muckleshoot and Snoqualmie tribes, who make up less than 3 percent of the King County population, and they’re the fourth largest employer in King County. Their workers live here. Who represents their interests? You have two sovereign nations within King County. Seattle is the biggest city in the state. The city of Seattle does rely on and seek the opinion of the Duwamish and the recognized Snoqualmie and Muckleshoot tribes. Everett worked really closely with the Tulalip. When you bring more people to the table, you have less lawsuits. The tribes diversify the economy. They diversify where they spend their money. They want to invest in Seattle.
When you say, “outsider,” [Ed. note: I said money from outside Seattle, not “outsider”], I find it offensive. I find it offensive that people would call the tribes outsiders. How are the tribes different from the people at Gates or Weyerhauser? The whole reason why the tribes support me is I’m one of them, and they care about me, and I came from the reservation. I’m a success story. They don’t want anything from me. I worked for the governor [as an attorney] and I negotiated on the other side, but they were glad I was there. It’s more philosophical. They’re proud for me and they love me.
ECB: Talking about some of the recommendations from the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda task force, your opponent has said that he thinks developers shouldn’t be allowed to build until neighborhoods have the amenities they need, including bus lines. Do you agree, and what did you think of the HALA recommendations?
DJ: I’m impressed that it was consensus-based and that there were only nine areas out of 65 recommendations where they didn’t agree. I don’t think you should wait [for density], because I don’t think anyone should have to sleep outside. It’s a red herring when people say we should wait until we have all the information before we can build affordable housing. As a person who’s built housing, golf courses, and casinos, I know the brick and mortar system and what happens when you want to build. There’s layers of decisions. It’s naive to think you have to build [infrastructure] before you can actually build housing. The tribes say, we’re going to put a casino here and a convention center there, and the way it gets built and how it gets planned happens the same way when you’re using debt financing and you have a public function. It’s still discussed the same way and the horse trading, as my people call, still happens. That’s how you build stuff.
[This debate] underscores why it’s good that we’re in a district system. We don’t have everyone to say, “This is how we did it before.” I know my neighborhood and I can say what we need.
The city is very clear that we have quite a way to go [on outreach] on the north end. In [HALA] public comment, they only had, like, 100 responses from people. Some of them said they would rather have a dream neighborhood than a dream house. That was encouraging. What people really want is a neighborhood. A ZIP code is so key. Where your born shouldn’t determine the whole course of your life. HALA is what we need. It’s kind of like what happened when Al Gore did “An Inconvenient Truth.” It shook people’s consciences and made people uncomfortable, and when people get uncomfortable and caught off-guard, people get nervous.
ECB: It seems to me that after the HALA recommendations came out, the mayor and other supporters backtracked on some of the report’s language about how racist zoning covenants led to our current land use map and made certain parts of the city enclaves for wealthy white homeowners. Were you disappointed to see that happen?
DJ: I was disappointed. I think the white community is starting to realize this system and this constitution and this democracy were made for them. The constitution was written for white male property owners. It wasn’t until the 13th Amendment that black men could vote, and it still wasn’t allowed for women. Our people didn’t get to vote until 1932. HALA pushed back against that system.
ECB: What, if anything, did you learn from your DUI three years ago that was uncovered by the Seattle Times earlier this year?
DJ: The past is always with you, no matter how hard you try to look away. I’ve always said this and what I said about the DUI is that when you have pain and healing, it doesn’t mean damage doesn’t happen, but from the damage you heal. The Creator will teach you this lesson. It will come over and over and over again until you get it. It will come in different ways, that lesson, until you get it. I made the mistake. The difference is that it doesn’t mean that that’s the only thing I’ll ever do. I am flawed and I’m very vulnerable. I went through that pain with my mother and my daughters at my side. You can’t learn values unless you have had obstacles, unless you have had pain. You need those character-building experiences in your life, and that was one of them for me.