Incumbent M. Lorena González, a civil-rights attorney, was overwhelmingly elected to a two-year term in 2015. Her opponent, Pat Murakami, a longtime South Seattle activist and businesswoman, has earned her civic-engagement chops at the neighborhood level.
They list many of the same priorities, but beyond that, incumbent M. Lorena González and challenger Pat Murakami agree on little else as they battle for the Seattle City Council’s at-large Position 9 seat.
González, a civil-rights attorney and former legal adviser to ex-Mayor Ed Murray, was overwhelmingly elected in 2015 to serve a two-year term after voters approved a new council model with seven district representatives and two citywide ones.
She has since approached her at-large position — on the ballot again this year to align with the four-year election cycle of mayor and city attorney — from a top-down, big-picture perspective.
“I view my role as really looking at these broader citywide issues that impact every neighborhood, regardless of the district or the specific neighborhood,” she said. “What I endeavor to do is work with the district-specific representative to get a flavor of what is happening in your neighborhood; what are some of the specific efforts that I can lift up or be a partner on.”
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Murakami, a longtime South Seattle activist and businesswoman, has earned her civic-engagement chops at the neighborhood level, leading community groups and championing local causes that, at times, have broader city impact.
“She really does not like engaging with the community,” Murakami said of her opponent. “ … If the voters want to be heard, then I’m their candidate.”
González, 40, a West Seattle resident, coasted in the August primary, taking 64 percent to Murakami’s nearly 20 percent, among seven candidates. She counts as first-term accomplishments her work on the city’s ongoing police-reform issues; championing a $1 million legal-defense fund for immigrants and refugees who face deportation; and helping to establish a city-paid family leave policy.
As the council’s public-safety chair, she worked with the Community Police Commission to help draft and adopt the city’s new police-accountability reform ordinance that overhauled Seattle’s officer-complaint and internal-investigations system. González said she tapped into her experience as a lawyer and a community activist who battled police misconduct to help guide that work.
Murakami, 63, a Mount Baker resident, also touts her own public-safety credentials as the longtime president of the Southeast Seattle Crime Prevention Council. She counters that under the incumbent’s watch, a proposal to introduce police body cameras was slow to materialize, and the city has failed to negotiate a new contract with rank-and-file Seattle police officers for nearly three years. She says she’d bring much-needed business knowledge to the council to help push for an overhaul of the state’s regressive tax system that unfairly burdens low-income families.
Murakami’s own work at the neighborhood level has been far more effective, she contends — from helping to weed out problem officers in the South Precinct, to disseminating practical safety tips to neighborhoods endangered by gun violence.
While on council, González has shown an independent streak. In July, she became the first member to publicly call for Mayor Murray’s resignation amid child-sex-abuse allegations.
Murakami also boasts of taking on Seattle’s mayor. In 2006, she led a grass-roots effort to thwart then-Mayor Greg Nickels’ attempt to designate a large swath of Southeast Seattle as blighted — a move that would have allowed the city to use eminent domain to acquire private property for redevelopment.
On housing affordability and homelessness, both candidates say they support outcome-based funding approaches to service organizations that can prove they’re effectively helping to serve homeless populations.
Murakami also favors establishing a new indoor-living campus within an industrial warehouse that offers mental-health, drug-addiction and job-counseling services and where homeless people can come and go throughout the day. She also floats the idea of lobbying for federal dollars to build “little cabins” on unused federal lands for homeless veterans.
González wants to reform the city’s existing shelters into “low-barrier” 24-hour/seven-day-a-week facilities, rather than building new, potentially expensive ones. She supports “land-banking” public lands under a five-year project to build up to 1,000 new housing units in the city; and wants to develop housing strategies for LGBTQ youth and seniors — two at-risk populations for homelessness.
González, who considers herself a pro-density urbanist, said growth’s negative impacts, including skyrocketing housing costs, should be alleviated by requiring developers to provide affordable housing, and other recommendations in the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).
Murakami contends Seattle should charge developers impact fees to help offset their effects on roads, schools and city services. She also wants to give neighborhoods more say in determining whether they want taller buildings and more density.
John Fox, coordinator of the housing and homeless-advocacy group, Seattle Displacement Coalition, said his group won’t endorse either candidate. Fox called González “the developer’s candidate” and said Murakami’s remarks during a public radio discussion last year that described the homeless as mostly out-of-towners taking advantage of generous social-services programswere “appalling stereotypes and extremely reactionary.”
González holds a sizable money advantage, so far raising about $232,000, and spending about $153,000. Among her endorsements, The Urbanist, OneAmerica Votes and the M.L. King County Labor Council are backing her.
Murakami so far has raised about $98,000 and spent $63,000. She has garnered endorsements from Seattle Fair Growth; Washington State Berniecrats; and Green Party of Seattle.
Democracy vouchers account for part of González’s fundraising advantage, but the city’s fledgling campaign-contribution program also has exposed her compliance troubles.
The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC) in September found González failed to meet the program’s three-debate eligibility requirement before August’s primary election after determining the events she cited in paperwork didn’t qualify as debates under the commission’s definitions.
But given the program is new and the SEEC hadn’t trained candidates about the debate requirement, SEEC Executive Director Wayne Barnett said the commission opted not to expel González from the program.
Still, González’s campaign seemed to stray on program rules again when its Facebook page promoted an event offering free beer to citizens in exchange for vouchers — an apparent violation. The commission is reviewing that matter, Barnett said.
“She shouldn’t be getting the vouchers,” Murakami says of González’s compliance problems.
González called the missteps “honest mistakes,” conceding she should have been better versed in debate requirements. She added that the “free beer” offer was a fundraiser’s mistake that was quickly corrected.
González countered by accusing Murakami of blowing the issue out of proportion because González’s campaign has received “almost five times more (democracy vouchers) than what she has received.”
As of this week, city data show González had received 7,724 vouchers totaling $193,000, while Murakami had 4,170 totaling $104,250.