By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
But it is his first “all-in” campaign, he says.
Continuing our series of candidate interviews, we sat down with Kolding recently to find out more about why he wants this job and what he’ll do if he gets it.
First, what he means by “all in” – he’s “playing to win,” including fundraising. His campaign, announced last month, now has a website. He’s broadened his campaign focus, which in his two runs for the State Legislature were focused on education.
He believes his biggest qualification – and, it’s clear, his major motivation – is his profession: Law enforcement.
Kolding is a Seattle Police Department lieutenant. (He has lived for a decade in West Seattle, where he and his wife are raising three children, but is currently assigned to a precinct elsewhere in the city.) Police “do not feel supported by the City Council,” he declares. “They need somebody who supports them.” He says “anxieties … caused by an unsupportive City Council” are a major reason why officers are leaving SPD at what he describes as “an alarming rate.” For Seattle to truly be a “safe city,” Kolding says, the City Council should have someone who police “trust to have their back.” He stresses that doesn’t mean an uncritical view – “if there’s a problem, we’ll deal with it” – but he believe officers need more vocal support than they get now. Even the recent council vote to pass the police contract was accompanied by “hesitant” comments that left officers feeling “anxious,” he notes.
His other signature issue, besides supporting police, is homelessness. “I’ve been to encampments, I know what they’re like. I know the RV situation. I know it’s not sustainable or dignified … We need a solution.”
Kolding says it’s more than street experience that qualifies him to help formulate a solution. He says his time at SPD included more than five years in policy development: “I’ve worked with the ‘Seattle Process’,” as well as with various stakeholder groups,
What solution does he envision? A “regional network of FEMA-style tents … that can house a lot of people.” Not just house them, but also with services such as mental-health care, substance-abuse treatment, and job placement, “whatever they need.” When unhoused people are contacted, “we can offer them the opportunity to be transported” to a tent/center – each might specialize in serving people with particular needs. But he says this wouldn’t be mandatory – “if they choose not to participate, they would have the right not to.” But they also wouldn’t be able to camp illegally – “either you move on or police can enforce the law.” So it’s a big tent or jail? We ask. The latter “depends on the crime,” says Kolding, noting that there are different branches of the justice system that people could be plugged into – drug court, veterans’ court, LEAD, for example. However it shakes out, he says, “these (one-off) tents and RVs are not sanitary and dignified for anybody.” He doesn’t believe “tiny houses,” now the predominant form of shelter at city-authorized encampments, are a long-term solution either.
How would the big tents be funded? Kolding believes the city has the money – “The homelessness crisis is costing the city regardless. I’ve looked at numbers. It’s about using the resources we have more effectively.”
Kolding is careful to stress that he is not demonizing, nor generalizing about, unhoused people. Before his police career, he worked in education, and recognized a former student in a news story, living in a “tiny house.” He says he’s well aware “there are always people who need help.” But: “if there are some not interested in participating in society, we can’t let that dictate how (they are handled) … we need to not be shy about prosecuting.”
Though the city attorney (currently Pete Holmes) is independently elected, Kolding believes the City Council “can set the tone” for prosecutorial policy. He notes that a lot of law-enforcement investigative work already has gone into cases before they ever get to the City Attorney’s Office or County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, so those departments aren’t necessarily going out on a limb when pursuing charges. Bottom line, Kolding says, “We need safer streets,” and potential offenders need to be aware “that if you make certain choices, you’ll be prosecuted.”
We asked about District 1-specific issues on which he planned to focus. He observed that the peninsula has unique issues with public transportation and infrastructure, not just regarding everyday concerns like traffic, but also preparedness issues such as needing “a plan for getting help and critical services” in case of disaster. He’s also concerned about how HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning – which the current council is expected to approve soon – will affect the peninsula’s transportation/transit crunch. Overall, he says he’s not in favor of MHA as currently planned – he says he’s “in favor of affordable housing” but sees the MHA proposal as having a “huge loophole” and overburdening infrastructure.
There’s another issue he mentions that hasn’t come up in other conversations: Potential Seattle annexation of White Center (and the rest of unincorporated North Highline). It’s still a possibility, and it would put an extra load on city services including police. It would likely mean adding personnel – and an additional sector – to the Southwest Precinct, Kolding notes. Even though it’s not front-burner right now, “it’s not going away, so the District 1 (councilmember) needs to be aware of that.”
We asked about an issue that other candidates have mentioned prominently: Small-business climate. “We need to be a more business-friendly city,” Kolding acknowledges, adding that “we need to appreciate the role that small business plays in the community. This needs to be a place where you can start one and thrive.” Rather than adding taxes and fees – he says he was opposed to the “head tax” in particular – the city should “focus on using the existing funding we have for programs we want.”
Overall, Kolding thinks the current council is “too involved in bickering” and he would like to be part of a “group of people who can work together, have productive conversations, engage with districts well, talk about true ideas and policies that make sense,” and who see their role as “improv(ing) the quality of life. … We talk about social justice a lot but I don’t see a lot of action toward true social justice. Letting people live in tents in the mud, that’s not true social justice.”
Though it’s only February and the primary is just under six months away, with the formal filing period almost halfway between here and there, Kolding says it’s already been “intense,” with meetings and forums and endorsement conversations. He’s of course hoping to make it to the November general election, so he declares, “It’s going to be an intense next nine months, and I’m looking forward to it. …I feel we’re in a crisis; I feel I can get us through … I feel a sense of duty to stand up for what’s right … it’s too important to sit on the sidelines.”