When Councilmember Mike O’Brien announced he would not seek another term in District 6, the floodgates opened. Candidates poured into the race. In the end, 16 people threw their hats in, more than in any other district.
Out of the melee, two have emerged. Former City Councilmember Heidi Wills is back with a business-friendly message and words about healing through listening. Rather than new revenue exclusively from Seattle, she wants regional cooperation to pay for the response to homelessness and affordable housing production.
Dan Strauss, currently Councilmember Sally Bagshaw’s adviser, is poised as the more progressive candidate, stressing transit and progressive revenue options as well as his deep knowledge of the inner workings of the city and state legislative branches.
As in many races this election cycle, the choice between the two candidates is stark.
The following interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: Why are you running for City Council District 6?
Dan Strauss: I love my community, and I have a decade of policy and political experience at both state and at the city. I’ve been invested in my community for my entire life. Born and raised in Ballard, I went to Adams Elementary and Whitman Middle School, and for the first time this last winter I contemplated leaving the city because of all of the changes that we’ve experienced and seeming to be a lack of leadership to guide that growth. And because I have the experience and the expertise and I’ve been rooted in my community for so long, I said, “Well, before giving up, why don’t we use our skills on behalf of the community?”
Service has been at my core my entire life. I didn’t go to college straight after high school. I went to AmeriCorps and served low-income communities all across the nation from disaster relief to afterschool programs, and I did so after college as well. I’ve been engaged in volunteer service in every place I have ever lived and throughout my entire life, and this is just that next step to serve the community that raised me.
RC: What were some of those changes that sparked you to think about leaving?
DS: The amount of people that have moved into town in the last five years and the amount of pressure that are on all of our systems, whether it’s on our sewers or on our streets, these are changes that have happened in the last five years.
RC: Would you have run if Mike O’Brien had stayed in the race?
Probably not. We share values. We do things very differently. But when he shared his poll results with me, it was pretty clear that it was going to be an uphill battle. He did not tell me whether or not he was going to run until I read it in the newspaper. There were some hard, hard nights leading up to that decision, because the environment is important.
I got hit by a driver while I was riding my bike at age 18 and nearly died. So, having protected bicycle infrastructure is really important to me. Again, addressing our environmental goals: Things like the tree canopy, ensuring that we retain our tree canopy. These are things that are important to me.
RC: The narrative around this race has really been “progressive candidate” versus “business interests.” How do you see this race? How you would characterize it, and what are voters in District 6 choosing between when they choose between you and your opponent?
DS: If you look at my endorsements, I’m clearly the progressive candidate in this race. The biggest difference between my competitor and I are how we view the economy. Ensuring that there’s an affordable place to live. Ensuring that you only need to be able to work one job, and that it pays well enough and that there are things like child care, health benefits, leave — a lot of these protections for you, as an employee, being present. I would say that that’s the largest difference between us is how we approach how an individual interacts with their economy, ensuring that they have enough money in their pocket to be able to buy the things that they need.
When we look at the rising cost of living here in the city, we need everybody to be able to live here. I have seen a lot of the kids that I grew up with who we all said, “Yeah, we’d love to stay in Ballard.” The kids that I grew up with can’t even afford to live there. I’m nearly at the point where I can’t afford to live there. I’m a renter. That’s another difference. I’m a renter and my opponent is a homeowner.
RC: You’ve got a history working with elected officials, most recently Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. What have you learned doing that work, and how will it inform your style as a council member?
DS: It’s about collaboration and finding commonality. So, council has some level of hard power. They have a lot of soft power. And what I mean by that is with the hard power you can make adjustments to the budget and you can pass ordinances. You can request departments to do studies. That’s about it.
I’m not going to underplay passing laws. That’s a large one.
However, when you are in a situation where departments report to the mayor — not to council — council, to get anything implemented, has to work with outside players that don’t necessarily report to them. And so, it is the process of creating collaborative spaces and continuing to push initiatives forward.
RC: How much should people expect your ideas to be similar to Sally Bagshaw’s?
DS: Sally and I agree on a lot of things. We disagree on others.
When I think of downtown, I think of Ballard. She thinks of Seattle. You know? I really appreciate her collaborative work ethic and work style. She will say if you want to get anything done, you have to politely nag and politely nag and politely nag. And so, that’s what you’ll see from me.
RC: All we beg is that you retire the phrase “silver buckshot,” [a phrase oft used by Councilmember Sally Bagshaw].
DS: I’m a gun-violence prevention candidate.
RC: Your opponent is backed by political action committees. What do you think about independent expenditures in local elections like this, and do you support Councilmember [Lorena] Gonzalez’s proposal to limit donations to independent expenditures to $5,000?
DS: The only reason that I have been a success and a viable candidate is because of the Democracy Voucher Program.
I’m not a rich guy. I’m not a millionaire. There were a number of millionaires in this race. I’ll let my opponent speak for herself about what her gross net worth is. I don’t have a rich network of rich friends — again, I’m not a rich man. And so, to self-fund a campaign is out of my reach. To ask my friends — some of whom are making it paycheck-to-paycheck, barely making it — by asking that... Some of my friends, my biggest ask to them was five bucks. For a lot of people, it was 20 bucks.
