This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.
Today: District 4 (Northeast Seattle) candidate Shaun Scott— an activist, writer, filmmaker, and Democratic Socialists of America member running to replace Abel Pacheco, who was appointed when Rob Johnson left the council partway through his single term.
The C Is for Crank (ECB): Your opponent Alex Pedersen’s campaign has been heavily supported by People for Seattle, the political-action committee started by his former boss, Tim Burgess, and by the Seattle Metro Chamber’s PAC. Any thoughts about how to get that kind of influence out of local politics?
Shaun Scott (SS): I thought that council member Gonzalez’ legislation to reduce the influence of corporate PACs is a great first step, and I would like to, work with her if I’m elected on crafting that legislation and building the political case for it.
ECB: The legislation would impact labor as well. For example, Andrew Lewis in District 7 benefited from more than $150,000 from UNITE HERE Local 8, the New York City-based union. Are you comfortable with the fact that these reforms would impact labor as well as business?
SS: To be fair. labor also spent against us in the primary on behalf of Emily Myers’ campaign, although it was nothing on the magnitude of what we saw from the Chamber and what we’re probably going see in the general. I think that the difference is that labor, as a progressive force in the city, is going to find ways to influence and get involved with campaigns on a basis that’s more than just material. They’re going to be out canvassing, they’re going to be coming up with policy recommendations that are going to benefit a lot of people in the city. And so there are more direct avenues for labor to exercise influence in the city, whereas I think Chamber politics often do really boil down to almost a unilaterally negative form of campaigning, so that the reduction of influence vis-a-vis PACs is going to impact them a lot more and limit their influence a lot more than it will labor, which traditionally has more avenues for getting people engaged and being involved in elections.
“With a market incentive program [like HALA], as well structured as it can be, there are going to be real limits. There’s going to be a ceiling on how effectively the market is going to be able to deliver social goods of any kind.”
ECB: You’ve been a vocal supporter of density in single-family neighborhoods during this campaign, which seems like a change from your previous position; as an organizer for the Jon Grant campaign in 2017, for example, you suggested that the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda was something of a developer giveaway. Has your position evolved?
SS: I think it’s definitely the case that a lot of HALA and a lot of [Mandatory Housing Affordability] was kind of a market incentive program. And with a market incentive program, as well structured as it can be, there are going to be real limits. There’s going to be a ceiling on how effectively the market is going to be able to deliver social goods of any kind. We’ve seen this in housing, we’ve seen this in healthcare, we’ve seen this in for-profit education. We’ve seen this in the rise of a prison industrial complex. No matter how much you do to incentivize the market to do the correct thing, there are going to be bad actors and it’s going to fail to deliver these goods in a way that is broad and accessible or able to be enjoyed by everybody. So that’s a critique of HALA. It’s part of the reason why when people ask me what I think about MHA, I will say it’s by and large something that I probably would have supported if I were on council, with a few important caveats. One of them being, if we were destroying more affordable housing than was going to be put in by a new development, how can we legitimate that?
There’s room for nuance. There’s room for having an opinion about this that says, if our goal is to get to the point where we’re providing the most housing and the most deeply affordable social housing that we can get, we have to find ways to structure the housing decisions that we make in the city so that they’re not left up completely to market forces.
ECB: Your position on upzoning the Ave [University Way NE], specifically, has changed. Tell me a little bit about that.
SS: So I have very strong ideas about, and a lot of historical knowledge about, why the zoning that we see in neighborhoods like District Four in particular is exclusionary and why we’re just never going to be actually serious about being a racially inclusive city or a climate leader until we change that. One of the reasons why my views on the Ave in particular have started to evolve and why I think I’m more receptive to new information about what is going on there than maybe I was at the beginning of this race has to do with the impact that opening large, big-box stores might have on some of the small businesses that are there that are minority and people of color-owned. And, as a principle, it’s one of those things where I have to check myself and rely on community to check me to make sure that in this vision that I have for an inclusive city, we’re not doing things to undercut that by actually displacing people that have had a hard go of actually gaining a foothold in the city.
The second part of it is it would be a different story if all of the housing that we were talking about building, or more than what is currently going to go there, was actually going to be workforce housing. If that was built into the way that the upzone was going to happen, I’d gladly go to some of these neighborhoods and absorb the criticism from people who are saying, ‘You’re changing the character of our neighborhood.’ What you’re saying is the character of the neighborhood means a lot less to me than people having a place to live.
I’m not running to be a CEO of city government or to be a on the board of a development firm. We’re talking about what decisions the city has and what power the city has over our housing market. We can have all the conversations that we want about what it would look like to leave our housing decisions up to the private market. We know that right now and in the coming years, that’s not going to be enough for people that need housing.
ECB: Talk to me a little bit about your vision for addressing homelessness. Would you continue to fund the Navigation Team? Do you think the council should revisit the head tax as a source of revenue for homelessness programs?
SS: I think I start from the place of saying we have to have more of a revenue commitment. I am alone in this race in saying that. Just last night, my opponent was asked whether or not he thought that the city needed more resources to address homelessness. He gave a unequivocal ‘No, the money is already there in the budget.’ [Editor’s note: Alex Pedersen did not respond to repeated requests for an interview]. Interestingly enough, the Chamber of Commerce would disagree. Their own study last year indicated that our revenue commitment to housing the homeless was at about 50 percent of what it needed to be countywide.And so I think it’s important to keep in mind that we have a real revenue shortfall. There are organizations that could be doing much better work with solving this issue if they had the revenue.
