Election 2009, City Council Position 6 closeup: Jessie Israel

We took a look at them all before the primary election; now, with two weeks till the general election, we’re checking back in with the finalists in five city races – mayor and council. First – Council Position 6.

By Jack Mayne
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Seattle City Council candidate Jessie Israel is critical of the current way transit works here and critical of how her opponent, Nick Licata, operates after 12 years as a council member.

Transit can work, she contends, but is so dysfunctional because several separate agencies with no common bond operate its various parts.

“The trick to transit is to have many options that all work together,” says the newcomer to electoral politics. “You have buses, you have bus rapid transit, you have streetcars and all of those things are coordinated and some of them serve as spokes coming out from a wheel and some act as circulators getting you around neighborhoods and some as a spine like light rail so you can move the
mountain to Muhammad.”

The problem, she says, is that we have several separate transit agencies and even more agencies involved in transit to one degree or another, for example, ferries, the state and city transportation agencies and even King County government.

“We have to start working together,” Israel says. “That is one of the themes of my campaign and one of the reasons I got into this campaign. We have a city government that does not work with anybody. We don’t work with schools, we don’t work with Sound Transit, we don’t work with the county, we don’t work with suburban cities, certainly not with Olympia and if we are going back and forth on this tunnel decision, we can write off any relationship with Olympia. And, we don’t work with the federal government.

“We have to be much better about setting our ego aside and working with all these other organizations. I have a track record of working with others and I don’t think (Nick Licata) has a track record of doing that,” Israel says. “We can get all these transit agencies to work together,” she says, with leadership from the City Council.

“One of the exciting things about this election is there are people in every single race and in the mayor’s race who are all running for the same reason,” says Israel. “We all want to work more together. If the voters choose right in this election, we actually will end up with leaders who are ready to lead and leaders who are ready to build coalitions. I certainly see that as a hallmark of the type of work I have done over the last 15 years of my career, taking groups who do not agree, who do not have anything in common and figuring out how to get them to work together.”

She says she does not think Licata has offered this type of leadership and points to his approach to light rail. When things got things back on track after serious leadership problems early this decade, rather than getting in there and figuring out how to use his leadership position to make it work more effectively, he partnered with an organization and was a member of an organization, Sane Transit, that sued Sound Transit trying to kill light rail.

“We spent all this money and we made all this progress forward and rather than trying to make it better, he tried to kill it,” she says. “That is a very clear difference between our approaches to problem solving. The problems coming our way are not small.”

Policing is one of those problems; Israel says the city has 200 fewer cops than similar sized cities and we have “skyrocketing crime rates, teens killing people with guns, we have out-of-control dropout rates, the quality of our public spaces downtown are so hostile that families don’t want to go to those places.”

She says all of these problems require complex decisions to fix. Israel says she can find the money to fix these problems. “No money and lots of problems is my bread and butter,” she says fiercely. “That is what I do.”

She says she is a “believer in the value of government and, from working inside a government and from working from outside a government, I know full well there is waste in government that we can clean up.”

Like what?

Process can be simplified, she says, such as the time it takes to get a city permit. She says the building code has become so convoluted as to require one action one place and something exactly opposite at another spot in the code.

“It could take you $10,000 or $15,000 to sort that out,” Israel says. “It is time to streamline the permit requirements. What I am hearing from voters is that don’t want more process, they want less,” she says of her experience knocking on 4,000 front doors during the campaign. “They think we pay people fairly well to figure out how to get things done.”

She says the biggest issue she has heard people in the city worry about is public safety. She thinks more police officers are needed but she is opposed to building a city jail to house misdemeanor prisoners after an agreement with King County expires.

On the deep bore tunnel dispute, Israel is implacable. “The decision to build a deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct has been made and to reconsider the issue now after eight years of talk would flirt with the potential disaster of another earthquake that could destroy it.

“That would be catastrophic for our region,” Israel says.

