For Seattle voters trying to decide between Heidi Wills and Dan Strauss for City Council, it can be tough to differentiate between their positions.

Getting past Strauss’ polished delivery and all his folksy Ballard references requires knowledge of code words and dog whistles used by the City Hall establishment.

Heidi Wills
Heidi Wills

Thankfully, Strauss made it easy during a recent forum for the District 6 candidates, seeking to represent Ballard, Green Lake and Fremont, reaffirming that Wills is the far better choice

Twice, Strauss outright said his views are very similar to those of Mike O’Brien, but he’ll be more effective.

“I share a lot of the same values as our current council member,” Strauss said, “and I do things very differently.”

Yikes, or should we say “uff da”?

Strauss is a sharp candidate, but that wasn’t demonstrated by aligning himself with O’Brien, a divisive ideologue who alienated many of his constituents and is giving up his seat this year.

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O’Brien epitomizes a council status quo that applies wishful thinking to serious challenges, prioritizing symbolic gestures over data and pragmatism. Crime, congestion and arguably quality of life worsened on his watch, making District 6 a showcase of the city’s failures to maintain safety and civility, substantially reduce homelessness, and ensure streets and infrastructure can handle growth the city encourages.

O’Brien’s values led to a peak Ballard moment last year, when he was physically thrown out of the landmark Pacific Fishermen Shipyard during a Nordic Museum opening celebration. The shipyard lies on a key industrial road where O’Brien insists on adding a major bike corridor, rejecting employers’ request to locate the path a few blocks away.

Wills, a former council member who went on to run an educational nonprofit and a successful small business, tactfully declined to criticize O’Brien directly.

Instead, Wills gave examples of things she’d do differently. She’s concerned about increased polarization in the district, such as picking sides in disputed transportation projects, rather than seeking a balanced approach. Wills also disagreed with O’Brien’s past support for allowing homeless people to sleep in parks; she said that’s problematic, unsafe and unhygienic for people in such circumstances, and the city should rely on its navigation teams — of social workers and police — to help them into housing.

Strauss does know how to push policy — that’s been his career since graduate school, most recently as a council legislative aide. The question is whether he’ll push policy that prioritizes District 6, and responds to residents’ concerns, or continue advancing the rigid agenda of City Hall ideologues and special interests.

Truly, the last thing District 6 needs is Mike O’Brien 2.0, better able to implement zany policies that sound great in the downtown echo chamber but fall flat in the real world.

Fortunately, voters have a great option in Wills, a deep blue progressive and environmentalist with extensive experience in the public and private sectors. Council missteps 16 years ago actually make Wills a wiser, better representative.

District 6 voters should elect Wills, their best hope for more thoughtful, responsive city representation.