No matter what, residents of Magnolia, Queen Anne and downtown Seattle will elect a new City Council member in November who wants to hire more police, replace the Magnolia Bridge and bury last year’s business head tax.
That’s because District 7 candidates Andrew Lewis and Jim Pugel, during a Thursday night debate at Town Hall, took similar positions on some of Seattle’s most divisive political issues, opting to draw distinctions largely based on endorsements and experience.
All seven of the council’s district seats are up for grabs this year, and the two candidates in each district who won the most votes in August’s primary election advanced to the Nov. 5 general election.
Lewis, a 29-year-old assistant Seattle city attorney, promised to bring problem-solving urgency to City Hall, citing his generation’s impatience with high home prices and alarm over climate change.
“My friends trying to build a life here in this city are frustrated,” he said at the fifth in a series of debates hosted by Seattle CityClub, with The Seattle Times, Seattle Channel, KUOW, KCTS/Crosscut, KING-TV and KOMO-TV as media partners. “They’re uncertain they can realize the opportunities that their parents were able to achieve.”
Pugel, 60, spent his career with the Seattle Police Department and served as interim chief in 2013. He repeatedly cited his many years working in tough streets and on tough problems.
“I walked the beat in District 7. I was precinct commander,” Pugel said, touting his role in creating an acclaimed jail-diversion program for low-level drug and prostitution offenders. “I have the experience and understanding to hit the ground running.”
Lewis and Pugel are competing for an open seat because Councilmember Sally Bagshaw decided not to seek reelection. District 7 stretches from Pioneer Square to Magnolia.
There were glimmers of daylight between the candidates on some issues, perhaps brightest with respect to density.
Pugel shared reservations about allowing new duplexes and triplexes on more blocks where only single-family homes can now be built, while Lewis expressed more enthusiasm about the idea.
Pugel said denser housing should be kept primarily to transit corridors, telling the audience about a “hodgepodge mess” of housing types on one Queen Anne block where he recently campaigned.
“Several families were moving out. They’re good families and love density but it’s gone too far,” Pugel said, citing scarce street parking.
Lewis said Seattle must “make room” for working people by allowing cheaper housing arrangements.
“I think they should be in more neighborhoods,” he said.
Even on density, though, the candidates overlapped somewhat.
Pugel told the audience he would reject a “top-down” approach to land use, and Lewis vowed to bring back 1990s-style neighborhood planning.
They both said they would like to see developers include low-income apartments in their projects rather than pay fees in lieu of doing so, with Lewis arguing Seattle may need to restructure its incentives.
On the whole, Lewis and Pugel sounded like they were appealing to the same voters rather than firing up opposing bases, as socialist incumbent Kshama Sawant and her District 3 challenger Egan Orion did in their debate earlier Thursday.
Lewis is supported by the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and Pugel by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. However, both candidates said they opposed the per-employee tax, aka the head tax, passed and then repealed by the council last year. Lewis said it would have hurt grocers like Uwajimaya, while Pugel said it would have hurt Dick’s Drive-In.
They also both rejected the idea of the city replacing Interbay’s public golf course with housing, and they both said more bike lanes are needed, conditioned on public input.
The candidates agreed that the Magnolia Bridge should be replaced with help from Washington state, King County and the Port of Seattle, and Lewis suggested the city should be setting aside some tax revenue generated in Magnolia for the costly project.
At that juncture and others, Lewis highlighted endorsements from potential political partners, such as state Rep. Gael Tarleton. Pugel repeatedly countered by drawing attention to his longer civic tenure.
Pugel was on the job at the police department when the 2001 Nisqually earthquake shook the Magnolia Bridge, he mentioned.
When asked about unauthorized encampments, both candidates said Seattle should continue to remove hazardous sites while adding beds and services to the shelter system.
And when questioned about people with substance-abuse and mental-health issues cycling between jail and the streets, both candidates said more help should be provided, though only up to a point for violent offenders.
Pugel took the opportunity to correct how Lewis described a certain downtown shelter and to highlight his own work on the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which recently earned police-reform advocate Lisa Daugaard a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.
“We need to take that to scale,” Pugel said.
Lewis agreed, praising the LEAD program’s success rate. He added that Seattle also should create a municipal drug court, reminding the audience about his work as a line prosecutor.
Pugel won laughs and applause when he said the city should have cops drive Tesla electric vehicles.
Lewis finished first among 10 candidates in District 7’s primary, earning 32% of the vote, and was endorsed by The Stranger. Pugel finished second, with 25% of the vote, and was endorsed by the Seattle Times editorial board.
An independent political-action committee (PAC) associated with Seattle’s hotel-workers union spent $150,000 to support Lewis before the primary, and an independent PAC associated with the Chamber has put nearly $18,000 behind Pugel since the primary. Interest groups have been pouring money into Seattle City Council races.
The next debate in the CityClub series, between District 4 candidates Shaun Scott and Alex Pedersen, is at noon Oct. 5 at the University Lutheran Church.