By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
District 1, including West Seattle, will elect a new City Councilmember this year, since Lisa Herbold has decided not to run for a third term.
Three people have formally announced campaigns so far, and it’s early, so more are likely. Rather than wait until late in the campaign to interview them, we decided to help ensure you have a better chance to get to know the candidates, by interviewing them multiple times, starting with an early “chat.”
So starting tonight, we’ll feature a City Council Candidate Chat for at least the next three Sundays (beyond, if and when additional candidates make announcements). We’re starting with more of a get-to-know-you kind of conversation; first up is Rob Saka, a Delridge resident who is the most-recent candidate to jump into the race.
We sat down with him at Delridge Community Center, a place Saka says is near and dear to his heart, not just because he lives in the area, but because he and his family – including three young children – have spent a lot of time there.
Our entire half-hour chat, unedited, is recorded on video:
If you don’t want to, or don’t have the time to, watch/listen, here’s our summary of key points:
Why does he want the job? Saka wants a “better future for my kids” and the rest of the district and city. In particular, “the public-safety situation isn’t what it should be” and he sees an “opportunity for action..
Have three kids – better future for my kids and access this city and district – public safety situation isn’t where it should be – biggest best and brightest future for my kids – opportunity for action on public safety.” On that subject, he says what he believes in is “not ‘no police’ but ‘better police’. … You don’t need to see a map to know the crime situation has gotten out of hand.” He thinks the city should “hire, develop, and train the right number, right kind of officers … good honest community-oriented police officers,” and that as many of them as possible should be from Seattle, “recruited from local areas.” Rather than name a target number of officers, he says the focus should be on, “are we meeting response times? The answer today is ‘no’.” He got some view into SPD as part of Mayor Harrell’s police-chief search committee. And yes, he believes some responses could be handled with non-armed responders. That’s been talked about for years, we note, so why hasn’t it happened on a larger scale yet? “Ask the people in power. I intend to make progress rather than play politics.”
Saka says he would be different from those in leadership now. How? A major factor he stresses is his “lived experiences,” having “overcome a lot of adversity,” spending time in foster care, raised by an immigrant, in a single-parent household. “I’ve fought like heck to be sure more people from disadvantaged backgrounds can overcome adversity.” He lived in public housing, he says, and attended 13 different schools in his K-12 years, graduating from Kent Meridian High School in 2001. That’s when he decided to join the military, “inspired” by the 9/11 attacks, feeling a “sense of duty.” He says he spent 10 years in the military and went to college on the GI Bill, eventually “serv(ing) others as a civilian lawyer.” He lived and worked in San Francisco for a while and then “moved back here.” He currently works for Reality Labs, part of Meta.
Back to how he says he would differ, he says he believes in taking action “in a thoughtful manner that reflects all perspectives, straightforward, collaboratively, find(ing) common ground.”
Talking about issues on which a “common ground” has been elusive, to say the least, in recent years, we ask about homelessness. He says the “crisis” declared years ago has devolved into a “catastrophe. … Shame on us for allowing it to get this bad.” Here is another area in which Saka believes his “lived experiences” will be helpful: “I know what it’s like to be uprooted and swept away.” Job 1, he says, “is to build a ton of affordable housing.” Also, “better, tighter interagency coordinated response to focus on response and encampment removal.” Services – including mental health and drug treatment – need to be available, as well as safe lots, and “we need to end the whack-a-mole” of moved encampments “popping up elsewhere.” Does the “catastrophe” need more money? First, he says, “we need to make sure we’re being excellent stewards” of tax dollars. But he notes that homelessness is a “county, regional, state, federal problem – why should we be singularly responsible” for solving it?
Speaking of money, we ask about Saka’s experience with budgeting. As a commissioned officer in the US Air Force, he says, he had to oversee them; in his work as a lawyer, he’s advised businesses of all sizes, from “micro-entrepreneurs (to) Fortune 500 companies.”
Before our introductory chat wraps up, he says he also wants to tend to “the basics of a well-intended local government – repair roads, build and maintain bridges, empower police, keep our parks open, clean, accessible, welcoming for all … be big, bold, transformative in all those areas … we need to focus on things that make a difference.” He insists he has “a passion for service” and is ready to listen to constituents: “It’s not about me, it’s about them. I want to serve.”
We’ll talk with Saka again, digging into more specifics as the primary campaign goes on. First, we’re scheduling introductory chats with the other candidates; next Sunday, watch for our interview with Maren Costa. The lineup for the August 1st primary won’t be final until after the official “filing week” in mid-May; we’re planning a candidate forum after that, too.
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