Six times two for District 6
by Peggy Sturdivant
What is the role of the local weekly if not to help citizens when it’s time to elect their city officials? For only the second time since Seattle moved to electing City Council members by district (plus two at-large positions) all seven districts are up for elections. Four incumbents are bowing out. That’s the case in District 6 where 12 candidates have now filed to run for the seat currently held by Mike O’Brien.
On Wednesday, May 15th six out of the 12 declared were part of a panel discussion at the Sons of Norway Lodge, sponsored by the Ballard Alliance and moderated by Enrique Cerna. Evidently not all 12 candidates could attend, which was somewhat of a relief because six already made for a crowded stage. Each candidate had a 90 seconds for closing and opening remarks, with one minute apiece to respond to the same questions. The order moved from left to right, and then back again, crossing Heidi Wills, Dan Strauss, Terry Rice, Jon Lisbin, Sergio Garcia to Jay Farthi, and then back again.
Rather than handwrite I typed up six pages of notes while in attendance. I will summarize for those not able to attend. (Please spare me doing this again). Any attempts to give a shorthand label to the candidates are my own (with the help of their opening and closing remarks). It was a very civilized discussion with a great deal of overlap between candidates, except on the issue of safe injection sites.
Heidi Wills staked her claim as the only one to have previous City Council experience (pre-districting). She quoted her daughter saying the most important city is the city in which we make our home. She cited as her big issues the need to address housing affordability, and homelessness through a more regional approach.
Dan Strauss emphasized that he was born in Ballard, raised in Ballard, lives in Ballard. “My best days are the ones when I don’t have to leave the district. I was the first candidate to commit to having a district office in Ballard and being here at least one day a week.” He also promoted his current role as Legislative Aide to District 4’s Sally Bagshaw as experience with the workings at City Hall. On homelessness, “We’ve had the roadmap for five years now through ‘Housing First.’ It’s time for the Mayor and staff to follow through.” He was in Americorps and has lived in 11 states and outside the country. He also mentioned his work on gun violence prevention.
Terry Rice introduced himself as a “Practical Progressive” who is willing to seek compromises. His main issues are transit, affordable housing options for low- and middle-income residents, and climate change. He sees displacement as a root cause of homelessness and believes stopping the pipeline to homelessness is key rather than working backwards from the problem.
Jon Lisbin is a previous candidate, Ballard resident and touted his experience as owner of a successful business. “I want to bring your voice back to City Hall. When my campaign goes door-to-door that’s what we’re all hearing, that neighbors in the district aren’t feeling heard.” He was part of Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity (SCALE) which mounted a formal appeal to elements of the Mandatory Housing Affordability that was part of what was known as the Grand Bargain.
Sergio Garcia is 15-year police officer out of North Precinct and therefore his familiarity with District 6 is from a very different vantage point. “I’ve been showing up for the district for 15 years. There are many public safety concerns and we need to be more creative in how we address them.” He admitted that he doesn’t have the policy experience of some of the others but stressed that he knows the issues straight from the streets. He was the only candidate onstage with a mustache that has become part of the campaign.
The sixth candidate at the table, Jay Fathi, is a longtime Seattle physician specializing in family health with a record of work with underserved and uninsured. He has also served nationally on healthcare advisory councils and was part of implementing the Affordable Care Act as a Washington Health Plan. He said his strength is finding evidence-based solutions and that as a physician he knows how to listen. “I am the only candidate that has three decades of experience working with populations at risk and applying what works. I’ll work with you, for you, to put Seattle back on a healthy path.”
Almost two hours of discussion and what do I have to show for it besides almost six typed pages of notes? I agree with all the candidates who thanked the audience for showing up, pronouncing it heartening, inspiring and a sign that everyone was already engaged. (They all promised to work for the residents of District 6 as well as the greater good of Seattle). Unlike a race with a single-issue or outlier candidate the six present all fit fairly within a spectrum with Terry Rice (practical progressive) and Sergio Garcia (police officer) at either end. The biggest Seattle policy differences were likely between those who support MHA in varying degrees and the candidate who admits he doesn’t (Jon Lisbin).
Responding to questions culled from the audience the most controversial issue of the night was that of safe injection sites (without a specific site in mind). Heidi Wills and Dan Strauss seemed to be willing to support them as a means of harm reduction. Terry Rice reminded the audience they’re not an option per the Federal Justice Department but that he’d support the science. Jon Lisbin said he wrestles with the issue and doesn’t feel the time is right. “We need to prioritize a budget that gets people off the streets.” Sergio Garcia drew the first spontaneous applause of the night, stating, “No, I do not support them. There are too many questions that haven’t been answered. Let’s get people out of addiction first.” Likewise Jay Fathi was a no. “I’m a public health doctor and the data just isn’t there yet (on harm reduction). This has only been done in one city. Until there’s data that shows it’s working, it’s not the right time.”
It was interesting to compare the prepared questions with those from the audience but the topics covered approaches to homelessness, housing affordability, Seattle Police Department, transit and light rail, Mike O’Brien, rent control, and the city overall. (I would have thrown in a few more issues but there will be other forums including one with a focus on transit). I realized after the event that an issue that struck me as a wedge in the last District 6 election was never mentioned...the “Missing Link.”
The other announced candidates for the District 6 position are Robert Miller, Kate Martin, Jeremy Cook, Joey Massa, John Peeples and Melissa Hall. The primary is August 6th (mailed in or drop box ballots by 8 p.m.) with the top two candidates advancing to the November 5th general election.
By the way the last day to register to vote is no later than eight days before an election. Play it safe, and if not registered or updated get it done by July 28th.
Also dig out those democracy vouchers and send them in.
Please note that after press time two additional candidates joined the District 6 race for a total of fourteen.