By a decisive margin, Seattle residents continue to view the city’s leadership as failing at public safety and homelessness, according to new poll numbers to be unveiled Monday. City leaders, especially long-tenured incumbents directly responsible for the rot of voter distrust, must answer the broad demand to do better with decisive, course-correcting action.
In its second round, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-sponsored citywide poll interviewed 100 registered voters in each of Seattle’s seven council districts. The results are stark: About 73% of residents said their neighborhoods are less safe than two years ago. Two-thirds of voters said they’ve considered leaving the city. Almost three-fourths say they don’t feel safe going downtown at night. In every slice of poll respondents — by age, party or section of the city — more than 60% of every group distrusted the way the city spends its money.
These findings should be a cold-water shock to any political leader still deluded that the city’s degeneration has escaped voters’ ire. The poll adds to evidence that people aren’t looking away from the persistent tent encampments under Interstate 5 and in Woodland Park, the closure of Little Saigon fixture Seven Stars Pepper Szechwan Restaurant or the drug-centric lawlessness plaguing grimy downtown streets. When city bus drivers report being distressingly familiar with the smell of passengers smoking narcotics — described by King County Metro driver Erik Christensen as “burnt peanut butter, mixed with brake fluid” — must the red flag be any bigger?
This poll adds to the hard numbers buttressing these distress signals. Its findings show a worsening trend from a similar August poll. Now, public safety is a top frustration of 46% of voters, up from 29%.
Poll results prove November’s city election of candidates who called out the public-safety failures was no fluke.
Their first 100 days in office end this week. Initial signals have been encouraging. Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Ann Davison declared March 4 that arrests and prosecutions would intensify in high-crime areas. In February, Councilmember Sara Nelson invited small-business leaders to testify about their challenges, a refreshing indicator that at least some in City Hall understand the discomfort pervading the city.
But turning a city around requires all-hands effort. Leaders who aren’t trying enough shouldn’t be given license to draft behind progress generated by a few hard chargers. With all seven district council seats on the 2023 ballot and the county prosecutor’s position up this year, voters ought to look hard at the direction of the city and ask if the decisions coming from these offices are pulling Seattle down the right path, or taking their cues from the wrong sources.
For example, less than two years ago, a council majority defunded the Navigation Team, which used police and other city employees to clear street encampments. But 86% of poll participants support clearing them, with outreach to help people get shelter and services. Even 55% of the dozens of self-identified Socialists in the poll said the “stop all sweeps” idea is wrong, despite persistent advocacy of that cause by Councilmember Kshama Sawant. She was among three district council representatives, along with Lisa Herbold and Tammy Morales, who voted to end the Navigation Team in August 2020 and will appear on the 2023 ballot. All should be held accountable.
The council’s past missteps can still become lessons learned. That should begin with using the despair revealed by the poll to guide responsive decision-making that hears voters’ cries for help.
“They don’t want to criminalize poverty,” Harrell said in an interview after learning the poll’s findings, “but they also want a sense of urgency.”
When so many people are this frustrated, leaders must get in step or get out of the way.