Morning Crank: A Professional Disagreement

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1. Extra Crank: 

2. A large and vocal but mostly civil crowd gathered last night at North Seattle Community College to ask officials from city departments—including the Seattle Police Department, Parks, and the mayor and city council—pointed questions about the city-sanctioned low-barrier encampment scheduled to open in March just off Aurora Ave. N in Licton Springs. Mayor Ed Murray announced that the city would be opening four new sanctioned encampments (including one low-barrier encampment that would not require its residents to be clean and sober) last fall; since then, that number has been reduced to three because the city has had trouble finding suitable sites that neighbors will accept.

Unlike meetings for previous encampments—I’m thinking particularly of Nickelsville in Ballard, where neighbors showed up to scream and berate District 6 city council member Mike O’Brien—last night’s comments were a mixture of the usual concerns about public safety, garbage, and that perennial favorite, “lack of public process”—and supportive remarks from neighbors who said they welcomed the site, including several who encouraged opponents to actually go out and meet some of the homeless people they were vilifying. For those who weren’t following along on Twitter, I’ve Storified my tweets here.

3. District 5 council member Debora Juarez stole Mayor Murray’s thunder last night when she announced, almost offhand, that the mayor’s State of the City speech would be held at the Idriss Mosque near Northgate—a symbolically powerful gesture intended to signify that Seattle is serious about its status as a sanctuary city. (Previously, Murray has said that he is “willing to lose every penny” the city receives from the federal government in order to protect immigrants and refugees here). “I don’t think this is even public yet,” Juarez said. Nope.

4. I grabbed homelessness director George Scarola briefly before the meeting to ask him about a tension I noticed during last week’s panel on homelessness.  Barb Poppe, the city consultant who published a plan called Pathways Home that emphasizes short-term rental vouchers as a solution to homelessness, seemed to push back on Scarola’s insistence that Seattle was experiencing a “perfect storm” that includes an affordable-housing shortage, the opioid addiction epidemic, and a huge number of people who became homeless after growing up in foster care. “There does seem to weirdly be this acceptance that it’s actually okay for people to be on the streets,” Poppe said. “You’ve had very low accountability for results and that low accountability for results, I would find to be a mystery.” The solution, Poppe suggested, was not short-term shelter like tent cities or tiny houses, but housing, and the city’s resources should go toward providing rental vouchers for people to move off the streets instead of those short-term solutions. At the time, Scarola pushed back, noting that with more than 3,000 people living unsheltered in Seattle (and more than 80,000 very low-income people in line for just 32,000 affordable apartments), immediate housing for every homeless person was an unrealistic short-term goal.

Last night, Scarola told me he and Poppe had a “professional disagreement” about the right short-term solutions. “Her overall view is absolutely right—she wants stable housing,” he said. “I just don’t know how you get there without going through steps A, B, C, and D”—where at least the first few of those steps involve getting people out of doorways and into demonstrably better shelter like tent cities.

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Obscure D5 Candidate Gets $48,000 Surprise Gift from Realtors

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Opponents of campaign finance reform have frequently predicted that lower contribution limits will lead to an increase in independent expenditures—unlimited spends on behalf of a candidate without that candidate’s direct approval or participation—but it’s unlikely that any of them could have predicted that the first big local IE beneficiary would be an obscure candidate in a far-northeast Seattle district who entered the race just before filing deadline and had only raised a little over $10,000 two weeks before the primary.

But that’s exactly what happened this afternoon, when the National Association of Realtors dropped a $48,000 bombshell on District 5 candidate Kris Lethin’s very long-shot campaign for city council. Reported as a IE for “electioneering communications,” the 48 grand went toward “mail, calls, and online ads” on Lethin’s behalf.

If I was surprised at the Realtors’ largesse, imagine how Lethin felt when he found out–which he did this evening, when I called him to ask how the expenditure had come about. Literally, that was the first he’d heard of it.

“Holy shit!” Lethin shouted when I told him, followed by, “I didn’t have any idea! That’s awesome. That’s amazing. Wow. Seriously, I had no idea.” He added: “Wow. I feel like I just had a kid or something.”

“Dude,” he continued, “I have been running my entire campaign by myself from my living room, with no campaign staff, no campaign manager, no campaign treasurer. … That’s like three times the amount of money I’ve raised myself.” (Four, actually.) It was also more than Lethin says he earned in real-estate commissions last year.

