Mark Solomon and Tammy Morales have very different ideas on how to move District 2 — which encompasses the south end and Chinatown International District — forward. But both come from a similar place. The most diverse district in the city has long been overlooked for funding and investment, resulting in disparities in education, affordable housing provision and infrastructure that hurt the people who live there.
Solomon, a longtime crime prevention coordinator with the Seattle Police Department, has a more conservative approach. He recognizes the needs in his district and has a sincere desire to put a stop to the displacement that is transforming his neighborhood and kicking out his longtime friends.
Morales, a community organizer and urban planner who narrowly lost the seat to Councilmember Bruce Harrell in 2015, wants a radical shift in power towards the people of the south end to fight the impacts of systemic racism and change the perspective of the city from the inside.
Real Change chatted with both candidates about the district, the issues they’ve identified there and how they want to solve them.
Real Change: Why are you running for the City Council District 2?
Mark Solomon: I feel that with the combination of community experience, community involvement, my history as a Crime Prevention Coordinator and the relationships I’ve built up over the years of service and community, I feel I’m the best one qualified to be able to move our city forward.
RC: Would you have run if Bruce Harrell had stayed in the race?
MS: No, I would not. And people have asked me about that before, and one of the reasons is because I consider Bruce a friend and I would not run against a friend.
RC: The narrative around this election is “progressive candidate” versus “business candidate.” You’ve been endorsed by The Seattle Times and institutional actors, including Mayor Jenny Durkan. How do you frame this election? What are District 2 voters choosing between?
MS: I think that District 2 voters are choosing between someone who can get things done and work in collaboration with people to actually solve problems in the community.
Yes, and I realize I do have those endorsements, and while they’re great, what matters is the endorsement of the people that live in the district. My focus is on serving the people in the district above all else.
RC: What would be different if you replaced Bruce Harrell on the City Council, and are there any votes of his, in specific, that you have disagreed with?
MS: Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any votes that I would disagree with.
What I do think is more important for us is that the council as a whole needs to be more receptive, more responsive and more accessible. And that’s one of the things I pledge to do, is definitely be accessible to the people when people call my office. I want to be able to respond in a timely manner if people are coming to me with concerns that they have.
RC: You are backed by People for Seattle and [Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy] equaling $142,000. Are you concerned about the influence of outside spending from political action committees in this race and election?
MS: I am, especially when my focus has been on the issues, and if someone is going to endorse me, support me, you know, that’s great. Do that. Support the message that I’m coming forward with — support the ideals that I’m trying to promote — and I think that can be done without denigrating or tearing somebody else down.
RC: What are some of the issues that you see as unique to District 2?
MS: In Chinatown International District they are really, really concerned about public safety. Actually, the entire district is concerned about public safety, but it’s varying degrees. For example, SODO, Georgetown — they’re concerned about the homelessness issue, RV camping, just the impact that’s having on area businesses.
What I’m seeing down in the Rainier Valley area is focus on violent crime. And we have far too many shootings happening in the neighborhood, and we’ve got to find a way to reduce those.
It’s not just a law enforcement approach and not just a law enforcement response.
It really is about engaging community and supporting those community-based agencies that are working with families, working with youth to divert kids from that kind of path, to really focus on those prevention aspects and wrapping our arms around these young people to let them know that they are loved and valued and there are better ways to resolve conflict than resorting to violence.
RC: You have a lot of professional experience in that arena. What are some of the specific tactics that you have found that are most effective, that maybe involve those community-based solutions?
MS: I’m thinking about community solutions like Choose 180, like Urban Impact, like Community Passageways. They are going out and reaching and touching these kids where they are and showing that there are different paths or different alternatives.
You’re really encouraging them to make smarter choices about how they navigate around issues of firearm violence and making better choices about how they resolve their own anger.
But I also realized that that also starts with us.
What are we modeling? How do we demonstrate to young people how we navigate our own feelings and our own issues with anger? So that’s why I say it really does come down to community. It comes down to what can we do and what can we model for the youth in our community.
RC: Are you concerned about displacement in your district?
MS: Very much so. When I had one of my neighbors — longtime friend, went to grade school with her — and she reached out to me to tell me that she was selling the family home because she couldn’t keep up with property taxes. It’s like, OK, that’s got to stop.
I live in the home that my grandparents built on Beacon Hill, and I feel very fortunate about that, because if it weren’t for that I don’t know if I could live in the city because affordability is off the hook. So, we have to find a way, whether it’s through multi-family tax exemptions or whether it’s making sure that people who are eligible for the senior tax exemption credit can get it.
RC: What are the policies that you want to prioritize? What do you want to get done first, and how are you going to bring a potentially new suite of colleagues and the mayor on board?
MS: One of the things that I want to get done first is streamline the process so we can actually get housing units built. We have a shortage of housing at all income levels, and whether it’s workforce housing, affordable housing, permanent supportive housing — we need more housing, and we need to find a way to bring those units online, now.
