Pete Holmes has served as Seattle city attorney for eight years, and he characterizes his time in office as much by what he hasn’t done as by what he has. Holmes chose not to prosecute certain low-level drug offenses. He refused to file charges against 29 homeless folks at the behest of the Seattle Police Department. He stopped prosecuting “driving while poor,” when low-income folks drive on a suspended license because they couldn’t pay a ticket. Holmes’ strategy at pushing for change could be characterized as “incrementalist” because he uses the discretion afforded by the position as his primary tool to chip away at injustice in the justice system. Holmes believes that a vote for him is a vote for continuity and faith in his process. That took a blow late in the campaign when it was revealed that settlements and outside counsel fees had blown a $13 million hole in the city budget. The impact this late in the race is unclear.
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On the role of the city attorney: “I try very, very hard to, number one, stay in my lane. I try to cultivate, as any good lawyer would, the trust and respect and confidence of the many electeds and department heads at city hall, because they need to come to me for advice; they need to trust that I’m not going to, for instance, disclose an early draft of a car-camping ordinance, because, believe me a lot of times ideas come to me that are really well-intentioned, and I kind of go, ‘That’s great I understand, but have you thought about this, have you anticipated this legal challenge, or this one.’ Let me help you to accomplish what you want, and understand that I’m going to keep your confidences very close.”
On sweeps: “So my problem is how do I keep the public helping to recognize the need to invest in this and keep the city from making it just into sweeps, opportunities to sweep, right? It’s an echo of that old call-a-cop thing. I know that’s a really convoluted answer. Part of it is that I’m not the executive, and if I were running it, it would look a hell of a lot different. But at the same time, we have an injunction that shuts down the navigation system, that shuts down the efforts by the Human Services Department, with the Pathways Home program — really trying hard — finally! — not investing in the goddamn jail or the police department but in services. If we shut that down prematurely I’m concerned that’s going to halt progress. The answer to me is stop the damn sweeps, but demonstrate instead that you’re using this opportunity to engage people — show that you have gotten people to voluntarily accept services, and that you are using a public health as opposed to a public safety approach first.”
On homelessness: Holmes’ response focused on ways in which he has decriminalized poverty and homelessness in the past, more than what he would do going forward. These included not prosecuting driving on a suspended license in certain circumstances, reducing jail sentences to 364 days to avoid deportations of undocumented people and refusing to pursue cases against 29 homeless people with warrants at the behest of the Seattle Police Department.
RC: “Have you ever smoked marijuana?”
PH: “Oooooooh yeah.”
RC: “Was it with Rick Steves?”
PH: “I’d rather not name them, but I can say playing pingpong with Rick in his garage is an experience.”
Scott Lindsay’s announcement he would run for Seattle city attorney shook up a race that could have been the least interesting this election season. Instead, forums featuring the city attorney and the former public safety adviser to Mayor Ed Murray became the most entertaining as the two men engaged in a no-holds-barred verbal melee, each trying to knock the other out. Lindsay rails on the calcification of the office and Holmes’ lack of vision and drive to improve the system. He jumped on cost overruns like a shark on chum. The most damaging critiques of Lindsay involve his relative inexperience and political underhandedness, characterized by the release of an early draft of legislation to help vehicle residents that Lindsay opposed. Lindsay presents himself as the change candidate, pointing to his opponent’s record and asking, “Where’s the beef?” Lindsay believes, if given the opportunity, he’ll serve up prime cuts of his own.
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On the role of the city attorney: “There’s a very clear role the city attorney must play in terms of providing clearcut attorney-client privileged advice to the clients of the city, the departments, the mayor, the council. But in addition I think the city attorney should also play a role in creating a vision, not just be a contract attorney. This is, I think, a big difference between me and the incumbent, who repeatedly emphasizes that his clients are the nine councilmembers and the one mayor. But that there’s a broader clientele here: 700,000 people of the city. … If we just need a contract attorney, we could hire one out. It wouldn’t be important that this position be independent and elected.”
On sweeps: Lindsay emphasized the need for public safety when it comes to encampment cleanups. When pressed, he conceded the futility of sweeps, when one encampment cleanup simply leads to another encampment sprouting up nearby. But he was concerned about “bad actors” taking advantage of homeless people under the cover of an encampment and other safety issues.
“We are, for the foreseeable future, going to have thousands of people living on the streets of Seattle. And that is, while that’s not OK in a moral sense and we should be trying to get them and build the shelter and housing available, I do not believe that we should be out on some witch hunt in any way. ... But there are situations within two blocks of right here that are dangerous, that are unhealthy that, where the people in the tents are actually in a situation that’s completely unacceptable because they are going to die.”
On homelessness: Most of Lindsay’s work on homelessness focused on “familiar faces” in the criminal justice system who have a chemical dependency issue. He called it “the Venn diagram intersection of the heroin epidemic, homelessness crisis and public safety challenges.” In short, 88 percent of 1,250 “familiar faces” in the jail system had chemical dependency issues and 65 percent were unsheltered. Lindsay proposes a homelessness court similar to a drug court that would bring judges into shelters to work with this group to help them resolve their court cases while providing wraparound services to get them help. “I think we are doing a big underservice to those familiar faces. “Underservice” is too light a word.
“We are failing those familiar faces. They do not need to be trapped in that cycle, and I think we can break it. And we are also failing the communities around Seattle that are struggling with the impacts of crime and related issues.”
Best quote: Following a video that depicted a man punching a Nazi in Seattle, we had to ask:
RC: “Would you prosecute someone for punching a Nazi?”
SL: “Hell. No. I probably watched that video 25 times.”
Election 2017: Seattle Mayor
Election 2017: City Council Position No. 8
Editor's Corner: Covering the 2017 election
Wait, there's more. Check out articles in the full October 25 issue.