(WSB photo. From left – Lorena González, James Donaldson, Jessyn Farrell, Colleen Echohawk, Andrew Grant Houston, WSJA executive director Lora Radford, Lance Randall, Bruce Harrell, Casey Sixkiller, Don Rivers)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
When nine of the 15 candidates for Seattle mayor sat side by side for an hour and a half at noontime Saturday, it wasn’t just the only pre-primary forum devoted to West Seattleites’ questions – it was also their first in-person forum of the campaign. With days to go until voting starts, they had appeared in dozens of forums, but all online.
So though the questions were serious, it was almost a festive atmosphere, unlike the more-typical mood by the time campaigning gets down to the wire.
Bruce Harrell joked that he wore shorts in the Zoom-call spirit. Lance Randall handed out custom-labeled mini-bottles of hand sanitizer. Casey Sixkiller and Jessyn Farrell asked to borrow scratch paper, confessing they were out of practice for toting supplies to in-person events.
Along with those four, the forum at the Senior Center of West Seattle featured James Donaldson, Colleen Echohawk, Lorena González, Andrew Grant Houston, and Don Rivers. WSB co-presented it with the West Seattle Junction Association, which streamed it live on Instagram’s IGTV while we streamed to YouTube. Our videographer for the occasion, Edgar Riebe of West Seattle-based Captive Eye Media, also recorded it, and here’s the video, followed by our summary:
The recording begins with our first question (if you had been there in person, you would also have seen WSJA executive director Lora Radford welcome everyone, WSB co-publisher Patrick Sand explain his timekeeping plan – we allotted :45 for answers – and your editor present the land acknowledgment, which is why we then began with this question:
#1 – What would you do as Seattle mayor to support the Duwamish Tribe in their quest for federal recognition?
(Note that we are summarizing the answers, with any direct quotes bracketed by quotation marks. For the full answers, watch the video.)
Donaldson: He would “be an advocate for our Indigenous people.”
Echohawk: “The City of Seattle has a very complicated relationship with tribal governments” and the city already has government-to-government relationships with the Muckleshoot and Suquamish tribes. She has supported the Duwamish Tribe’s efforts, in her previous job as executive director of the Chief Seattle Club.
Farrell: “The mayor of Seattle needs to be supportive” of the tribe.
González: Says she has sat down with the Duwamish Tribe’s leadership and “they do want” the city’s help in their quest for recognition. and “I’d be ready to work with them on that effort.”
Harrell: Has “read a lot about” this and “it seems complicated.” He would “talk to all the tribal communities.”
Houston: “It is imperative that whoever leads this city” recognize the importance of Indigenous people’s “self-determination.”
Randall: Would continue the Duwamish Valley Action Plan.
Rivers: “I will work with them.”
Sixkiller: Props to West Seattleites for caring about this area’s original people. “We need to … focus on being partners and be sure the Duwamish are at the table” as programs are designed.
#2 – The Seattle Police Southwest Precinct has lost a third of its staff. What will you do as mayor to get it back to full staffing?
Echohawk: “I am committed to investing in community, to finding ways to support public safety, … I would be looking to do an audit” to determine the right level of staffing.
Farrell: It’s a problem that when talking about public safety, “we are leading it with staffing levels” instead of with community values. Too many POC do not feel safe; “we need to be funding those strategies” that lead to more safety.
González: “It’s not about the number of bodies” in the police force, “it’s about the quality of service.” Need to look at alternatives such as Community Service Officers.
Harrell: As we reimagine public safety, we need to look at response times. Three strategies (for police staffing): Pay, recognition “of the effective officers,” and ensuring officers have the ability “to create … to build trust.”
Houston: “We must acknowledge that the current policing system does not work and must invest in alternatives.” Police officers are leaving because we are enforcing accountability measures. Also they’re leaving because interim Chief Adrian Diaz took specialty unit officers and put them back on patrol, which was seen as a demotion. “That was the wrong decision …. we need to engage with officers on what they’d like to do.”
Randall: Would work with police to “change the culture,” would work to get funding levels back “to where they need to be,” community outreach for a community policing strategy, create a Public Safety Youth Academy.
