Teresa Mosqueda says she wants to return to City Hall so she can continue working on solutions to crises like homelessness, gun violence and systemic racism. For her, that means funding more affordable and supportive housing, shifting dollars to police alternatives and allowing apartments to be built throughout neighborhoods.
Kenneth Wilson says he wants to replace Mosqueda on the City Council so he can help repair damage that’s being done. For him, that means shutting down unauthorized homeless encampments, boosting police funding and restricting new apartments to major streets.
In the Nov. 2 election, Wilson, a bridge engineer and first-time candidate with no political experience, is challenging Mosqueda, a former public health and labor-movement lobbyist, for Position 8 on the council, a citywide seat.
Mosqueda is the architect of the “JumpStart Seattle” tax on large corporations passed by the council last year to buttress the city’s budget and pay for affordable housing. Wilson worked on a pedestrian bridge that recently opened over Interstate 5, connecting Northgate’s new light-rail station to North Seattle College.
The Position 8 contest has received less attention than others in Seattle this year, mostly because Mosqueda, 41, has been widely expected to win. The West Seattle resident secured 59% in a crowded Aug. 3 primary, has raised more than $250,000 and has been endorsed by unions, environmental groups, Democratic Party groups and local elected officials, as well as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal.
Mosqueda, who chairs the council’s housing and budget committee, says Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration has been slow to spend money allocated by the council for homelessness responses, such as safe lots for people sleeping in vehicles.
“I came into office unapologetically committed to standing up for workers, progressive revenue and small businesses … We have delivered,” Mosqueda said in an interview at a Delridge coffee shop near her home, citing the JumpStart tax, plus new protections for hotel workers and domestic workers.
Wilson, 51, nabbed 16% of the primary vote and has raised about $70,000. His campaign website includes commendations from several engineering clients. He isn’t as steeped in the details of city budgets and programs. Instead, he’s hoping that voters dissatisfied with what they see in their neighborhoods will take a chance on his candidacy.
Frustration over the West Seattle Bridge closure motivated Wilson to enter the race. He says the city could and should be allowing cars to use the cracked bridge, with certain limits, while major repairs are being made. The Seattle Department of Transportation’s experts have rejected that idea as unsafe.
“The West Seattle Bridge was a big deal for me. It’s about listening to your constituents,” Wilson said in an interview at a Ballard coffee shop near one of his campaign’s billboards.
The Position 8 race is partly about reviewing Mosqueda’s record. She says she’s worked to make Seattle a more equitable, welcoming place. Wilson says the city’s crises have persisted.
In 2019, Mosqueda voted with her council colleagues to allow the development of larger buildings and denser housing in and around 27 neighborhood hubs. In those areas, developers now must include some rent-restricted units in their projects or pay fees that the city uses to fund rent-restricted units elsewhere.
Mosqueda sees the zoning changes allowing more people to live in Seattle, combating sprawl and generating dollars for affordable housing — $68 million last year. Wilson says he worries about clogged streets and sewers in his Wallingford neighborhood, which had its zoning changed. Developers are replacing one old house with five new units, each of them expensive, he says.
Last year, Mosqueda patched together a coalition of housing advocates, environmentalists, labor unions and business owners to support her JumpStart measure, which taxes certain businesses on high salaries. The expected proceeds plugged Seattle’s COVID-19 budget hole for this year and have been earmarked in the future for housing, small-business assistance and green programs.
Wilson says he would have voted against the JumpStart tax because “singling out” certain businesses could drive them away. He says City Hall should have more clearly demonstrated success on combating homelessness with existing resources before passing a new tax.
Also last year, during racial justice protests, Mosqueda and other council members agreed with some advocates that Seattle’s police should be defunded by 50%, with the money moved to other solutions and services.
Durkan and the council together ultimately reduced the police budget by much less than 50%, in large part by transferring civilian employees like parking-enforcement officers to other departments but also by cutting overtime hours and vacant officer slots.
Mosqueda stands by the concept of shifting some funds, arguing that officers and residents alike will benefit if the city can prevent more crimes and handle more 911 calls with unarmed responses.
“The call for reducing where officers show up is also coming from officers themselves,” said Mosqueda, who mentions her endorsement from the union that represents Seattle firefighters. “They’re tired of being case managers.”
Wilson says he would have opposed any cut at all to the police budget, citing the council’s decrease in pay for then-Chief Carmen Best last year as particularly misguided. Council members had been clashing with Durkan and Best over the tear-gassing of protest crowds.
The salary cut “was so disrespectful,” said Wilson’s wife, Heather-Marie Wilson, who is part of his campaign and joined his recent interview.
Wilson grew up in Nevada and moved to Seattle for graduate school. He owns his own business: Integrity Structural Engineering.
He says he would bring an engineer’s mindset to the council by tracking the city’s spending on infrastructure — and everything else. In his line of work, “your invoice doesn’t go through without a progress report,” he said.
The candidate played a leadership role with the Northgate bridge, mediating between architects trying to achieve the community’s vision and engineers trying to erect a sturdy structure.
“He’s a great cat herder and a level-headed guy,” said Eric Birkhauser, an architect who worked on the project and who has yet to decide who to vote for in the Position 8 race.
Wilson says his priorities would include boosting the police budget, protecting trees in the city from development and addressing encampments. He says he knows personally how challenging homelessness can be, because he has a close relative who’s struggled for many years.
Bringing up his experience as a soccer coach teaching kids the rules of the game, he says the city needs to draw a clearer line against camping in parks, graffiti and street crime.
“Think of this as a referee … you tell them, ‘Hey, here are the rules and I’m going to be watching,'” he said.
Wilson has been calling for the city to build a housing and rehabilitation complex with on-site services for formerly homeless people by the Northgate light-rail station, using federal COVID-19 relief funds the council has allocated to other strategies.
The complex sounds somewhat similar to the “permanent supportive housing” projects that Seattle helps fund; the city spent $60 million across six projects last year.
Such projects could receive more funding from the JumpStart tax, says Mosqueda. There aren’t enough shelter beds available on any given night for various reasons, including a shortage of housing units for people to graduate into, she says.
In a second term, Mosqueda would push to eliminate the zoning that still allows only detached houses and accessory units to be built on most Seattle blocks. That zoning is exclusionary because it means the price of entry to many neighborhoods is the down payment for a $1 million house, she says.
Allowing new duplexes, triplexes and apartments to be built in all areas, as they were decades ago, would make the city’s neighborhoods more diverse, Mosqueda says.
Jeannie Chunn, a restaurant-industry veteran who lobbied the city last year to help small restaurants survive during the pandemic, says she appreciates the incumbent’s big-picture approach to Seattle’s challenges.
Before City Hall, Mosqueda was political director for the Washington State Labor Council and helped run a successful campaign for a statewide minimum-wage increase.
Last year, while pursuing the JumpStart tax, the council member also helped secure grants for small eateries and community supports for residents like restaurant workers, noted Chunn, a Mosqueda backer.
“Too often, the narrative that you hear is workers against business owners, or businesses against employees,” Chunn said. “[Mosqueda] believes, like we do, that we all need to work together to support each other.”
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