By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Stephen Brown is the newest candidate for the District 1 City Council seat. He’s also new to the district, having just moved to West Seattle six months ago.
Brown is the fifth candidate to sit down with us for our initial series of Candidate Chats, video-recorded conversations intended to give you an early look at the candidates who have officially announced campaigns for the council seat Lisa Herbold is leaving after two terms. He is founder of Eltana Bagels, with an eclectic resumé before that, including a staff position with the short-lived Seattle Monorail Project. We talked with Brown at West Seattle Coworking in The Junction last Wednesday; here’s our unedited half-hour conversation:
If you can’t, or don’t want to, take the time to watch/listen, here’s our summary of key points:
As usual in these conversations, we first ask, “Why do you want this job?” Brown says he started to think about it when the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP) started unfolding in 2020 outside his bagel shop, which is across from SPD’s East Precinct. “We stayed open, didn’t lay people off” unlike some other businesses, he recalled – “we were able to exist” (amid it all). He allows that some aspects of his business made that more possible for him than for others – “the protests usually started by closing time … bagels were morning, the activity happened in evening.” He says he “took (his) cue from (the shop’s) staff” who didn’t seem bothered. “Our business didn’t get vandalized – (aside from) graffiti on the front steps… it was just an annoyance.” His general feeling was that if that was the cost of “significant social change,” then so be it.
He doesn’t work daily at the shop any more – a partner runs it – but when he does go there, he takes transit from West Seattle, bus to light rail, which gets him to Capitol Hill. “I’m very much an urbanist.” He has no political experience, but the decision to run follows some time thinking about “politics in general” and found himself “staying calm and centered.” That said, his decision also was born out of “a little bit of frustration in how things are going since we emerged from the pandemic.” In particular, he notes the disorder on the street in the heart of the city – “some days it’s super-unnerving as I walk.” He feels the city has let the problems “go on too long,” though he sees promise in Mayor Bruce Harrell‘s recent efforts. It’s “not humane to allow people to live on the street for extended periods of time.”
Meantime, he’s “interested in supporting small business in general,” and is disturbed to see “so many businesses boarded up.”
We talked about his role at the Seattle Monorail Project, where he said he was one of the “last employees,” charged with finding revenue sources. He said he wasn’t surprised by its eventual demise – “while we had grass-roots support, we really never had political support” – and recalled a sort of “bunker mentality” as the agency wound down. He’s looking forward to light rail extending to West Seattle, describing himself as a “big fan” of the service, since he has taken it from downtown to Capitol Hill many times.
He had also mentioned museum work in his background, so we asked for more on what sounded like a varied work history. Brown said his driving interest is “social connection in public places,” something he’s explored in ventures past and present, including an oyster bar he co-founded in Palo Alto, California, and a company called Entros, “focused on collaborative social play.” That even extended to his bagel shops, which offer a crossword puzzle for customers every two weeks.
How might his interest translate to City Council work? He says councilmembers are “not necessarily super-skilled listeners” and that’s one thing he would like to change, so that constituents would “feel heard.” He also would bring “positivity” to the role, something he says the mayor has been exuding – “you need to lead with ‘positive’.” And looking ahead creatively to solve problems, too – “nostalgia is not our friend.” He believes his business experience – from ideas to plans to reality – would suit the task.
What about public safety/ Brown says he is “for a strong, well-trained police force that is used more to handle the problems they specifically are trained to handle,” but he’s not “up on specifics yet” regarding what it’ll take to rebuild the city’s currently short-handed force.
And finally, in his short time living in District 1, what has he learned about its issues? A few at the top of his mind included the South Park flooding, “transit in general,” and whether the “retail mix” of its business districts is optimal.
PREVIOUS CANDIDATE CHATS: This is the fifth candidate conversation we’ve had and concludes the first round until and unless someone else declares their candidacy. We plan to talk with them all again later this spring. Here are links to our previously published chats:
*Preston Anderson (published March 12)
*Phil Tavel (published March 5)
*Maren Costa (published February 26)
*Rob Saka (published February 19)
The field of candidates who’ll be on the August 1 primary ballot won’t be final until after the King County Elections “filing week” in mid-May. We’re also planning to present a candidate forum after that, co-sponsored by community groups, inviting everyone who’ll be on the ballot. In the meantime, we’ll talk again with these candidates, and anyone else who officially announces they’re running.