Rivers: “Restructuring the department is very important.” So are working with the community ahd training officers, and “mentoring and monitoring.” Would focus the department on both criminal justice and social justice.
Sixkiller: “People across Seattle don’t feel safe” – every category of crime is up. We’ve lost police because of City Council’s “rob Peter to pay Paul approach over this past year. … We have to hire more cops, period.” But “who we’re hiring and what we’re hiring them into is the opportunity.”
Donaldson: Police are leaving “because they don’t feel the support of our elected officials.” He favors sign-on bonuses and commitments to stay for two years.
#3 – Small businesses have had to deal with street disorder – burglaries, people wandering into their businesses and causing trouble … if you were walking the streets and talking to one of these businesses, what do you tell them about your strategy for dealing with this?
Farrell: For unhoused people, we need more housing and services and to scale up programs that use “trusted messengers” to build relationships with them.
González: She’s been a longtime Junction resident and considers many business owners friends. “The answer is not to increase the presence of law enforcement” but for example to bring Health One to West Seattle.
Harrell: Has been touring many business districts. “We need to examine where a gun and badge need to go and do not need to go” – a lot of the people causing disorder need help, and a system outside 911 could help.
Houston: Must look at roots of the problem – lack of resources, including federal. What can we do as a city? Preventative care including tiny homes and a Universal Basic Income pilot.
Randall: Some kind of ‘creative consequence” is needed – work closely with City Attorney on sanction to “send a message that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”
Rivers: “Every department has to be looked at” via auditing. “Seattle is not a city of homelessness … Seattle is a city destined for greatness.”
Sixkiller: “Enough is enough … property crime is up across this city and I think we need to stop making excuses about it. … We need a multidimensional solution to a very complex problem.” But also “we need to enforce laws on the books” and “hold folks accountable while making investments in alternatives.”
Donaldson: Owned a small business for 28 years. But using police for street disturbances “is a little bit of overkill.” Other resources would be helpful.
Echohawk: She is a small-business owner and when she hears that a business owner is suffering, she will offer support. But also, the people who are suffering with mental and behavioral issues “are in anguish” … “City government has allowed this to happen.” She has a plan for 100 outreach workers.
#4 – What is your opinion of the Inspector General’s recommendation to not make traffic stops for many violations?
González: Very supportive of not having “armed law enforcement” engage in traffic stops because this is what results in biased policing … Supportive of looking for an alternate way of “achieving compliance with our traffic laws.”
Harrell: He sponsored “bias-free policing law” to look at “who IS getting stopped.” Routine traffic stops have resulted in unnecessary deaths and murders so we need to take a look at that but we “need safe streets.”
Houston: Supportive of Inspector General’s recommendation. Biggest issue is that “our environment is designed” for speeding. Need to invest more in “redesigning our streets.”
Randall: Need to identify officers who have shown biases so they can be kept from making stops. Options need to be considered for handling stops.
Rivers: His daughter is a state trooper in Tennessee. The city needs to compensate West Seattle for all it’s going through because of the bridge.
Sixkiller: He supports Vision Zero. Camera enforcement can reduce the number of interactions with law-enforcement officers. “Less officers making stops is better for everybody.”
Donaldson: If we don’t like the laws, we need to change them. Having Inspector General say, don’t enforce them, “is not the right way to go about this” but he supports having non-armed officers handle traffic enforcement.
Echohawk: She supports recommendation. Having “community people” handle traffic stops would be good. Have SDOT analyze how to make the streets safer.
Farrell: Design streets to be safer – act with urgency to slow down drivers. Also need to decriminalize parts of transportation system like jaywalking and fare enforcement.
#5 – As mayor, what will you do to ensure the West Seattle Bridge is reopened no later than the currently promised mid-2022?
Harrell: “I think we are on track but to ensure that we’ll open up the data” to measure milestones. “We will also have a cabinet-level position” to aggressively pursue federal and other funding for this and other projects
Houston: Has been an “excellent project manager” in the private sector. Will ensure decisions are made in a timely manner. He believes Mayor Durkan waited too long to make repair-or-replace decision. Also “focused on restoring transit service to what it was before the pandemic.” Would put “buses on the ballot” in 2022.
