On Monday, voting will conclude in the first contested election in years for president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild.
At any time, the battle would be news. But the race between incumbent Kevin Stuckey, a soft-spoken moderate, and challenger Mike Solan, a vocal hard-liner, has taken on added significance.
Stuckey or Solan will steer SPOG, as it is commonly called, in upcoming contract talks considered crucial to the city’s effort to free the Police Department from seven and a half years of federal oversight.
In making their case to represent more than 1,300 officers and sergeants, Stuckey, in describing his approach, has said, “I just want to be quiet and move on,” while Solan has bluntly criticized what he calls the anti-police, “activist narrative” driving Seattle politics.
Since signing a consent decree in 2012, the city has successfully implemented dramatic reforms to address U.S. Justice Department allegations that Seattle’s officers too often used excessive force. The turnaround won widespread praise for results that put the city on the cusp of full compliance with the court-supervised agreement.
But the reform effort hit a serious bump in May, when the federal judge presiding over the case, James Robart, found the city had slipped partly out of compliance with the agreement. He pointed to the current contract between SPOG and the city, ratified in 2018, saying it retained faulty provisions that, among other things, allow officers to avoid punishment on a time-clock technicality and give an outside arbitrator the power to overturn the police chief’s disciplinary decisions.
Robart ordered the city to provide him a formal plan to fix the flaws, which he awaits, although the city already has pledged to bring the matters to the bargaining table when talks begin as early as March.
With all that at stake, Stuckey wrote in a recent edition of The Guardian, SPOG’s in-house newspaper, “why do we want to risk disrupting the team I’ve put together who has experience at the negotiation table?”
Stuckey touted his close ties to the Martin Luther King, Jr. County Labor Council, which the guild leveraged to secure big pay raises from City Hall in the 2018 contract in exchange for reforms such as body-worn cameras on officers and a civilian inspector general with broad oversight powers.
Solan, currently the guild’s vice president, praised Stuckey for that work in his own editorial in The Guardian but invoked his campaign slogan — “It’s Time to Get Serious” — to argue he is the better candidate to lead SPOG at a time when police are “under unreasonable levels of scrutiny both locally and nationwide.”
He wrote that he led the statewide campaign against Initiative 940, the police-reform measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2018. The measure lifted a barrier that made it virtually impossible to prosecute law enforcement officers believed to have wrongfully used deadly force, mandated deescalation and mental-health training for officers, and required independent investigations when police kill someone.
The two longtime officers declined to be interviewed on their views, citing an agreement they made to stop campaigning once ballots were mailed.
But Stuckey said he welcomed a challenger. “I think it’s healthy. I never had an issue with someone running against me,” he said. “I have to be challenged. I have to be pushed. Otherwise you get relaxed.”
He said his only concern was the timing. “We’re trying to finish up with the settlement agreement,” he said, referring to the consent decree. “I don’t want this election to cause any issues with that. I want to be quiet and just move on.”
Solan, in brief comments, said, “Our organization is comprised of people who are consummate public-safety professionals. I’m looking forward to the election results.”
Ballots will be counted Feb. 3, the results will be immediately announced and the winner will start his new, three-year term on March 1.
Both candidates have posted campaign videos on YouTube, which offer a glimpse into their differing styles.
In a highly polished production featuring street clashes between Seattle police officers and protesters, Solan promises SPOG members he will “fight for your rights, fight for your respect and fight for your contract” as part of a wider effort to alter the anti-police “activist narrative” driving Seattle politics.
The video opens dramatically, with a narrator describing an impromptu news conference Solan held last year outside the scene of an officer-involved shooting in which he immediately declared the action of officers to be justified.
Solan’s move was “unprecedented,” the narrator proclaims, allowing SPOG to capture the narrative.
“This marks a new chapter in SPOG-media relations,” the narrator adds.
But the Police Department rebuked SPOG at the time, saying, “It is not appropriate for anyone outside the department to discuss or disclose investigative details of active and ongoing investigation” without the authority of the department.
Stuckey’s video also is polished but, in contrast, is markedly low key. Soft music plays as he walks down a Seattle street extolling his accomplishments and recalling that he took charge of the guild three and a half years ago amid a leadership crisis and unhappiness with a proposed contract.
“We sat down and negotiated a contract that originally had the largest no vote in the history of our organization and within a few months we turned it around into the largest yes vote in the history of our organization,” Stuckey says.
In his Guardian editorial, Stuckey wrote, “I encourage every SPOG member to watch both videos and when you watch the videos think of the political climate in this city. Then ask yourself this question: Which ‘style’ is more likely to get you a contract. It really is that simple.”
Former SPOG President Rich O’Neill, an influential figure in the guild who retired from the Police Department and now heads SPOG’s labor and media relations, isn’t publicly supporting either candidate.
“I’ve known both these individuals through pretty much their entire careers,” he said. “They’re both very passionate about labor and about police work. I can’t praise one over the other. I have to remain totally neutral.”
“They have two very different styles,” he added. “Kevin’s style is more behind the scenes. He’s done remarkable work with other labor unions. I was never able to accomplish that when I was president. He just has a way of working with other labor leaders.”
“On the other side, Mike is very passionate about labor. He’s very passionate about police work. He’s a member of our SWAT team. He represents SPOG in our organization called Compass, which is our lobbying group down in Olympia. He led the fight against I-940. He spent a lot of time down in Olympia, so he has that experience.”