ECB: What kind of revenue would you propose?
SS: The Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness [recommended] about seven or eight other taxes that we absolutely have the latitude to enact. We’ve seen no leadership on pursuing those from many of the same forces that fought the head tax and are saying that there are other options. There was an excess compensation tax, there was a mansion sales tax, there was a tax on vacant real estate. There was a revamped payroll tax. Many of those are ones that we have a latitude to actually implement at the city level. Some of those are going to require building scalable relationships or relationships with the county council.
ECB: Should the city move forward with congestion tolling downtown?
SS: I support congestion pricing. I think we have an imperative to structure it and tier it in such a way so that people who are driving six-mile-per-gallon gas guzzlers, they’re not paying the same rate that people who have to commute from Federal Way and Burien are paying. And then also, what you do to make sure that it’s not a regressive tax, that the benefits of it are going to the communities that tend to be paying more, so that you’re not upwardly redistributing wealth? I think it’s possible to do both of those things.
“Black parents have real concerns about how to raise kids up in a world they know is going to penalize us more harshly for acts that white kids are going to be able to get away with. So here’s a disciplinarian streak that exists in some black families. And I think it’s oftentimes elevated as a way of de-legitimizing political claims that groups might make when they have real grievances to file against the police department or against fare enforcement.”
ECB: Sound Transit has been criticized for how it handled a recent incident where fare enforcement officers appeared to hassle a young woman of color who was heading to school because she didn’t have a slip of paper saying that she planned to pick up her student pass that day, which was the first day of school. After a tone-deaf, defensive initial response, their CEO, Peter Rogoff, actually doubled down by saying that the student’s mother had called Sound Transit to thank them for doing fare enforcement. What did you think of that incident, and do you think transit agencies should eliminate fare enforcement?
SS: It reminds me a little bit of in 2015, when Ferguson was on fire, and there was a black kid who was jumping on a cop car at one of the protests and his mom, who is also black, comes and gets him. And his mom is paraded on The View the next morning and, like, America’s mom, saying ‘This is how you discipline unruly kids.’ I think that black parents have real concerns about how to raise kids up in a world they know is going to penalize us more harshly for acts that white kids are going to be able to get away with, with impunity. And so there’s a disciplinarian streak that exists in some black families. And I think it’s oftentimes elevated as a way of, number one, de-legitimizing political claims that groups might make when they have real grievances to file against the police department or against fare enforcement. And number two, it shames other parents who want to have a permissive environment for their kids to just grow up and feel free to make mistakes. And so, I’m not going to criticize the mom for coming out and saying ‘Thank you’ to Sound Transit because these are the cardsthat I think a lot of black parents are dealt.
I think that the onus rests on the institution to not perpetuate inequities. And maybe we should have a world where people are able to ride transit for free. And I support free transit for that reason. We talk a lot on this campaign trail about what it means to have a right to the city and being able to lay claim to public space like that without fear of being badgered, especially when you’re [in the case of the young woman in the photo] on the way to getting a free Orca pass that morning on the first day of school.
“As somebody who was an activist for [the Black Lives Matter] movement in 2014, I have no choice but to take the stances that I take on this topic full well knowing that there are a lot of forces in this city that would prefer that we have a racist police force and that black and brown people die and get gunned down in the streets.”
ECB: US District Judge James Robart recently determined that Seattle is partly out of compliance with a federal consent decree because of several accountability issues related to officer discipline. Do you think the police contract should be reopened, and what should the city be doing to get SPD in compliance with the consent decree?
SS: The time for our elected officials, the mayor included, to have taken a stand on police accountability was when the contract was being negotiated and certainly before it was ratified. Mayor Durkan, as a US attorney in 2011, was the one who applied pressure to Mayor [Mike] McGinn, explaining that one-fifth of the time that the Seattle Police Department uses force, it’s unconstitutional. She said that in her capacity as an attorney, so she knows and knew better than anybody that our police force has a problem with racism. They’re under, in essence, a federal investigation right now as a result of it. They’re out of compliance with the consent decree that was established to avoid being sued by the Department of Justice.
We don’t have to choose between police accountability and respect for organized labor. I think the unfortunate reality was that our, our power and the city’s power had in essence been given away by ratifying the contract and that we were put in a position where we had to ask after the fact for things that I think we could have had a more robust conversation about leading up to it. For many months in the primary and certainly now that we’re in the general, I was the only candidate that said that I would not have voted to ratify the contract.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Police Foundation, have real reasons to make sure that candidates like myself that have the value of police accountability first and foremost in our platforms don’t make it into office. They don’t want to see us there. And that’s an institutional thing. It’s a problem that simply supporting police accountability and saying, ‘Hey, maybe we should have a police department that’s not under federal investigation anymore,’ places you in opposition to any institutional force. That’s an issue. And it’s not my problem. That is a them problem.
We had a national conversation in 2015 in 2014 in the aftermath of Mike Brown’s murder and the subsequent ‘exoneration’ of his killer—and the same with Eric Garner—a national conversation about black lives mattering. And as somebody who was an activist for that movement in 2014, I have no choice but to take the stances that I take on this topic full well knowing that there are a lot of forces in this city that would prefer that we have a racist police force and that black and brown people die and get gunned down in the streets. That’s their preference. It’s not the preference in their hearts institutionally. It’s how they’re behaving. Charleena Lyles died in my district. She was killed by the police in my district. The onus is on me as the only black candidate, both in the primary and in the general, to have to stand up for pregnant black mothers who are getting killed. That tells me there’s something seriously wrong with our city.