Randall: Re-examine the transportation levy to free up funding, create partnerships with corporate community to “fill any funding gap.”
Rivers: “When it comes to the bridge, there is a problem, but I know we can resolve it. … There needs to be more than one way in and out of West Seattle that’s major.”
Sixkiller: “The top bridge experts in the world still can’t tell us why that bridge cracked. i think it’s super-critical … that we keep that project on track, work as hard as we can to deliver it sooner, but we want to make sure those repairs are the right repairs.” Have to focus on the low bridge too.
Donaldson: Transportation has to be a top priority. The bridge needs to be replaced. Will keep pushing for federal funding.
Echohawk: She’s led a nonprofit for 7 years and “if we had a major part of our infrastructure come down like this, I would have been fired by my board of directors.” The mayor “should be focused on keeping all of our infrastructure on track, from potholes to bridges.” Would hold SDOT personally accountable and watch “every single dollar.”
Farrell: It’s “a travesty that mobility concerns have not been addressed” since mobility was a West Seattle problem even before the “bridge disaster.” She would use her transportation experience (in nonprofit sector and Legislature) to “make sure we get this bridge (back open) as soon as we can.”
González: The most-motivated candidate to get the bridge open “since I live in West Seattle.” Has been working hard on the council to be sure funding is there and they’ve been successful so far. “Really, it’s about safety.” and about project management, which is SDOT’s accountability, but “they answer to the mayor.” But bridge won’t reopen unless she’s certain it’s safe. “That has to be our guiding force, is the bridge ready to open” without danger of collapse.
#6 – Will you order an investigation into what went wrong with the West Seattle Bridge?
Houston: Yes, but thinks that’s already happening. Also concerned about other bridges, need a “deep dive” into all of them.
Randall: Yes. Investigation “needs to start in the mayor’s office, all the way down to SDOT.” Other bridges need to be inspected. Need financial reserve for other potential future infrastructure needs.
Rivers: “How did this happen?” Agrees there needs to be an investigation.
Sixkiller: “Deep dive” to understand what happened is important, but doesn’t think an investigation should look for “a boogeyman” because the bridge was closed before anyone was hurt. Resources need to be channeled into other infrastructure too.
Donaldson: “I am for a thorough investigation” including “outside investigators.”
Echohawk: “I absolutely support” investigating what happened. “We owe it to the city” so “these kind of incidences never happen again.” Important for SDOT to create new systems to be sure infrastructure is safe.
Farrell: “This is really an issue of public trust.” She believes an investigation is an important tool for accountability, even if there was no “wrongdoing.”
González: “I don’t think it’s a wise use of resources or time to launch an investigation on [the construction of] a bridge that was built 40 years ago.” But she supports “a full audit of how we discovered the cracks in the first place” and whether the problem could have been detected sooner.
Harrell: “I think an investigation is very appropriate – for what purpose, though? Not to denigrate anyone, but to prevent it from happening again. … The communication system broke down, and this is where leadership style is going to be critical.”
#7 – Do you support or oppose Charter Amendment 29 on homelessness (“Compassion Seattle”) and why?
Randall: Says whether it’s passed or rejected it won’t affect his strategy on homelessness.
Rivers: Homelessness system has to “understand the mindset” of those experiencing it.
Sixkiller: Yes, he supports it as an “important step forward” to “push past semantics.” He thinks it’s a statement from citizens that “we need change.”
Donaldson: Yes, he supports it. Additional housing in particular “is what we need.” He’s “all about intervening” to help people experiencing homelessness.
Echohawk: She does not support it but understands “why people wanted it” and shares the frustration that the problem has worsened in recent years. Her main reason for opposing it is that those experiencing homelessness were not consulted. She has a homelessness plan “to bring everyone inside” within 14 months.
Farrell: She supports it “because it puts forward a consensus plan” on how to address the problem and that it will enable us “to stop wringing our hands” and take action.
González: She does not support it, considering it “an unfunded mandate” so the mayor would be forded to make cuts elsewhere in the budget “to fulfill the mandate.” It wouldn’t do enough; “we need to have a real solution that does not put sweeps at the heart of it.”
