Dan Strauss argued he would hit the ground running as a Seattle City Council member, while Heidi Wills decried the polarization that has consumed Seattle since she left the council 16 years ago, as the two discussed homelessness, police accountability and the opioid epidemic in a debate Saturday afternoon.
Strauss, a former aide to Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, repeatedly described himself as the “turnkey candidate” saying he has studied the issues and will be ready to go on day one.
Wills, over and over, described issues facing the city — bike lanes, the struggle to recruit police officers, the city’s relationship with Amazon and the clash of neighborhood character versus building more housing — as polarizing.
The two agree on much. Both want to build more protected bike lanes. Both want congestion pricing in downtown Seattle. Both want more permanent supportive housing to deal with homelessness. Neither is eager to resuscitate the head tax on big businesses that the City Council passed and then rescinded last year. And both want a new police precinct in North Seattle.
At one point, Wills urged the audience to vote no on Initiative 976, which would roll back car-tab taxes and cripple Sound Transit, calling it “the most important issue on the ballot, more important than Dan and I.” (Both candidates want a tunnel for light rail to Ballard, rather than a bridge, which is projected to cost an extra $450 million.)
But Wills seemed more open to continued sweeps of unauthorized homeless encampments, although she called sweeps a “loaded term.”
She said the city’s navigation teams that conduct the sweeps and try to connect homeless residents with shelter are “the only tool the city has to help people find the services that they need.”
Strauss told the audience at the Greenwood Senior Center that sweeps should be halted unless there’s a public-health or public-safety reason for clearing an encampment.
“Otherwise, navigation teams are just spending our money unnecessarily, and that’s money we could be spending building housing,” he said.
They also disagreed on whether Seattle should build a safe-consumption site for drug users — Wills is a no, Strauss is supportive, but acknowledged it’s unlikely to happen because of opposition from the federal government.
The two are competing for the District 6 seat being vacated by Councilmember Mike O’Brien who opted not to run for reelection. District 6 covers Ballard, Fremont, Phinney Ridge and Green Lake.
O’Brien himself has become a divisive figure, criticized for a perceived inattention to district issues, particularly visible homelessness and public safety.
Wills said people are “deeply dissatisfied” with the City Council and that she would act as “a convener” and “listen to all stakeholders.”
Strauss said he shares many of O’Brien’s policy positions but thinks the council member has erred on implementation, pushing policies too quickly without enough public outreach. He cited O’Brien’s recent proposal to ban natural-gas lines in new construction, which was recently paused following business and labor pushback.
“Just because I share the values, doesn’t mean I share the process,” he said.
It was the third in a series of City Council debates hosted by Seattle CityClub, with The Seattle Times, Seattle Channel, KUOW, KCTS/Crosscut, KING-TV and KOMO-TV as media partners.
Strauss, 33, received 34% of the vote in the 13-person August primary. Wills, 51, a council member from 2000 to 2003 and the director of a golf nonprofit, got 21%.
Wills was defeated in 2003, following a scandal in which a Seattle businessman steered her and two colleagues $36,000 in donations as he was seeking approval to expand a parking lot at a strip club he owned.
She said Saturday she hadn’t known who the businessman was and she’s since learned to ask better questions of donors.
“I went to Nathan Hale,” Strauss said in a subtle retort, mentioning the high school around the corner from the strip club in question. “We knew who everyone was.”
Strauss has the endorsement of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council and The Stranger; Wills is endorsed by the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and The Seattle Times editorial board.
Strauss has raised about $159,000, with about $124,000 coming from publicly funded democracy vouchers, which impose stricter fundraising limits on participating candidates. Wills has raised more than $180,000, including about $107,000 from democracy vouchers. Wills has also attracted more than $46,000 of support from the independent political action committee Moms for Seattle, registered by a member of the Speak Out Seattle advocacy group.
Correction: This story has been updated to say that Moms for Seattle was registered by a member of Speak Out Seattle, it was not founded by members of Speak Out Seattle.