By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A standing-room-only crowd filled the American Legion Post 160 hall in The Triangle Thursday night for the first forum featuring all five candidates contending for the City Council District 1 seat representing West Seattle and South Park.
Four years ago, when 7 of the 9 councilmembers were elected by district for the first time, Lisa Herbold won the seat by 39 votes. Thursday night she shared the stage with four challengers: Jesse Greene, Brendan Kolding, Phil Tavel (who also ran in 2015, finishing third in the primary), and Isaiah Willoughby.
They answered questions for an hour and 20 minutes, frequently punctuated by applause, in the first of a series of forums planned by the advocacy group Speak Out Seattle. Instead of the originally announced moderator, radio host Mike Lewis asked the questions, some submitted in writing by attendees. Here’s our video:
If you don’t have time to watch, our toplines are ahead:
The sponsoring group says it’s focused on public safety, homelessness, and drug abuse. The latter issue brought one of the sharpest contrasts of the night, when the candidates were asked if they support “safe injection sites.” The four challengers denounced the concept, while the incumbent said she supported them, after first calling attention to a recently circulated hoax flyer claiming one is planned in West Seattle (it’s not) and then citing statistics showing they saved lives and money. Kolding, meantime, declared that there’s “no such thing as a ‘safe injection site’ because there’s no way to safely inject heroin.”
There was disagreement on addressing homelessness, especially in a question of what the council has gotten right. Greene – who tells of having experienced homelessness in his youth – said it’s “oversimplification – there are so many reasons” for it. Herbold said, “The answer to homelessness is always housing,” and cited the Housing First model – getting people into housing and then tackling their other problems – as important. Tavel disagreed that a lack of affordable housing was a major cause, and called for a wider “safety net,” criticizing the council for a “lack of urgency.” Kolding spoke of the housing solution he had mentioned in our interview last month, centered on large tents and a “triage process,” while saying tents and tiny houses are “undignified,” and calling for laws to be enforced. Willoughby said he is opposed to “handouts and entitled behavior.”
The candidates were asked about some things that made headlines recently, including former mayoral public-safety adviser Scott Lindsay‘s “System Failure” report on repeat offenders, and the recent KOMO TV special “Seattle Is Dying.” Regarding the latter, Greene said he was heartbroken, Herbold described a “visceral reaction,” Kolding said he felt “sorrow” as well as “validation” (for his decision to run), while Tavel called it “tragic” and said the show might better have been titled “Seattle Is Failing”; Willoughby summarized it as a “misrepresentation of Seattle money.”
How would each make her/himself, “and City Hall,” more accessible? Tavel promised weekly office hours in the district and increased technology use. Willoughby said he would create an app. Greene suggested a weekly “conference call” and then decried a Seattle Channel clip that’s been making the rounds showing a commenter asking councilmembers to pay more attention as he spoke. Herbold subsequently offered a precise time in that video when she is seen being attentive, and then went on to mention her ongoing monthly district office hours and her initiatives for accessibility such as closed-captioning on council broadcasts. Kolding mentioned social-media and constituent collaboration.
Audience questions, read by Lewis, started with one about housing density – Willoughby voiced support for HALA, Herbold, Kolding, and Tavel talked about it while noting its shortcomings, and Greene decried permit-processing time and gentrification.
Asked about last year’s “head tax” (Employee Hours Tax) uproar, Herbold defended her initial support of it, while the other four all voiced opposition to it.
Getting hyperlocal, Lewis read a question asking the candidates their top priority for District 1. After an initial mention of homelessness, Kolding cited emergency preparedness. Tavel said “getting the Purple Line back on the table” for Sound Transit light-rail was most urgent for him. Herbold agreed that light rail is at the top of her list and noted that in her role on the project’s Elected Leadership Group, she wanted to keep the “purple line” in play. For Willoughby, “removing RVs” was issue #1. Greene said emphatically that homelessness mattered most.
Questions often sidetracked into beefy discussions about bigger issues. A question about property crime brought answers veering into police staffing and police priorities (Kolding, who left SPD recently, suggested officers are overburdened with paperwork). Police staffing came up again a little while later, and Kolding said “part of the solution is to put a cop on the council.” (He would not be the first; Tim Burgess, who ended a decade on the council a little over a year ago, is a former SPD officer; former interim SPD chief Jim Pugel is a candidate in another council district.) One about helping small businesses stay in The Junction brought responses including Greene saying “I’m not a ‘not in my backyard’ person” while Herbold spoke of the Legacy Business project she’s been championing on the council, Kolding suggested a “community meeting” to seek opinions on The Junction’s future, Tavel extolled growth without losing “character,” and Willoughby suggested zoning could protect the district “from outside corporations.”
Then there was the tax issue – asked if they support a local or state income tax, Willoughby and Kolding said no; Greene contended it wasn’t an appropriate question because it would violate the state constitution; Herbold said that ruling was from a century ago and worth revisiting due to the extreme inequity of current tax policy; Tavel said tax policy is worth discussing once the current court case is resolved.
The forum only got ugly at one point, when Lewis asked a “lightning question” about rating the council’s performance in the past 2 years, and Herbold was jeered as she prefaced her answer (B-) with a defense of the council’s role as legislators, not implementers. (Others’ grades – Tavel, D-; Willoughby, C; Greene, F; Kolding was skipped over.)
WHAT’S NEXT: The next D-1 forum we know of has been announced for the 34th District Democrats‘ meeting, 7 pm April 10th, The Hall at Fauntleroy. (If you’re planning a forum, please let us know so we can get yours on the calendar too!) The primary field won’t be final until the official filing period in May; Election Day, to narrow the field to two, is August 6th.