In the Delridge neighborhood last week, a forum featuring candidates for one of seven new City Council districts put Seattle’s new political landscape on display.
Seattle voters, welcome to City Council district elections.
With the council moving to representation by geographic district for seven of its nine seats this year, the conventional wisdom is that some candidates may emphasize neighborhood-specific talking points over broader policy debates.
That was certainly the case at the Highland Park Improvement Club inthe Delridge neighborhood last week, where about 75 people turned out for the first public forum featuring candidates vying for a council district seat.
When asked how they would balance their responsibilities between governing the 1st District and the city as a whole, three of four candidates at the forum hosted by West Seattle Blog signaled they would stress district needs.
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The 1st District includes all of West Seattle’s various neighborhoods, Delridge and South Park.
“I think one of the reasons the citizens of Seattle decided to go for district elections is because they weren’t getting representation in the districts, or in their neighborhoods,” said George Capestany, a business consultant and former Little League coach, vowing that his mindset would be “West Seattle first, the city of Seattle second.”
Amanda Kay Helmick, who chairs the Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council and co-founded the West Seattle Transportation Coalition, hit a similar note.
“West Seattle and South Park would obviously be first,” Helmick said, acknowledging that Seattle must remain “one city.”
Phillip Tavel, a public defender and former video-game entrepreneur who hosts a weekly trivia night at a West Seattle pizza parlor, answered just as forcefully.
“I don’t necessarily see it as a balance in the sense that the job is representing West Seattle and South Park,” he said. “It’s collaborative, and you have to make sure it works with the full city’s needs, but with this neighborhood and this district coming first.”
It was Chas Redmond, vice president of the Morgan Community Association and past chair of the City Neighborhood Council, who went in a different direction.
“The way I would approach it is the way I think it’s been working all along, and that’s collaboration across the districts for common needs,” he said, noting that various neighborhoods around Seattle face similar transportation challenges.
“Splitting the responsibility between West Seattle and the city. … You don’t have to do that, because the issues here in West Seattle actually affect everyone in the city.”
Redmond was slightly more specific than his fellow candidates with some of his answers during the forum, which lasted more than an hour.
He mentioned the possibility of asking Sound Transit to build light rail to West Seattle and Ballard incrementally. Redmond praised Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who has suggested linking both neighborhoods to Seattle’s existing light-rail spine rather than paying more to immediately build a West Seattle-Ballard downtown tunnel.
Helmick played up her community activism, citing her work rebuilding Roxhill Castle Park and her advocacy for a new grocery co-op in supermarket-starved Delridge.
Tavel seemed most at ease discussing Seattle police and property crime. He called for more cops walking the beat and harsher sentences for offenders.
Voters in the audience grumbled several times after hearing from Capestany, who said he voted last fall against Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, a ballot measure for more Metro bus service, and who said it wouldn’t be realistic to build affordable housing in West Seattle’s upscale Admiral District.
Wayne Lau, an audience member, was underwhelmed with the candidates.
“I think all of them were not too informed about some of the issues,” said Lau, a West Seattle waterfront-condo dweller who runs a nonprofit organization in Rainier Valley. “They were really playing to the West Seattle audience. Yes, I want them to represent West Seattle. But I also want them to be council members for the entire city.”
“There were only three people of color here,” Lau added. “We have more diversity here in West Seattle but they weren’t here tonight, and that concerns me.”
Another audience member, Ivan Weiss, said all four candidates showed naiveté when they promised to support Seattle’s potential annexation of White Center.
“It was amateur night. These are all nice people, but they don’t have a clue,” Weiss said. “We have no business annexing White Center when we already have neighborhoods like Arbor Heights that totally lack infrastructure.”
Marcee Stone Vekich, Democratic Party chairwoman for the state’s 34th Legislative District, which includes West Seattle, was also disappointed.
“I would have liked to have heard at least one concrete proposal from each of them as to what they would do to make a change,” she said. “I didn’t hear that.”
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who lives in West Seattle and who was the early favorite in the 1st District race, has decided to bow out. Lisa Herbold, longtime aide to Councilmember Nick Licata — also not running again — is mulling a 1st District bid.
Other contenders may emerge. The filing deadline is May 15, and there already are 29 registered candidates for the council’s nine seats.
“I’m expecting this to be quite a free-for-all,” Vekich said.