Seattle City Council District 7 is fired up over the council’s poor performance on public safety, transportation and growth planning — with good reason.

Robberies and assaults have doubled over the past five years in Magnolia. City Hall is dragging its feet on replacement of the dangerous Magnolia Bridge, as congestion worsens on the peninsula’s two other access points. Queen Anne’s neighborhood council challenged the city’s one-size-fits all upzoning, after pleas for more inclusive planning were ignored by council ideologues.

Jim Pugel
Jim Pugel

Now 10 people are seeking the District 7 seat being vacated by Sally Bagshaw, representing downtown as well as Magnolia and Queen Anne. Differentiating between them is tricky as the top contenders are all savvy professionals.

But the best choice is Jim Pugel, a veteran leader of Seattle and King County law enforcement who rose to interim chief in Seattle before leaving the department in 2014.

Like other candidates, Pugel wants the bridge replaced. He is concerned about housing affordability, including the tax burden on fixed-income residents. He’s also sensitive to neighborhood concerns about remote investors converting single-family homes into multiunit rental clusters.

Where Pugel really stands apart is experience tackling complicated regional challenges. Pugel has the most knowledge of any city candidate about reducing crime while maintaining a compassionate response to homelessness and progressing on police reforms.

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Pugel helped create the model diversion program that reduced recidivism by offering some offenders treatment and supports, instead of jail. He also was involved with targeted responses to crime surges in the 1980s and 1990s. As second in command at the sheriff’s office, Pugel worked with cities countywide on regional services.

“We’ll never solve all these problems — we’re never going to solve crime, addiction, homelessness — but we can manage them a lot better,” he told this board, providing a refreshing dose of realism.

Pugel said he’s not a “lock ’em up” candidate, but he’s frank about the need for a multifaceted response.

“I believe in diversion, but I believe that there’s going to be a hard core 5, 7, maybe 15% of the criminal population — from my personal experience, from my studies — that will not change their behavior unless they’re forced to,” he said.

Andrew Lewis, a city prosecutor for two years, is the best funded District 7 candidate, with heavy backing from unions influencing City Hall. By a wide margin, the largest independent expenditure in city races so far is $148,299 that a labor PAC is spending to get Lewis elected.

Lewis has some interesting ideas, like a municipal drug court, but he’s the establishment, status quo candidate in a district demanding change. The city attorney’s office has also contributed to Seattle’s prolific-offender problem, by agreeing to generous plea deals with repeat offenders who violated probation terms.

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One factor in the crime problem is the city attorney’s shortage of funding, Lewis said. But he wouldn’t say whether he disagreed with the council’s decision to staff up the Office of Labor Standards and not the prosecution unit.

Lewis talked away concerns about upzoning impacts, such as parking and rental-investor profiteering.

Pugel is also close to the criminal-justice establishment and cautious when discussing politically sensitive topics.

But District 7 and the city would benefit from Pugel’s proven leadership, particularly as Seattle continues reforming and expanding a police department that’s struggling to recruit officers.

The novice City Council forming in 2020, with up to seven new members, will desperately need someone with Pugel’s authority on policing, pragmatism and experience helping cities address complicated challenges.

Elect Pugel in District 7.