Lethin said that although he has no idea why the Realtors singled out his campaign, other than the fact that he’s “definitely the only guy in Seattle that has said no to rent control and this linkage fee,” a now-moribund proposal to tax new development, “I am completely grateful. Frankly, this has been so hard. It’s encouraging that they think enough of my effort” to spend the money, he said. “I hope I don’t owe them anything. … I hope the Realtors are perceived as good people in Seattle.” (I can’t speak for Seattle, but I’d say they’re perceived as a conservative business group along the lines of the Seattle Chamber, and make of that what you will.)

Speaking of the Chamber, Lethin says he’s going back to interview with the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the Chamber PAC, to talk about a possible endorsement. (CASE did not endorse in District 5 for the primary).

Lethin, whose father in Anchorage has given generously to Republican candidates over the years, calls himself an independent and says he won’t declare himself a Democrat now just because he’s running for office. “Hopefully, average people who aren’t really concerned about party [affiliation] will see me as just a local guy who cares,” Lethin says.

I have calls out to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and the Realtors and I’ll update with any response from them tomorrow.

Meet the Candidates in North Seattle’s Council District 5

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You could be forgiven for feeling utterly confused at last night’s 32nd and 46th District Democrats’ city council campaign forum (the description is a mouthful in itself), where no fewer than 15 candidates sat down at long card tables flocked by ostentatious bunting to churn out answers to North Seattle-focused questions posed by former KCTS9 public-affairs host Enrique Cerna. 

Some candidates took the opportunity—one minute per question, plus a second or two for “lightning round” questions that failed to produce a single spark—to rehearse for their stump speech. (Sandy Brown, John Roderick). Others treated the forum as a rare chance to rant in the general direction of a captive audience. (Alex Tsimerman, David Trotter). And still others seemed unaware that they were supposed to speak at a forum that night. (Mian Rice, but more on that later.)

The first cattle call brought together all the candidates for the wide-open District 5 position, which will represent the northernmost neighborhoods of Seattle.

They include, from left to right: Sandy Brown; Debadutta Dash; Mercedes Elizalde; Mian Rice; David Toledo; and Halei Watkins.

Instead of going through the questions one by one (they were, without exception, about exactly the same topics you’d expect at a North Seattle forum, namely sidewalks, density, oil trains, homelessness, police accountability), here are a few of my initial impressions of the candidates for North Seattle’s council district.

Mercedes Elizalde, a Low Income Housing Institute employee by day and self-professed housing activist by night, may be a no-shot candidate, but she’s also a fiery, well-spoken advocate for her issue, which is low-income housing. (She also bears a slight but noticeable resemblance to another passionate candidate of yore, the one and only Christal Wood.)

Asked about the lack of affordable housing in Seattle, Elizalde responded that she had just helped a family move a formerly homeless family into an apartment—”I lifted their bags and moved them in”—and later said that the city’s current affordable housing programs are untenable because they cater to people making $25 an hour or more, in a city that is just now raising its minimum wage to a still-unlivable $11 an hour. (She also wore a red-and-black scarf “in honor of Equal Pay Day,” the date each year when the average working woman’s pay catches up to what the equivalent male worker made in the previous year.)

The slogan on Elizalde’s campaign lit: “Bringing a Neighborhood Perspective Back to the City Council.”

• The Rev. Sandy Brown, a Methodist minister and leading member of the Committee to End Homelessness, was a standout among the seven District 5 contenders, speaking eloquently and thoughtfully about everything from Seattle’s homeless, to the need for sidewalks in North Seattle, to gun control, to rent stabilization. Brown had a specific, seemingly heartfelt response to every question, but seemed most passionate about homelessness, which he suggested was going to require “a locally-based rent subsidy program” and possibly a municipal bank to provide loans for low-income houising developments.

I picked up a Brown door-hanger but dropped it, so let’s just say it said he was the most prepared, accessible candidate in this crowded race.

Halei Watkins, the young Planned Parenthood organizer seen as a long shot in this race, came across as confident and well-informed, but my guess is that she’ll get sidelined pretty quickly by other, better-funded candidates. (Watkins appears to be hitting a fundraising wall). That’s too bad, because Watkins seems to have a nuanced take on issues like homelessness and affordable housing, and can speak publicly with much more confidence than some of her competitors. (Her campaign lit is headlined simply, “Vote Halei Watkins for Seattle City Council.”

