People deserve second chances, including Heidi Wills.
Despite a serious lapse of judgment 16 years ago, when she was a one-term council member who lost reelection after an ethics scandal, Wills makes a convincing case that she’s learned from her mistakes and is running again as a much wiser person. Since that 2003 downfall, she started a family, ran an educational nonprofit and worked with her husband building a successful gift company.
Wills now offers a rare combination of legislative and private-sector experience, with personal humility, that make her the best choice in a crowded race for Council District 6. This is an open race to fill the seat being vacated by Mike O’Brien, representing Ballard, Fremont and Green Lake.
District 6 has suffered from the city’s overly politicized law enforcement and judicial system, with substantial increases in assaults, burglary robbery and theft over the past five years. Wills is advocating for a firmer stance on public safety, including holding accountable prolific offenders who repeatedly victimize the community. She wants to help the city’s effort to expand its police force while holding true to reforms.
Wills is also a former King County legislative staffer who appreciates the importance of a regional response to homelessness. She would be a valuable asset on a council working through the transition to a new regional human-services governance model Seattle and King County are developing. Wills also believes the city should be getting better outcomes for its homeless spending and doesn’t think it’s compassionate to let people continue camping in squalor on public open spaces.
Wills version 2.0, ideally, will be more independent from the downtown political establishment that was her milieu until Strippergate, the scandal in which Wills and two other council members took donations linked to the operator of a Lake City strip club, then voted for zoning changes he sought.
In retrospect, that was an early peep at what would happen during Seattle’s latest growth spurt. While not illegal, special interests provided campaign support to council members willing to massively upzone entire neighborhoods, creating untold millions worth of development potential.
Wills should be especially sensitive to this, not only because of Strippergate but because quality of life in District 6 has suffered from City Hall’s build-baby-build mantra. It’s now a poster child for rampant development making the city less green, more congested and even less affordable.
The establishment — namely big unions that hold sway with City Hall — are mostly backing two other candidates in the race: Dan Strauss, policy adviser to outgoing District 7 Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, and Jay Fathi, who was a family physician in District 6 until he moved into health-care management in 2008.
Fathi was president of Coordinated Care, a state health exchange, until he was terminated in 2017 after complaints and billing issues prompted the state to halt its sales. Fathi remains an intriguing candidate, and his interest in public service is commendable. But he should consider state or county roles as the City Council has little involvement in health-care governance and shouldn’t seek more.
Strauss is earnest, but his role crafting policy for a dysfunctional council beholden to special interests is hardly an endorsement. This is a change election — the council needs a reset, not an extension of the status quo.
Voters in District 6 should elect Wills.