Another thing I want to take a look at is Mandatory Housing Affordability, because I know there’s some challenges with it that maybe — there may be some unintended consequences with that implementation. And one of those has to do with commercial space lease rates.
RC: Funding is always a critical issue in a place with few progressive revenue options. How will you find your policy priorities?
MS: One of things I would look at is a public bank.
North Dakota’s been using a public bank for about 100 years. California just introduced legislation to make that a reality for them.
I think we can do the same thing. If we can have our own bank and borrow against our own money at a low interest rate, like 1 percent, and get billions of dollars of capital so that we can fund infrastructure, community development, housing — I think it’s worth pursuing that.
RC: Where do you stand on the head tax, and are there other sources of funding that you would champion?
MS: I oppose the head tax primarily because I didn’t see enough accountability. I saw the plan. I saw the goals, but there was something in there about accountability that just didn’t resonate with me.
I would actually start by looking at where we’re currently spending our funds, what’s the effectiveness of those funds, and then seeing if we can redirect some of those dollars to those programs that we know work.
Next, I’m going to look at pursuing public-private partnerships. Those are the kind of partnerships I want to pursue and to help us move forward and help us solve the housing crisis and the affordability crisis.
RC: The economy is showing signs of weakness. The international economy, unfortunately, is also looking very shaky. If we are facing a new recession, how do you plan to protect Seattleites?
MS: Debt is a concern, because the boom and bust cycles are cyclical. First of all, not being an economist, I need to talk to people who are. I need to surround myself with people who know housing, who know those kind of issues so we can work together and actually figure out what are we going to do to make sure that folks in the city don’t suffer?
Now, if we have a recession, we’re probably going to see some prices go down. Housing costs will probably go down. But do we really want to see that kind of downturn in our economy?
And I don’t think we do, but I think we need to prepare for it.
RC: You touched on housing affordability in your district earlier. What, specifically, is your take on single-family zoning?
MS: Doing multifamily zoning makes sense in transit-oriented areas. I’m a proponent of transit-oriented development.
So, I would like to see those kind of units, especially upzoned units be located around transit nodes, shopping, other community amenities so that people do not have to rely on their individual vehicles.
At the same time, I want to try to preserve the character of neighborhoods. Just use the example of my street. I don’t live on a bus line; I don’t live near a bus line.
So, putting a 14-story unit there where there’s no grocery around for about six blocks doesn’t necessarily make sense.
But six blocks away, where it is on a transit line, and where you do have access not only to bus and light rail and shopping, it does make more sense.
What is your policy on homeless encampment sweeps and how the city is currently conducting them?
MS: I definitely support outreach to folks to try to get them into more stable situations, to get them off the street out of those unsafe conditions, because I’ve been to some of those camps, I’ve actually walked in and no one should live like that.
No one should have to live like that.
We’re offering these services. We want you to come inside, but we know there’s not enough shelter beds. So, we need to address that issue. We know there’s not enough housing or permanent supportive housing. We need to address that issue, but we can’t stop trying to do the outreach to get people connected to services.
The reality is it’s going to take a while to get all these things. So in the meantime, are you yes or no on the sweeps?
MS: Again, I think it’s when I hear the term “sweeps,” I think in my mind having worked with the Navigation Team, being with them, being in the room with them, having gone to some of these encampment sweeps, it’s not what their objective is. Their objective is to get people someplace safe and connected with the services.
RC: Work around the consent decree is moving slowly and the police union contract seems to be a stumbling block. The mayor recently said that police accountability remedies should wait until the next union contract. What’s your opinion on that, and how would you handle the situation if you were voted into office?
MS: I think trying to do a rejoinder at this point after contract’s already been signed and approved — as a union person, I would have a problem with that. What I do see as the path forward is you have these different opinions about what accountability should look like, whether or not the accountability ordinance has been fully implemented, and there’s things in there that have already come about.
The Office of Professional Accountability, the inspector general, the Community Police Commission — those things are set.
What I feel is the path moving forward is we need to get past trying to score political points on each other and actually just sit down and say, “What are the issues?”
I can also tell you that working in the police department and working with these officers, no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop. They don’t want somebody screwing up their rep because somebody did something stupid. And we can point to a lot of instances where officers have done things that deserve discipline, and they got it.
But we often don’t hear about those. So, let’s see what we can do moving forward, working together to establish and build upon trust, and then I think that will help us address the issues of accountability.
RC: What is your favorite place in your district?
MS: I love walking Seward Park with my wife, walking the loop. Yeah, that’s one of our — that’s one of my favorite places in the district.
RELATED ARTICLE: City Council District 2 candidate Tammy Morales
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
Read the full September 25 - October 1 issue.
© 2019 Real Change. All rights reserved.| Real Change is a non-profit organization advocating for economic, social and racial justice. Since 1994 our award-winning weekly newspaper has provided an immediate employment opportunity for people who are homeless and low income. Learn more about Real Change and donate now to support independent, award-winning journalism.