North Seattle voters will finally have a City Council member to call their own, but first they must choose between a former pastor and a lawyer.
For years, no City Council members have called North Seattle home, leaving neighborhoods such as Lake City and Bitter Lake hungry for political representation.
That’s about to change: Seven of the council’s nine seats are now set in geographic districts. But first, voters above 85th Street must decide who to send to City Hall, an activist former clergyman or a high-powered lawyer with deep ties to North Seattle.
Sandy Brown, a former Methodist pastor, says decades of experience ministering to diverse populations make him the right person to represent District 5 on the council.
But Debora Juarez, a onetime public defender, judge and state Indian Affairs official practicing in the private sector since 1999, says she understands District 5 better than Brown because she moved to North Seattle decades ago and raised her kids there.
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The race simmered over the summer, then heated up when Juarez beat Brown in a eight-way District 5 primary election. The contest has since been brought to a rolling boil.
“This is about who you want your voice to be,” Brown said, touting his involvement in the campaign for state Referendum 74, which legalized same-sex marriage, and leadership on state Initiative 594, which expanded gun background checks. “Somebody with a track record of making positive change or somebody who dropped off the radar 20 years ago?”
Juarez summed up the race differently, citing her childhood on the Puyallup Reservation and the challenges she encountered in the field of law as a young woman of color.
Juarez is Native American and Mexican American. Brown is Mexican American.
“The most important contrast is this,” Juarez said. “I’ve spent my life not just talking about the struggle for fairness and justice and civil rights — but actually living it.”
Former Church Council head
Brown attended high school in White Center and college at the University of Washington. He then became a pastor, serving in Fall City, Kirkland and Wenatchee.
He left the church in 2001 to become executive director of a Snohomish County organization. In 2003, he was elected to head the Church Council of Greater Seattle.
The mild-mannered 57-year-old returned to the pulpit to lead Seattle’s First United Methodist Church, overseeing its transition to a new building and controversy over its choice to open its own homeless shelter rather than continue to house Mary’s Place.
Brown retired from the church last year. He moved from Capitol Hill in District 3 to District 5’s Licton Springs neighborhood in March 2014 to live with his partner.
The father of two announced his candidacy months earlier than Juarez, in September 2014, and was the initial front-runner. He was endorsed by a wide range of supporters, including Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and the Rental Housing Association of Washington State.
Though Juarez touts her longer tenure in North Seattle, Brown argues his recent arrival is a strength because he knows what District 5 is missing.
“I’ve lived in other parts of Seattle, so I’m used to living with sidewalks and good bus service and adequate police protection,” he said.
Brown says a career “with one foot in the social-justice world and the other in the world of day-to-day needs” has prepared him to deliver constituent services the voters will demand from a council member representing a district, rather than the entire city.
The proof, Brown says, is his knocking on more than 12,000 voters’ doors this year.
Background in law
Juarez was the first member of her family to go to college. She got her law degree from Seattle University, then worked at Evergreen Legal Services and served briefly as a pro-tem King County Superior Court and Seattle Municipal Court judge.
Gov. Mike Lowry appointed Juarez a Superior Court judge in 1995, but she was beaten soundly in her first election. Lowry stood by Juarez, making her the executive director of his Office of Indian Affairs. Lowry’s successor, Gov. Gary Locke, kept her on.
Juarez left the public sector for the Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley, where she created a financial-services group for Native American tribes. In 2003, she launched a legal group serving tribes, joining the Seattle-based firm Williams Kastner.
The 56-year-old handles constitutional claims, land rights, discrimination, social policy and corporations doing business with tribes, according to her campaign website.
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Juarez long wanted to run for office a second time — she just didn’t know when.
“I was a mom and I needed to be there for my kids,” said Juarez, who speaks bluntly and with gusto. “When we went to the district system, that’s when the stars lined up.”
Juarez began campaigning in February. What sets her apart from Brown is her time in Olympia and her attention to detail, which she attributes to her training in the law.
“I’m one of those nerdy people because I actually read the reports,” she said.
Juarez is endorsed by five of six District 5 primary candidates who didn’t advance.
Both back ballot measures
Both Brown and Juarez support the $930 million Move Seattle transportation levy and Seattle Initiative 122, a campaign-finance-reform ballot measure.
The candidates each see potential in a denser Lake City neighborhood.
In interviews, Brown was quick to mention embryonic plans for new apartments, stores and a park on properties owned by the Bill Pierre car-dealership family, while Juarez emphasized making Lake City Way safer for pedestrians, including students.
Brown has suggested paying for sidewalks by creating improvement districts; property owners would vote to tax themselves. Juarez has criticized the plan, saying wealthier neighborhoods would benefit more.
“We have more homeless people now. Less social services. More crime. That has to be addressed … I’m more concerned about that than sidewalks,” Juarez stated, saying more police officers are the answer.
Brown agrees North Seattle needs additional officers.
Brown and Juarez both like the mayor’s affordable-housing agenda; Brown says Murray made the right move when he abandoned a proposal to allow new duplexes and triplexes in neighborhoods zoned for single-family houses.
Each candidate says Murray is doing a good job. Juarez says he should be moving faster to make the Community Police Commission a permanent body. Brown says Murray’s proposed 2016 budget inadequately funds emergency homeless shelters.
Brown and Juarez have clashed more on issues outside the regular scope of the council, such as the Port of Seattle hosting Shell Oil vessels earlier this year.
Brown has accused Juarez of siding with the Port. Juarez has said she agreed with the environmentalists who protested the rigs but knew the Port had the law on its side.
Brown says Juarez should have disclosed months ago that her firm currently represents Shell in discrimination lawsuit against the petroleum giant. Juarez says she has no direct involvement and didn’t know about the case until Brown brought it up.
Juarez pleaded guilty to DUI in 2012 and says Brown has made allusions to it at forums by talking about holding people accountable in the context of public safety. He denies that.
Brown says Juarez’s conviction may win him votes. But it may also cost him some, he says, because some people assume he leaked the information, which he says he didn’t.
Juarez has bristled at Brown’s slamming an independent-expenditure committee created to support her. Brown says his point is that Juarez lacks grass-roots support.
Her $115,000 campaign has 11 contributors from District 5 and 233 from outside the city. His $121,000 campaign has 85 from District 5 and 134 from outside Seattle.
But Juarez, a member of Blackfeet Nation, says her opponent is painting Native Americans as outsiders. The committee supporting her is NW Tribes for Debora.