So, the Democracy Voucher Program is what made me viable, because I was able to go to everyday people and say, “I need a hundred bucks from you and I need it and it’s not going to come out of your budget today.”
I’m always very cautious about saying that I will vote for something or that I will support something until I see the final version, because there is that old political trick of taking a really good bill and then putting a poison pill in it. Value statement: Yeah, absolutely, I support limiting contributions to Democracy Voucher-funded races.
RC: What do you see as issues that are unique to District 6, and how do you plan to address them?
DS: Transportation and transit. Climate, absolutely. And for me, it’s opening a district office. The homelessness and housing crisis has hit Ballard in a way that might be unique as compared to the city because our community has taken on a lot of the growth. A lot of that density, a lot of that change.
We need to be able to address homelessness with four walls and a door that the individual can lock that’s connected to the services that they need. Permanent supportive housing is how we will address homelessness in a moral and successful manner. That’s also linked with affordable housing, transportation and transit.
At the root of this is that we need transit-only lanes. We need pedestrian-only space. We need more protected bike lanes so that people can get around.
Environment: There are a lot of things that we can change today to address how the city is impacting and contributing to climate change, whether it’s our motor fleet — making sure that it’s all electric — passing the tree ordinance so that we are protecting our tree canopy while allowing density. It’s a balance, and both can be accomplished.
RC: Funding is always a critical issue in a place with few progressive revenue options. How will you fund your public policy priorities?
DS: First and foremost, we need to flip the regressive tax system in our state where we have the richest people in the world, and we have the most regressive taxes. I’ve got relationships in Olympia and I look forward to building relationships across the state with other cities and other elected officials at the city level to make that case, because there’s so many things that we, as the city of Seattle, want to accomplish that are prohibited or preempted by the state.
When we look here in the city, there’s unearned income. There was a proposal that’s been very interesting to me that’s a vacancy tax on units that are not rented, whether that’s commercial or residential.
We need to look at how we’re prioritizing our services, prioritizing our programs like the transit ideas that I have. If we allow private carriers to operate in those transit lanes we can charge them a fee. It’s just a very common-sense way of moving forward.
RC: The economy is showing signs of weakness, and the international economy may be, too. What will you do for Seattleites to protect them should the economy turn downward?
DS: We need to make sure to keep people in their home, make sure that the city is still providing things like Fresh Bucks so that people can get fresh food and their EBT benefits can go further. It’s about making sure that we’re walking through the life of somebody who is working two jobs and still paycheck-to-paycheck, and what does that individual need from the city as a government?
RC: How do you plan to tackle housing affordability in District 6, and what is your take on single-family zoning?
DS: We need to have affordable housing and that affordable housing needs to be cheap to build, which means that we need to build it in single-family zoning. Do I think that we need to just wipe everything off the table? No, we absolutely have to be thoughtful. If you’re not being thoughtful with your policy-making, you’re just being rash.
In Ballard that’s the other thing, is we have duplexes and triplexes and places that are now zoned single-family because in the 1960s and ’70s we had different zoning and we built duplexes and triplexes, and then the zoning changed. There’s a lot of opportunity to build duplexes and triplexes throughout our city.
RC: In District 6 — and especially in Ballard — there’s a lot of concerns about vehicle residency. Mike O’Brien really was the champion on that issue. Now that he’s out, is that an issue that you’re going to take on? How?
DS: The safe-lots program that was attempted in Ballard did not work out as well as it could have. I would be open to looking at that again and looking at how we can change the operation of that to make sure that it’s successful. I know that for some people who live in their RVs, they don’t want to transition inside because their RV is one of their last real pieces of real property. So, being able to ensure that they can keep their RV for six months or a year while they transition into housing may be something that we need to look at.
RC: What’s your policy on homeless encampment sweeps?
DS: I’m against them. I think we need to ensure that we’re protecting safety. I’ve seen people in my community prey on people experiencing homelessness. I’ve seen them prey on people who live in homes.
I’ve seen predators hide behind people experiencing homelessness.
Sweeping your stuff and throwing away all your stuff just sets you back, creates more trauma.
If you are regularly attending services and you need an I.D. to access those services and your I.D. gets swept, start over. If all your things are taken, no wonder you want to keep everything that you can keep.
RC: What is your favorite place in your district?
DS: I love the water. I love being on the beach. So that’s why the lake and the sound and the Ship Canal. I always said because I’ve gotten the opportunity to live all across this country with AmeriCorps, and I was always looking for someplace better, and there’s not.
RELATED ARTICLE: Vying for Votes: Interview with City Council District 6 candidate Heidi Wills
Ashley Archibald is a Staff Reporter covering local government, policy and equity. Have a story idea? She can be can reached at ashleya (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Ashley on Twitter @AshleyA_RC
Lisa Edge is a Staff Reporter covering arts, culture and equity. Have a story idea? She can be reached at lisae (at) realchangenews (dot) org. Follow Lisa on Twitter @NewsfromtheEdge
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