Digging the tunnel would allow the viaduct to stay in operation until the project is finished, she says, “which means West Seattle and Ballard, where I live, stay connected.”

The surface option would back things up and cause disruption, she says.

“I am committed to making sure that West Seattle and Ballard have easy on- and off-ramps” connecting to the tunnel, Israel says.

She says many West Seattle residents have told her in her doorbelling journeys here that increasing crime rates are a definite issue.

“Neighborhood crime rates, break-in rates, youth violence rates which often reflect high-school dropout rate increases,” she says, adding that Chief Sealth High School has “one of the highest drop-out rates in the city.” (Third highest, according to 2007-2008 statistics online.)

Parents are worried that the school and the schools feeding into Chief Sealth are not giving the children what they need to succeed, she says. “They are worried about where to send their kids,” she contends.

When it was noted to Israel that City Council members have no control over schools, she noted the Families and Education Levy first passed in 1990 is under city jurisdiction.

“While I don’t think the city should be running the schools, I do think the city should be doing a better job of collaborating with the schools,” she said. “The city has taken a hands off approach, saying that schools are not our problem but I think schools are our problem.”

The idea, says Israel, is to strengthen services to potential dropouts so they can succeed.

“It does not cost more money,” she says. “It just means we collaborate better and we use data to decide where we are pushing resources.” She would focus such a program here on the four schools “that give us 51 percent of our high school dropouts, Chief Sealth, Ingraham, Cleveland and Franklin.”

“I think if we are more strategic on leveraging resources for those schools and the 15 schools that feed into them and the 51 percent who are about to drop out. It is entirely within the purview of what the City Council can and I think should be doing – taking a leadership role in targeting that sort of funding. We could turn this around.”

She suggests using leveraging of money to increase the amount available to “blanket those schools.”

Jessie Israel’s page in the online city Voters’ Guide (text and video) is here. Her campaign website is here.

8 Replies to "Election 2009, City Council Position 6 closeup: Jessie Israel"

  • Fred October 20, 2009 (5:57 am)

    You got my vote.

  • cjboffoli October 20, 2009 (8:30 am)

    I’m voting for Ms. Israel too. I think it is time for a change.

  • maplesyrup October 20, 2009 (10:01 am)

    Sounds pretty good to me.

  • Cheryl October 20, 2009 (1:38 pm)

    Progressives are split in this race, but ya gotta love the gumption of tackling a 4-term incumbent radical. Wanna know where the progressive community sits in Election 09? Check out the Progressive Voters Guide at:


    The guide includes information and recommendations from Washington’s leading progressive organizations including Sierra Club, Washington Conservation voters, Planned Parenthood….

  • andrea October 20, 2009 (2:42 pm)

    Thank you so much Cheryl for the above link! I think its a great website with useful info for someone like myself who is still uncertain about a number of people and measures that are on the ballot…thanks!

  • Mickymse October 20, 2009 (3:37 pm)

    Why the hell would I care if there are “easy on- and off-ramps” to the tunnel from West Seattle and Ballard?
    The tunnel doesn’t go where 20,000+ vehicles from the West Seattle Bridge are going — namely, Downtown.
    The tunnel also doesn’t go anywhere near Ballard. Perhaps she means making it easier for folks from Ballard to head east on Denny in order to access the tunnel?

  • Bob October 21, 2009 (7:03 pm)

    Before he was elected to the City Council, for many years Licata was tireless at getting people, and the City, to pay attention to all kinds of things that add up in terms of good government but don’t get headlines.
    Nick shouldn’t be thrown aside in favor of this big talker. Time after time, candidates like this have come along with big attractive plans to fix everything under the sun. And then when elected, have been unable to move the City much at all on those issues afterward. Licata, on the other hand, is consistently good at straightening out the kinds of headaches that don’t make good sound bites, and day in and day out is the best and most honest City Councilman we have.

  • (required) October 21, 2009 (9:56 pm)

    She’s got my vote, too. Sorry, Mr. Licata.

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