Wills was unseated 16 years ago after the so-called "Strippergate" controversy, which involved thousands of dollars in campaign contributions linked to a Lake City strip-club owner who was seeking a zoning change. She is one of 46 people (so far) running for the seven open council seats.
Former City Councilmember Heidi Wills has launched a comeback bid, adding her name to a growing list of candidates seeking office in Seattle’s pivotal 2019 elections. With all seven of the council’s district seats up for grabs this year, 46 hopefuls have registered campaigns.
Unseated 16 years ago by voters demanding a “back to basics” approach at City Hall, Wills is adopting that motto for her new campaign in District 6, where Councilmember Mike O’Brien has decided not to seek re-election. District 6 covers Ballard, Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Green Lake.
“People want to see more focus on basic services, the humble acts of government,” Wills said in an interview Friday. “Keeping people safe. Keeping our parks clean and accessible for everyone. Ensuring our utilities are handled well.”
Three incumbents were ousted in the 2003 elections, with Wills and Judy Nicastro dogged by their involvement in the so-called “Strippergate” controversy, in which thousands of dollars in campaign contributions were linked to a Lake City strip-club owner who was seeking a zoning change. Wills was fined $1,500 for violating the city’s ethics code by failing to disclose a meeting with associates of the club owner and then voting in favor of the zoning change.
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During the 2003 race, Wills saw her opponent tag her with the nickname “rate-hike Heidi” for presiding over Seattle City Light rate increases, and criticize her sponsorship of a ban on circus animals that he called frivolous.
Now the council is again poised for massive upheaval, with at least four seats set to turn over. In addition to O’Brien, Councilmembers Bruce Harrell (District 2), Rob Johnson (District 4) and Sally Bagshaw (District 7) are bowing out.
Had O’Brien decided to run again, Wills thinks he would have lost, she said. First elected when all nine council members represented the entire city, he was a strong voice on transit and environmental issues but never adequately addressed district concerns, Wills said.
“He didn’t make the transition well,” she said. “People want you to be listening and to be on the ground talking with people where they live.”
Wills is the ninth candidate to declare in District 6, joining a crowd that also includes family physician Jay Fathi, neighborhood activists Kate Martin and Jon Lisbin, Bagshaw aide Dan Strauss and police officer Sergio Garcia, who spoke out last year as the council considered a new police-union contract.
Wills said she intends to take part in the city’s democracy-vouchers program.
Public-safety activist Ari Hoffman has raised the most money among seven candidates in District 2, which covers Southeast Seattle and the Chinatown International District. But Tammy Morales, who nearly upset Harrell in 2015, has U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s endorsement.
Eight candidates are running to replace Johnson in District 4, which encompasses Eastlake, Wallingford, the University District and Northeast Seattle. Early entrants Alex Pedersen and Shaun Scott are leading in dollars raised, while Abel Pacheo, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in 2015, recently jumped in, and pharmacology researcher Emily Myers has won an endorsement form the Martin Luther King County Labor Council.
Former Seattle police chief Jim Pugel, assistant city attorney Andrew Lewis and development wonk Michael George are all raising healthy sums in District 7, which includes downtown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne and Magnolia.
Lisa Herbold (District 1), Kshama Sawant (District 3) and Debora Juarez (District 5) are incumbents, with Sawant’s race attracting the most attention thus far. The socialist’s first challenger, small-business coach Beto Yarce, dropped out last month. But pot-shop owner and housing-density advocate Logan Bowers is neck and neck with Sawant in campaign contributions.
Wills supported Mayor Jenny Durkan’s election and likely would be an ally for the mayor. She said there should be more civility in council debates and described the city’s short-lived head tax on high-grossing businesses as the wrong tack. O’Brien was wrong when he sought to ease restrictions on homeless camping rather than continue to break up unauthorized shelters, Wills said.
“We need an array of responses to help people get out of tents,” she said. “People have a right to exist somewhere, but to condone sleeping in tents in public places is problematic.”
Wills described herself as an environmentalist. Asked whether neighborhoods reserved for single-family houses should be upzoned, she said some blocks near transit could be changed but such neighborhoods generally are what “make Seattle special.”
Since leaving City Hall, Wills has led The First Tee of Greater Seattle, a nonprofit that uses golf to help young people. She and her husband also run a business that sells “inspirational gift products,” she said.
In the Strippergate scandal, Wills accepted campaign contributions from donors associated with Frank Colacurcio Jr., the owner of Rick’s strip club, and then voted for a zoning change that Colacurcio wanted.
“I didn’t realize the contributions … were bundled. I didn’t know the history of the Colacurcio family,” Wills said Friday. “Looking back, I wish I had asked more questions. But I’ve gained a lot of life experience since then.”