Which brings us to…

Mian Rice, son-of-ex-mayor Norm and perhaps—there is no other way to say it—the most uncomfortable, ill-prepared public speaker I’ve seen in a city race since Tom Rasmussen ran for the first time in 2003. I’m not saying Rice has no views on the issues—as a frontrunner who’s thought about running for a while, he surely does—but he sure wasn’t revealing any of those views last night. Instead, he answered almost every question by restating the topic of the question (deadpan voice: “Homelessness.” “Sidewalks.” “Coal trains.”) as if competing in a spelling bee. And when he got past that first apparent stumbling block, his answers were vague and confusing, full of platitudes along the lines of “I will work with diverse stakeholders to solve the common problems facing the people of Seattle in these times.”

Look, I get it: It sucks to have to speak in front of crowds when public speaking makes you nervous. That’s why nervous campaigners—and there are many—hire a speech coach to work them through the hardest parts of it. If that isn’t in Rice’s budget, I suggest the old imagine-they’re-all-naked trick.

Rice’s campaign lit reads: “I’m ready to hit the ground running to work for District #5.”

Deborah Juarez, a Native American-Hispanic attorney who grew up in poverty on “the rez,” had an impressive resumé (King County Superior Court judge, an aide to former governors Gary Locke and Mike Lowry, “building casinos”) but didn’t light my fire with her talk about rent control and more tent cities. She gave a shoutout to David Axelrod, the Obama confidante whose new book, Believer, is about his decades as a political consultant, and mentioned that her tribe, the Blackfeet Nation, banned coal trains from their tribal lands.

The 25-year North Seattle resident’s campaign literature begins: “Finally, a Voice for North Seattle.”

Debadutta Dash, who just declared last Friday but started armed with endorsements from two prominent non-district residents, U.S. Congressman Adam Smith (WA-9) and state Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-11), responded to questions with all-over-the-map responses—stating, for example, that since “even a fifth-grader [knows] that sidewalk[s are] an important part of civic life … and I am smarter than a fifth-grader,” he could get sidewalks built in neighborhoods that haven’t had new sidewalks for decades. Dash also said he wanted to get youth involved with, and increase cultural diversity in, Seattle’s civic processes, and require “corporations” to provide housing for low-income people.

He isn’t going to win, but he does have ideas and a yard-sign-friendly name.

The headline on Dash’s campaign handout: “Let’s build a better North Seattle.”

• Finally, I’ve saved the wild-card candidate for last. David Toledo, who’s lived here forever and worked in elder services and low-income housing for much of his life, is the kind of kooky also-ran you want to see in council races; unlike angry, Nazi-saluting Alex Tsimerman (read more about him tomorrow, when I cover the races for council Positions 8 and 9), Toledo filters slightly wacky opinions and sincerely held beliefs through a kaleidoscopic lens that produces campaign postcards showing him holding his daughter, a Coke, and a hamburger in front of a wall of very artistically designed David Toledo cartoons in various styles, as well as his take on “Meet the Beatles”:

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Toledo’s angry, but in the way of a man who’s lived in a place for decades and is frustrated by the lack of improvements in the things that are wrong with that place. He’s mad about the lack of sidewalks (“Sally Clark said, ‘Sidewalks, sidewalks, sidewalks,’ and we haven’t gotten new sidewalks for the past 40 years“);  mad at people who oversimplify the coal train issue (yes, he said, we need more regulations on trains transporting dirty, dangerous cargo, but “we’ve got people here that are hurting for jobs”); and mad about human trafficking (in an unfortunate analogy, he compared women who turn tricks on Aurora to the Nigerian victims of Boko Haram, which has abducted hundreds of girls and reportedly sold many of them as sex slaves).

Overall, Toledo came across as a regular guy with a sense of humor about himself and a working-class sensibility. He won’t win either (he even threw his hat in the ring for the council vacancy created when Clark left to take a more stable job at the UW, despite the fact that the person who gets that seat is theoretically supposed to promise they won’t run again), but it’ll be fun to watch him campaign.

Toledo’s campaign literature (including the aforementioned postcard and a bumper sticker) is headlined: “I’ve been your North Seattle neighbor for over 40 years!”

Stay tuned for Positions 8 and 9 tomorrow.