Harrell: He does support it “for a variety of reasons” including that it requires “a published plan.” The city needs to “aggressively help people. … Inaction is unacceptable.”
Houston: He is “vehemently against it” and also cites reasons including that people with lived experience were not part of creating it. He’s most interested in “preventative” aspect of dealing with homelessness – not just bringing people out of it but also preventing them from falling into it.
#8 – What is one thing you think you can and would do as mayor to help endangered orcas and endangered salmon?
Rivers: We “must work together across cross-cultural barriers” to address the challenges.
Sixkiller: When at King County, he worked on clean water and habitat support. Need to ensure that policies and infrastructure support environmental health.
Donaldson: He would ensure protection for the waterways they’re using, including Elliott Bay, and trying to prevent sewage/runoff pollution.
Echohawk: We’ll know we’ve turned the corner “when the Salish Sea is full of orcas.” Working with tribes is important – “they have an actual relationship with the orcas.” Addressing emissions is important too.
Farrell: “We need to really make sure that orcas have food …” and taking steps to support salmon, such as fish passages and reducing runoff pollution are vital, as well as getting people out of cars (she mentions the study showing that tire dust is poisoning waterways).
González: She would work with industries to get them away from unsustainable practices and toward a “green economy” that would “benefit all of us in this environment.”
Harrell: We should all look at our individual behavior – whether you’re using plastics, detergent, etc. that’s environmentally detrimental. Also – be strong partners with the nonprofits ‘doing tremendous work in this area.” And “bringing awareness to the seriousness of the situation.”
Houston: #1 thing he’ll do is “reduce vehicle miles traveled. .. it’s imperative that we get people to drive less.” That’s not just mode shift but also land-use reform so that everything you need is close by.
Randall: Upgrade stormwater-management systems and seek federal funding to investigate waterway pollution.
#9 – Do you support ending single-family zoning?
Sixkiller: No. But he supports examining zoning overall to create more housing opportunities.
Donaldson: No. He prefers ‘creating a blend and a mix of mixed-use” and finding “pockets” in neighborhoods where multi-family housing can be built.
Echohawk: Housing is unaffordable for too many and that’s wrong, so it’s time to increase density.
Farrell: “We need to be building a lot more affordable housing. … Changing our land-use code is one tool.” Look at places where there’s “economic diversity,” like High Point.
González: Yes, she supports abolishing exclusionary (single-family) zoning. “It is wrong to hae 80 percent of our residential land reserved for” the most-expensive type of zoning.
Harrell: City needs to discuss the history of single-family zoning and to work with communities.
Houston: Yes; the city’s been talking about ending single-family zoning since a HALA recommendation five years ago.
Randall: He supports working with neighborhoods “to create staggered residential zoning” and “more flexibility” in zoning. Need to make it more feasible for people to develop their own property.
Rivers: We should have seen the housing crisis coming. Also need to recognize that younger generations don’t think the same way about housing as older generations, so need to talk with them about this.
Four “just answer yes/no” questions followed:
-Would you initiate having the city annex White Center and the rest of unincorporated North Highline? All said yes except Echohawk, who said no.
-Are Seattle’s small businesses over-regulated? All said yes.
-Would you support expanding the natural-gas ban to new single-family homes? All said yes,
-Should Sound Transit (on whose board the mayor sits) consider the West Seattle SkyLink gondola as an alternative to West Seattle light rail? Donaldson, Echohawk, Randall, and Rivers said yes; Farrell, González, Harrell, Houston, and Sixkiller said no.
(Thanks again to everyone who suggested questions.) While our format did not have introductions, we did ask for closing statements. If you want to see those, advance the video to 1 hour, 14 minutes, 55 seconds in.
WHAT’S NEXT: King County Elections sends out ballots on Wednesday; voting starts as soon as you get yours, and ends at 8 pm Tuesday, August 3rd. The top two finishers in this race will advance to the November election. You have at least one more chance to see some of the candidates answering questions during an online forum this Wednesday (July 14th) at 6 pm, presented by Seattle Fair Growth with co-sponsors including the Morgan Community Association; information, including the viewing link, is here.