By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
He’s an entrepreneur, a graduate student, and now a candidate for the Seattle City Council District 1 seat: Jesse Greene plans to file paperwork today, with a public candidacy-announcement event on Monday.
The proprietor of Uncle Woody’s Popcorn is the first of this year’s D-1 candidates to contact WSB before turning up on the city/state websites showing campaign filings. We sat down for a coffeehouse chat on Thursday.
Greene is a West Seattle resident whose popcorn business is headquartered in South Park; he also owns a construction firm based in Sumner, where he grew up (though there are other local roots in his family – he mentions a grandparent who is a West Seattle High School alum). He says his entry into politics is inspired by time he has spent serving on the State Advisory Council on Homelessness – the issue that is motivating his run.
It’s a very personal issue, too – Greene says he has been homeless, as a child, when his family fled domestic violence. His mother set an example for him by later entering politics herself, serving on the Bonney Lake City Council. “She wanted to make a positive impact in the community; I grew up with those ideals.”
Politicians were later further humanized for him when he met Gov. Jay Inslee on a plane – Greene was invited to join a trade delegation visiting Japan and South Korea in 2015 – and found out the governor draws books for his grandchildren. Ultimately, Greene says, he realized “you can be a really effective politician and a caring human.”
He has run the popcorn company for five years. He says he met its founders while working as a small-business banker in West Seattle; his resumé also includes time as a “food broker” at Costco’s corporate headquarters. He expresses admiration for that past employer as an example of capitalism with a conscience.
But back to who Greene is and why he’s running. He thinks the city can do better on homelessness, and he thinks it’s important to recognize that many people who are living unsheltered come from circumstances like the ones he lived through. He recalls his family needing and using public assistance, and says there should be no shame in that: “You can use services and become a productive member of society.” Besides running businesss, he’s studying for a MBA, and says his siblings include a nurse and a U.S. Marine aspiring to become a Navy officer.
Though on one hand he says he doesn’t want to bash the current City Council, and he doesn’t mention D-1 incumbent Lisa Herbold by name – only to say that he doesn’t think public service should be a lifelong career, even if it’s part elected and part otherwise (which describes her) – he decries what he sees as the council’s “inability … to address” the homelessness crisis.
He’s also mad that the city is “vilifying businesses.” He cites the briefly approved, then rescinded, “head tax” as an example, saying that city leaders seem to be blaming businesses for the homelessness crisis. He is aghast at the council having originally passed the tax without specifying exactly how the money would be spent, and at the council changing its mind based on polling, after, he alleges, they ignored polling that would have told them not to go down that road in the first place. “They don’t want to hear dissent,” he observes. “You can’t run a business without listening … you can’t run a city without listening to voters.”
As he sees it, a big cause of homelessness is simply “there’s too little housing for the population.” He won’t commit to supporting or opposing the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability that the current council will be voting on in a few months, but he says he does support some increased density, particularly in the form of Accessory Dwelling Units (another housing issue with a pending city-policy change). He thinks that the city needs to “incentivize building the right kind of housing” to help – property and permitting “cost a lot … the system is set up to incentivize million-dollar houses,” and, he says later, to take way too much time for permitting other types of work.
He wants to see more city transparency regarding spending on homelessness. He acknowledges that it’s gotten a bit better lately, but not clear enough – “people in the community don’t understand where their money is going.” (That goes for the budget overall, he notes, saying the budget has doubled in recent years but that he hasn’t met anyone who feels as if the service they receive from the city has doubled as a result.)
Greene also wants people to understand that homelessness happens for many reasons, and to stop stereotyping homeless people as “rundown” or “drug users.” He adds, “We need to have real conversations about integrating (homeless) people into our community.”
He also wants to talk about gentrification, more than just paying it lip service. “South Park … is on the chopping block for gentrification,” he believes.
And he wants to “change the narrative about small business” too. “We need to incubate it,” so that small businesses survive. He says the cost of doing business in Seattle is “high” but also believes that “big businesses” have a big voice at City Hall.
So he wants to see what he can do to improve things, though a friend “told me I was crazy” for wanting to run.
Maybe that’s another perception he can change.
You are invited to Greene’s candidacy announcement – first such event any of this year’s filed candidates (which so far also include Phillip Tavel [October coverage], Isaiah Willoughby [December coverage], and Brendan Kolding [January coverage]) has held – 4 pm Monday (January 28th) at Talarico’s in The Junction (4718 California SW).