There’s a Queen Anne street that climbs through the heart of the Seattle City Council race between police leader Jim Pugel and assistant city attorney Andrew Lewis.
When Pugel canvassed Ninth Avenue West, he was dismayed by the “hodgepodge mess” of houses, triplexes, basement apartments and backyard cottages there, he says. But Lewis argues those housing options are what middle-class workers desperately need.
Pugel, 60, wants voters to believe he’ll restore order to the city they love, while Lewis, 29, is promising to guide them through Seattle’s changes.
The distinction makes sense, considering one candidate is drawing on decades of police work and the other on a political career in which he’s usually been the youngest person in the room.
Pugel takes pride in having worked on city budgets and collaborated with human-services providers. That an opponent almost the same age as his own son earned more votes in August’s primary rankles the Queen Anne homeowner.
“Andrew is a great guy, but he hasn’t done this. I’ve done this,” Pugel said, pointing to his years as West Precinct captain, overseeing District 7’s neighborhoods — downtown, South Lake Union, Queen Anne and Magnolia. “I had four union cards the day he was born.”
Lewis was less surprised to advance past the primary with 32% to Pugel’s 25%, having since high school studied what Seattle voters want. The Uptown renter’s supporters include retired U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott and Robert Reich, the former U.S. labor secretary.
“I don’t get tired,” Lewis said, shaking hands at the Magnolia farmers market and slurping the chowder he buys there regularly. “I just love public service.”
Pugel is endorsed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political arm and Alliance for Gun Responsibility and Lewis by MLK Labor (formerly the Martin Luther King County Labor Council) and Democratic Party groups.
Independent political-action committees (PACs) associated with the Chamber, hotel owners and more conservative voters have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost Pugel, while a PAC associated with Seattle’s hotel-workers union has spent hundreds of thousands to bolster Lewis. The outside groups have outspent both candidate campaigns.
The District 7 race is an open contest because incumbent Sally Bagshaw decided not to run again.
Raised in Rainier Valley, Pugel became a beat cop in 1983 and stayed put, working his way up.
When then-Mayor Mike McGinn made him interim chief in 2013, reporters uncovered a 1986 video in which Pugel and other officers mocked homeless men. Pugel apologized and supporters contend his career has been characterized by a willingness to evolve.
“It’s called growth,” said Norm Stamper, chief when the police — with Pugel as incident commander — cracked down on World Trade Organization protesters. “Some guys romanticize the good old days. I never saw that with Jim,” added Stamper, calling Pugel a competent leader and blaming himself for the 1999 chaos.
For Daniel Malone at the Downtown Emergency Service Center (DESC), a moment of truth came in 2005, when DESC opened wet housing for homeless people. Pugel was skeptical — until he saw it work.
“He had this pragmatic mindset,” Malone said. “I appreciate that.”
Malone saw Pugel buck convention again by backing Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD), which sends low-level drug offenders to case workers. It wouldn’t have launched without him, Malone said.
Pugel had to ditch his War on Drugs training: “You go through the academy and you’re told that anyone with drugs goes to jail. We were doing the people’s will, but it was wrong,” he said.
He’s clashed with the Seattle Police Officers Guild and last year angered some police by endorsing state Initiative 940, which made it less difficult to prosecute cops who kill.
Though his time as chief ended when Ed Murray unseated McGinn, Pugel later served as King County Sheriff John Urquhart’s chief deputy.
State Rep. Gael Tarleton heard about Lewis through his Ballard neighbor when he was a teenager. The neighbor said, “He’s 14 years old and he doorbells and campaigns and marches. You need to meet this guy,” Tarleton recalled.
When she ran for the Seattle Port Commission, Tarleton tapped Lewis for her campaign. He had “an intense curiosity,” she said, and it was energizing to meet someone “already light-years ahead.”
Lewis credits his small public high school, where political activity was encouraged. He and peers pushed authorities to scrap a geographic tiebreaker that helped students from wealthy areas win spots.
“Just like any other community activist who experiences problems, you want to do something,” he said.
Lewis started with community college to save, then moved to the UW and interned at the council. Impressed, then-Councilmember Nick Licata asked Lewis to run his 2009 reelection campaign.
“Andrew is pretty much a natural, and I don’t think it’s put-on,” said Janis Traven, a Magnolia supporter. “He has the ability to process big ideas and actually listen.”
Lewis picked up his law degree and served as Reich’s teaching assistant in California. When he returned to Seattle in 2016 to work as a King County Juvenile Division deputy prosecutor, he saw rents had spiked and “was just floored.”
“A lot of my friends are having trouble making it,” he said.
In municipal court, Lewis has handled assaults and car prowls. It’s unglamorous work, but the candidate “has played his cards above the table” and showed respect, said public defender Michael Rothwell, speaking in his personal capacity.
Hotels and homelessness
Both Pugel and Lewis have opposed tolling downtown streets. Both want to add police while expanding LEAD and say the council was right to repeal a head tax on high-grossing businesses.
Still, there are contrasts. Pugel wants to add apartments along transit corridors and has come out against safe drug-consumption sites, while Lewis is open to increasing options in single-family neighborhoods and to consumption sites.
Having battled some downtown hotels over Seattle regulations, Local 8 is spending massively on Lewis because he interviewed well with its members, secretary-treasurer Stefan Mortiz said. Lewis said the city should consider using development-approval processes to encourage hotels to employ union workers. Pugel said that wouldn’t be appropriate.
Local 8’s parent union has poured money behind Lewis, bankrolling ads and paying workers from other states to canvas here. The Seattle Hotel Association has spent to boost Pugel.
Lewis says he’s been blindsided by the ads. Pugel says union leaders may “want to get their hooks in” a young politician on the rise.
Though both say the Magnolia Bridge should be replaced, Lewis warns voters that only he is unequivocally opposed to a special tax on Magnolia property owners to help pay. Pugel says they would need to vote to approve that and only then would he support such a tax.
With voters, Pugel mostly sticks to public-safety topics. He says the police should launch property-crime patrols.
Stumping on Queen Anne, Pugel described homeless people as “have nots, can nots and will nots” who need housing, treatment or police intervention. “The more conservative person is going to get my vote,” voter Debbie Buccola told him.
In Magnolia, Lewis vowed to pursue community-center renovations and auditing practices that have saved King County millions. When voter Tami Anderson raised concerns about homeless housing at Fort Lawton, Lewis sought to reassure her.
“It’s not going to be young homeless people with substance-addiction issues. It’s going to be elderly people” leaving homelessness and middle-income households, he told Anderson, 49.