Before taking office, two first-time local elected officials take West Seattle Chamber of Commerce questions

December 15, 2021 12:01 pm
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 |   West Seattle news | West Seattle politics

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

“The voters spoke, and hopefully my colleagues on the council heard the message.”

That’s what City Councilmember-elect Sara Nelson told the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce toward the end of Tuesday’s meet-and-greet, responding to a question about how she would work with councilmembers with different political ideology and ideas.

Nelson and Port Commissioner-elect Hamdi Mohamed spent an hour answering questions during the midday online event, as both prepare to take office. Both are first-time elected officials – Nelson was elected to the Seattle City Council‘s citywide Position 9, formerly held by Lorena González, who ran for mayor instead of for re-election; Mohamed was elected to the Seattle Port Commission‘s Position 3, defeating incumbent Stephanie Bowman. Topics ranged from public safety to economic development.

In introductory remarks, Mohamed revealed some West Seattle cred – she had attended Chief Sealth International High School, and her first job was at the (now closed) Jamba Juice at Westwood Village. She said she was raised in a “family of entrepreneurs,” with her father operating a trucking company and her mother becoming a day-care provider. Mohamed said she’s dedicated to ensuring the port is a “good neighbor.”

Nelson, who co-owns a brewery, called herself the “first small-business owner on the City Council since Jan Drago left in 2009.” She said she wants to be sure everyone “is heard” – she vows to attend meetings, take calls, go on tours. “I am here for you.”

The first question for her recalled the sudden news of the West Seattle Bridge shutdown, asking how to avoid something similar. She suggested that, whatever committee she chairs, she’ll have department directors in quarterly to talk about their work plans. She also promised to start off “on a good footing” with incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell and his staff. Nelson returned frequently to her vow to be a listener – saying she wants to hear from community members about their preferences on major projects from Sound Transit light rail to the city’s comprehensive-plan update.

Some other ongoing issues came up in questioning, such as SDOT‘s announced plan for a 2-way protected bicycle lane on West Marginal Way and lingering freight-mobility concerns. Nelson said she needs to get further “up to speed” on the issue but declared, “I am paying attention to this.”

Both were asked about public safety. Nelson said she’s hoping to serve on the council’s Public Safety committee (though she said assignments haven’t been finalized yet). She said police reform remains necessary but “we also need to make sure people feel safe.” She would like to revive the Community Police Teams – disbanded when interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz reassigned officers to maintain baseline patrol staff – and to expand Crisis Response Teams. “The council has to take crime seriously,” she declared – speaking about both herself and her colleagues-to-be.

Mohamed observed that “many don’t realize the Port has a police department.” But their responsibility is vast – involving tens of millions of people passing through Sea-Tac Airport each year, as well as patroling 30 miles of waterfront. She said they need to be ambassadors, not just enforcers.

Regarding the relationship between local businesses and the city, Nelson said the Office of Economic Development is “under-resourced,” but she sees some room for efficiencies, instead of so many “one-off programs.” She also heard from Chamber CEO Whitney Moore about the difficulty of applying even for what they do offer – complicated processes that might benefit from a more “infographic” tutorial approach, especially to enhance accessibility no matter what language you speak. Mohamed said that language access is “a priority” for her at the port, too, and noted that she has firsthand experience, as her family arrived from Somalia when she was a child, and she grew up with Somali as her first language. She was asked about navigating the not-so-transparent process of getting considered as a Sea-Tac vendor. She said she’ll prioritize making those opportunities available to local businesses.

Before the fast-moving hour wrapped up, Nelson was asked about what is arguably still the region’s biggest challenge – easing the homelessness crisis. She said she’s optimistic the new regional authority will be empowered to use resources to make progress, so “my first priority is to be a partner in those efforts.”

Overall, Nelson promised repeatedly that she will listen to constituents and advocate for them: “My legitimacy will be based on representing the concerns and needs of the community,” adding, “I’m excited to start my job bringing the city back together.” Mohamed said she’s “looking forward to building relationships.”

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