Seattle’s mayoral candidates are grappling with questions about gun violence and policing amid a spate of shootings, including shots fired at one candidate last weekend outside his home. And they’re debating how to help the city’s economy — downtown and elsewhere — recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The contenders also are sharpening their elbows as they jostle for position ahead of the Aug. 3 primary election, with only two weeks to go in the race before ballots are mailed to voters.
In a candidate forum Tuesday sponsored by the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility and Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, former City Council President Bruce Harrell said he would, if elected mayor, create a Cabinet position to coordinate anti-gun-violence efforts. Asked whether they would also, M. Lorena González, Jessyn Farrell, Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston each said yes.
Police have investigated an estimated 22 homicides in Seattle this year, including 16 fatal shootings, according to a Seattle Times database compiled with information from police, prosecutors and the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Ten of those homicides occurred in June, including fatal shootings Monday night at Alki Beach and Sunday night on First Hill.
There were an estimated 21 homicides in Seattle through June last year, including 16 fatal shootings, according to the Times database. In 2019, there were 14 homicides through June, including nine fatal shootings.
González, the council’s current president, touted a gun-storage law she worked to pass in 2018. Farrell, a former state lawmaker, said Seattle should aim for zero shootings with a public health approach, just as the city has pledged to achieve zero traffic deaths, and said she would create an entire office dedicated to combating gun violence.
Echohawk, who until recently led the Chief Seattle Club, said the city should hold more gun buybacks, suggesting that some people who carry guns for protection while living unsheltered would participate. Seattle should ensure all residents are housed and cared for, because shootings mostly stem from unmet needs, said Houston, an architect.
All five candidates said they would boost funding for community programs meant to prevent gun violence.
A candidate not included in the forum was Lance Randall, an economic development specialist who says he was shot at before dawn Saturday by men trying to steal a catalytic converter from a car. Randall says he stepped outside his Rainier Beach house when he heard a sawing sound, then ducked behind his own vehicle as bullets flew, KOMO-TV first reported.
“I’m encouraging residents across the city to think about trying to create relationships,” with officers, Randall said in an interview. “They’re going to need our help this summer.”
The gun violence forum excluded candidates with under 1,000 campaign donors, such as Randall, former Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller and construction executive Art Langlie, the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility said.
Challenged to defend his record on police accountability, Harrell said he pushed for officers to wear body cameras. Asked about her vote (with Harrell) in 2018 for a police union contract that undermined some accountability measures she had championed in 2017, González said the contract included new civilian oversight and vowed to negotiate a better deal next time.
Asked why residents of color should trust her to choose Seattle’s next police chief, Farrell cited her work on the board of Community Passageways, which mentors young people. Asked how he would reallocate police spending, Houston said the city should hire more unarmed community-service officers and move them out of the Police Department, among other steps.
Questioned about her relationship with outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan, Echohawk said she worked with Durkan on certain projects to help Native people. While Durkan “has not done nearly enough” to address gun violence, “I sucked up to power. I did, and I would do it again in an instant, because I was able to do things that no one else has been able to do for my community,” obtaining resources that helped provide housing for hundreds of marginalized people, Echohawk said.
The Chief Seattle Club’s budget grew by millions of dollars under Echohawk’s watch, “and we did that by talking to people,” including Durkan, council members, business leaders and philanthropists, she said.
A González campaign consultant pounced on the “suck up to power” answer, posting about the remark on Twitter, though González also has worked with Durkan on various matters. Echohawk supporters responded, and there was sparring over multiple issues Tuesday, suggesting the candidates are competing for many of the same voters.
González backers criticized Echohawk for serving (for the Chief Seattle Club) on the board of the Downtown Seattle Association, which has opposed big-business tax increases, while Echohawk backers noted that she, unlike González, sided with community advocates against the 2018 police union contract.
The Twitter skirmishes won’t matter much to most voters, but they could indicate points of tension as the campaigns prepare to blanket the city with political advertising. Echohawk’s campaign published a video last week blasting Harrell and González over the 2018 contract.
“They’re trying to occupy the same lane … which is obviously going to lead to conflict,” said Joe Mizrahi, secretary-treasurer at UFCW Local 21. The union, which represents Seattle supermarket workers, has endorsed González.
That overlap was evident during another forum Tuesday, sponsored by the Downtown Seattle Association, which represents big businesses, small businesses and nonprofits. González and Echohawk both opposed using police “emphasis patrols” with extra officers to curb downtown crime.
The city has used emphasis patrols “year after year,” spending millions of dollars on police overtime, without solving downtown’s challenges, González said.
“It doesn’t work. So let’s do something new,” Echohawk said.
Sixkiller called for emphasis patrols, while Harrell, Randall and Langlie talked in broader terms about a more robust public-safety presence downtown. Several candidates stressed they would not prioritize downtown over other areas, however. “All communities have the absolute right to feel safe,” Harrell said.
González and the Downtown Seattle Association clashed ahead of the forum. The council president declined to answer the association’s candidate questionnaire, objecting to what she called its “downtown-only approach to economic recovery.” Then she and the association’s president, Jon Scholes, traded guest editorials in The Stranger, with Scholes accusing González of lacking a plan for the major jobs center.
Pressed on the issue Tuesday, González restated her opposition to downtown-centric City Hall policies, which she linked to big businesses.
“The mega corporations that exist in our city, whether they’re in downtown, or any other neighborhood, do not need taxpayer subsidies,” she said.
Harrell, Randall and Sixkiller expressed support for the campaign for a city charter amendment that would require City Hall to create more homeless shelter spaces while keeping parks clear, while González, Echohawk and Langlie opposed it.
Echohawk initially backed the measure, arguing it would add urgency to Seattle’s response. She now opposes it, she says, because it includes no funding and because critics worry it would lead to more encampment sweeps.
“If this is what it takes for us” to shelter people and improve street conditions, “then I’m all for it,” Sixkiller said. While Langlie respects the idea, “I don’t think it’s good governance” to put the onus on voters, he said.
Staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this story.
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