By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The fourth candidate to formally announce a campaign for the Seattle City Council District 1 seat is making his third try for it.
Days after Phil Tavel declared his candidacy for the position that Lisa Herbold is leaving after two terms, we sat down with him for this week’s early “get to know you” video-recorded Candidate Chat. Our talk with him took a slightly different turn than our previous interviews with first-time candidates – more “get to know you again.” Tavel is an Arbor Heights resident and full-time administrative-law judge who talked with us Thursday. Here’s our unedited half-hour conversation:
If you can’t or don’t want to take half an hour to watch/listen, here’s our summary:
Why does he still want the job? “Because Seattle’s still not delivering on its promises” though he believes the city has “incredible potential.” He says he’s been thinking about this since 2010 and just hasn’t seen things get better, but he believes it’s not too late to “start fixing things.” He acknowledges that much has changed since his loss to Herbold in the 2019 general election – the pandemic, the West Seattle Bridge closure, people working remotely rather than traveling daily to offices. Even his judicial work, he says, is done from home via videoconferencing.
And that work, Tavel says, has given him a unique perspective on the struggles many people are facing, as he hears, for example, appeals on unemployment cases. “We’ve gone through a difficult time (but this is an) amazing, resilient city.”
Tavel says he worked hard to be part of that resiliency in recent years. Courthouse closures when COVID hit cut the work he was doing at the time, so he started working as a driver for the West Seattle Food Bank. He also mentions helping coordinate West Seattle Supports, “connecting people with what they needed” during those difficult heart-of-the-pandemic times. He also got involved with the advocacy group West Seattle Bridge NOW, which agitated for “a seat at the table” in bridge-related issues. He says the bridge closure gave him “incredible insight” into the issues local businesses face, and overall insight into “specific ground-level things to make (this) a healthy, prosperous city.” He wasn’t sure about running again until it became an open seat and he had the realization, “I still want to do that.” He thinks he’s “learned a lot” that he could bring to “help people on a larger level.”
Which issues does he think he can make a difference on? His vision is that instead of “focusing on big legislative ideas,” he wants to focus on a few specifics, like police staffing, which he thinks is being affected by the fact that SPD officers still don’t have a contract. He thinks that needs to be a priority – if city government is to show it’s supportive of the police department, Tavel says, the contract is where to start. (He also mentions the city having “three different agencies” that “spend a lot of money coming up with ideas to (improve policing).”
Regarding homelessness, he espouses permanent supportive housing, and he notes that people who are working on homelessness need to be given a chance to do their job, rather than having new “big ideas” thrown into the mix periodically, stopping work that’s under way and forcing people to start over. He also mentions the situation involving the council having allotted money for an RV parking lot that has yet to be set up. The Regional Homelessness Agency’s been gearing up, and the next council is going to have to be ready to work closely with it, in his view.
He also wants to see the council, mayor, and city attorney work together. And he wants to see more efficiency, recalling having heard about a case in which there was a grant “to study whether an intersection could be studied.” He thinks a closer look at departments such as SDOT and SPU could identify efficiencies, too. Also, he would like to see more of a laser focus on specific city matters, rather than having the council spending time on resolutions related to non-Seattle global issues. Usually worthy issues, he says, but just to draft and discuss a resolution costs staff money and time.
Specific District 1 issues he would focus on? Sound Transit light rail is a big one. But he’s also interested in other aspects of transportation – like potholes and crosswalks. Overall he promises to be accessible to constituents – even if they choose to catch up to him in his longrunning role as Wednesday night trivia host at Talarico’s.
So all in all, if someone didn’t vote for him before, why should they change their mind now? “If the last four years didn’t go the way you wanted,” a councilmember with the type of life experience he’s had might be able to change that. “I’ve continued to be involved (in the community), I took action when things changed … I’m in a position to help people understand … it’s not time for activism (on th council) any more.” (And for those who were alienated by the political-action committee support in 2019 funded by Amazon and other big business, Tavel stresses that he didn’t ask for that support and wasn’t helped by it: “I’m not in anybody’s back pocket.” In all, he feels that “just being here is the thing I think I do very well … I truly care. Come talk to me.”
Our previous Candidate Chats were with Rob Saka and Maren Costa. Next Sunday night, you’ll hear from Preston Anderson. These are all early conversations, and we plan to talk with the candidates again, multiple times, before the August 1st primary. The field of candidates for the primary won’t be final until after the King County Elections “filing week” in mid-May.