In the race for Seattle City Council Position 9, Bill Bradburd and Lorena Gonzalez both are first-time candidates who consider themselves progressive. But they have distinct views about managing growth.
Bill Bradburd’s yard signs promise he’ll “Take Back Seattle” from developers he believes have hijacked decision-making in the city from neighborhood groups.
Lorena Gonzalez says she wants to “move Seattle forward” by welcoming newcomers — such as transplants and immigrants — alongside longtime residents.
Bradburd and Gonzalez, opponents in the race for Seattle City Council Position 9, a citywide seat, are first-time candidates who consider themselves progressive.
But their distinct views about the state of the city speak to an argument Seattle residents know well.
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Gonzalez’s take is much more popular, if the Aug. 4 primary election was any indication: She beat Bradburd 65 percent to 15 percent in a six-way race.
The 38-year-old civil-rights attorney, who served as Mayor Ed Murray’s legal counsel before resigning to seek the council seat, is hoping a win in the Nov. 3 general election will help put Seattle’s argument with itself to rest. Bradburd, a 57-year-old community activist, is trying to mount a comeback.
“There are distinctions between us in style but also in policy, in terms of land-use issues,” Gonzalez said in an interview. “We have very different visions about how the city’s growth should be managed.”
Foe of runaway growth
Bradburd launched his campaign first, in January, citing several years working for neighborhood causes, beginning with a successful battle against the siting of a big-box shopping mall in the Little Saigon section of Seattle’s Chinatown International District.
He was a leader of the campaign for a 2013 ballot measure, approved by voters, moving seven council seats to voting by district.
Bradburd says he previously worked against an amendment to the city’s signage code that would have allowed corporate logos on office towers, and helped organize opposition to the commercialization of an old military building in Magnuson Park.
What gets Bradburd really revved up, though, is how he sees officials handling growth. He says he moved to Seattle in 1995 to escape runaway development in San Francisco, where he was a tech worker and visual artist.
“What’s happening here now is what was starting to happen in San Francisco then,” he said. “They took away industrial and warehouse land and converted it into office buildings, which brought tech workers who displaced people.”
He added: “We’re doing the same thing with Amazon expanding way too quickly.”
Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who chairs the council’s land-use committee, are pushing legislation that would require developers to pay fees or build affordable housing. Bradburd says they’re proposing too little, too late.
“For them to stand up now and say we should do inclusionary zoning, that’s a bunch of bull …,” he said. “We could have done inclusionary zoning from the get-go … But developers call the shots in this town.”
Bradburd, a homeowner with daughters in public school, says the city should “put a tarp” on booming Capitol Hill and Ballard, then scale developer fees to direct building to less-affluent South Seattle.
Rather than open up single-family zones for new duplexes and triplexes, officials should do more to help homeowners create more mother-in-law units and backyard cottages, he said.
“My larger point is bringing back community engagement,” he said, claiming officials would be encountering less opposition to a Ballard homeless encampment had they discussed the site with neighbors first. “That’s what we need for land use, policing, amenities, culture.”
Gonzalez says Bradburd is too narrowly focused on restraining growth.
“For this citywide seat, voters need to make sure the person they’re voting for is familiar with a broad swath of issues.”
Raised in Eastern Washington by migrant-farmworker parents from Mexico, Gonzalez says she earned her first paycheck when she was 8 years old.
She put herself through college before moving to Seattle in 2002 for law school. Gonzalez volunteered with community groups, then graduated and began representing plaintiffs in employment and discrimination cases. Friends suggested she run for office.
“They were saying there weren’t any elected officials with my background in this area and even nationally to a certain extent,” she said. “They saw something in me I didn’t.”
Rather than enter politics right away, Gonzalez went on to lead One America, a Seattle-based immigrant-rights organization, and continued working as a lawyer.
In 2012, she won a $150,000 settlement for a Latino man who sued the city after a police officer was caught on video threatening to beat the “Mexican piss” out of him.
Murray brought her on board in May 2014. She advised him on land use, housing and police reform and says she oversaw the rule-making process for Seattle’s new minimum-wage law.
Gonzalez lives in West Seattle, so she could have sought the council’s new District 1 seat after Councilmember Tom Rasmussen said he wouldn’t run.
But she stayed put. Then, in February, Councilmember Sally Clark dropped out of the Position 9 race.
“I was concerned a district seat wouldn’t give me the room I wanted to work on broader policy issues,” she said. “I thought Position 9 would.”
Gonzalez says housing in Seattle has become too expensive. But she says officials sometimes overlook other reasons why people are struggling economically.
“We usually talk about whether someone can pay the rent,” she said. “We forget people need living wages, health insurance so they don’t go into debt, protection from predatory lending, making sure our labor standards are effective.”
Gonzalez says she’s the right choice to watchdog the minimum-wage law and monitor the police because she has experience taking employers and cops to court.
She says she’s also the right candidate for the city’s future because she’s a single Latina under 40 years old who was a renter not long ago. Though Seattle’s Latino population is increasing rapidly, voters have never elected a Latino to the council.
“I’m emblematic in some ways of a demographic shift in our city,” she said. “We don’t need to be scared of growth. It can be challenging, but I believe there are solutions.”
Gonzalez doesn’t harbor much hope the state Legislature will lift Washington’s ban on cities enacting rent control, though she believes city officials should ask.
She says Seattle should consider alternatives, such as a mechanism for tenants to contest rent increases through mediation.
Gonzalez’s campaign has raised more than $170,000, easily double what Bradburd’s has, and she’s garnered more headline endorsers, including Murray, King County Executive Dow Constantine, unions, environmental groups and business organizations.
Bradburd attacks some of those endorsements, questioning her ties to corporate interests and the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which has opposed reform.
But Gonzalez says her broad base of support reflects her open-door policy.
“I’ve met with groups I have different views from, like business groups,” she said. “I’ve said, ‘This is where I draw the line, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk to you.’ ”
The primary results might suggest voters don’t agree with Bradburd about reining in growth. He attributes the landslide to Gonzalez’s stronger campaign.
She sent out more mailers than Bradburd before the primary and “had unions phone-banking for her,” he said, admitting, “This is going to be a tough race.”
The winner will replace Clark’s temporary substitute, John Okamoto, in November.
Gonzalez is hopeful. “I want to show young Latinos and Latinas in the city they can reach high,” she said.