With two weeks until voting begins, the candidates are in the midst of a blitz of campaign forums. Candidates for Seattle city offices appeared in two more Thursday night – both specifically to address the topic of homelessness, On Wednesday, Seattle Mayor candidates debated the topic twice. We covered the first one, presented by the Resolution to End Homelessness; the second one, Wednesday night, kicked off a two-night series presented by The Seattle Times (here’s their coverage) and We’re All In. On Thursday night, the series included two half-hour forums. We watched both. Below are our notes on the first one, with Seattle City Attorney candidates Ann Davison and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, moderated by Times reporter Sydney Brownstone. (We’ll have a separate report on the second one.) Note that everything below is our paraphrase/summary, not a direct quote unless it’s within quotation marks.
QUESTION: What role should the City Attorney play in addressing homelessness?
Davison: “We can be a city that is safe and compassionate.” She says conduct should be regulated and people should be dealt with in a way that keeps them alive.
Thomas-Kennedy: Renter protections are important as well as stabilizing people that are referred for prosecutions. “Crimes of pverty and desperation … are increased by prosecution and jail time. … Jail is not a housing alternative.” The city is paying $16 million less for jail bookings and that can be replicated every year, spending the money on housing instead.
QUESTION: Davison ran for another office as a Republican candidate; Thomas-kennedy is running as an abolitionist, so they’re far apart ideologically. Name one thing your opponent is right about.
Thomas-Kennedy: That homelessness is an issue for everyone.
Davison: Everything is about communication – people engaged in criminal activity are trying to say something, and we need to figure out what that is.
QUESTION: Thomas-Kennedy says she’ll stop prosecuting crimes of poverty. What does she say to people who think that will increase them?
Thomas-Kennedy: We’re prosecuting those crimes now and they’re still occuring, We do need to repair businesses – we’ll have a victims’ fund – and we will meet the needs of (those who are committing the crimes). We need to mitigate (their) issues.
QUESTION: Davison says the city spending more on social programs increased crime. But police spending increased dramatically too. Why do you link social spending to crime?
Davison: We need accountability. We need to adequately provide for safety and protect victims, making sure that they get justice. Some programs have accountability (but not all).
QUESTION: From an ST reader – diversion programs have succeeded. What crimes should qualify?
Thomas-Kennedy: Everything is a case by case basis. “I really think there’s an opportunity to really expand diversion.” Maybe interpersonal violence or repeat DUIs aren’t eligible right away, but we could look at that.
Davison: “I think it’s appropriate in some circumstances …” but not all crimes handled by the City Attorney are “low level,” and crime “has affected quality of life” around the city. Diversion is a way for “people to get themselves better” but victim protection is vital.
Thomas-Kennedy: “I have never said I would not prosecute interpersonal violence … but we are talking misdemeanors, and I’ve never heard my opponent mention the facts of a misdemeanor.”
QUESTION: Neighborhood business groups say the City Attorney has not sufficiently addressed repeat offenses by people who are homeless. If a repeat-offender case comes to your desk, what do you do?
Thomas-Kennedy: Nothing underscores the failure of jail like a prolific offender. You can’t keep someone in jail forever for a misdemeanor. Since they’re going to get out, we need to focus on what’s going to keep it from happening again.. We need to be “focused on what works. … Until we turn to new solutions” and stop relying on prosecution to solve everything, it’s going to keep happening.
Davison: “We have to follow the law, we are not here to create policy.” She supports social services but believes Thomas-Kennedy’s view of the role is different from reality. “When we’re ensuring the city can run and function …sometimes we need to use those (options).”
Thomas-Kennedy: Says her opponent doesn’t understand a prosecutor’s job. “A prosecutor’s job is to use discretion – to seek justice, not to seek convictions. Discretion is the duty.”
Davison: “The goal is to protect the public, balance the public-safety aspect, the victim of the crime, and the accused. We need to make sure we are centering the victims.”
QUESTION: Does Davison support ending single-family zoning? (Thomas-Kennedy has said she does.)
Davison: Not relevant.
QUESTION: Would you defend the city in a case like the one in which the city was sued by a man living in a vehicle?
Thomas-Kennedy: A lot of federal law is not on Seattle’s side – I would be advising (about) that – the council needs help and advice about policy and legislation.
QUESTION: On Day 1, what policy is your priority?
Davison: Making sure I’m talking with my team, setting up continuity.
QUESTION: Thomas-Kennedy has said prosecuting low-level domestic violence can do more harm than good,
Thomas-Kennedy: I’m not taking prosecution off the table … There’s a whole range of cases, facts, not every case involves physical violence … we need to respect that some survivors don’t want prosecution. “We need to be focused on what’s going to keep people safe and that’s not always prosecution.”
QUESTION: City Attorney’s Office currently prosecutes people who buy sex. Do you support that?
Davison: Yes, I met with a survivors-of-sex-trafficking group yesterday, They’re often there in a non-consensual way,
Thomas-Kennedy: “I like the idea of decriminalizing sex work … then the people who work in that industry are safer … they can ask police for help when they need it. … Human trafficking is not the same as consensual sex work.” Going after johns is “extremely expensive,” too.
QUESTION: Who’s got your vote for mayor and council?
Thomas-Kennedy: Lorena González for mayor, Nikkita Oliver for council position 9.
Davison: Not appropriate for her to say, since she’ll have to provide impartial legal advice to whoever’s elected.
Davison: If elected I’ll make sure our approach to the law is fair and respectful to everyone, I’ll surround myself with seasoned professionals.
Thomas-Kennedy: We all deserve to be safe and secure … my plans will make us safer. We have already tried the mass incarceration approach, and it does not work.
VIDEO … is in the Times coverage of the Thursday night forums, which were preceded by two King County Council candidates whose race is not on our area’s ballot.
OTHER FORUMS AHEAD: We’re adding them to our Event Calendar as we find them; almost all are online. Locally, the only in-person West Seattle forum that we know of is coming up October 18th at Our Lady of Guadalupe, with candidates in both City Council races.