With incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen opting not to run for a second term, voters are left at a crossroads.
Former deputy director of the Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture Maritza Rivera, who came in second place in the August primaries, has pledged to stay the course with a more conservative approach. Her opponent, tech startup founder Ron Davis, has promised to shift the District 4 seat to the left, with a focus on increasing density and housing options.
In Real Change’s Zoom interview with Rivera, she emphasized that public safety is her number one issue and that the city needs to recruit more police officers and lock up more drug dealers.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for city council?
Maritza Rivera: I’m the mom of two Ingraham High School students, where there was a shooting last fall. It was a terrifying experience for my family. As I was waiting for them in the parking lot, I thought, ‘The public safety situation has gotten to be such in Seattle that I can’t sit around and watch what’s happening.’
I grew up in the inner city, in the Bronx, in New York, in a low-income, Black and Brown neighborhood majority. And I just didn’t feel safe growing up in my neighborhood, it was a rough neighborhood. So, we came to Seattle 22 years ago because it was safe and vibrant. I just think that what’s happening regarding public safety is just not the Seattle that we moved to 22 years ago. I want to get Seattle back on track, so all our kids — and all of us — are safe in this beautiful city that we live in.
What makes you better than your opponent, Ron Davis?
There are stark differences between Ron Davis and myself. Primarily, Ron did not support the mayor’s proposal to hire more police officers — I do. Ron didn’t support the drug possession law — I do. I’m glad to see that the council passed something this week. Ron tweeted on Friday that he believes drug dealers should not be prosecuted. I wholeheartedly disagree.
When I was growing up in the Bronx, a lot of our neighbors and friends were struggling with drug addiction. And it was at the hands of drug dealers in our neighborhood, which is part of the reason we didn’t feel safe. Our folks that are experiencing drug addiction need services. Folks experiencing mental health crises need services as well. Those are not the services that the drug dealers are providing. We really have to shut down the open-air markets and really get drug dealers off the streets.
Ron also has engaged in some divisive rhetoric that I feel is more of the same of what’s happening on council currently. I’m about working together, rolling up our sleeves and working together with everyone — folks that agree, folks that disagree — to find solutions to our challenges in the city.
When Ron answered a similar question, he did mention allegations that The Stranger printed about a letter from some employees at the city that you worked with, alleging a toxic work environment. Just wanted to give you an opportunity to respond to that letter.
Change is hard. Every time there’s a new mayor, there’s often a new director, and change is really hard for folks. I’m really proud of the work that I did at [the Office of Arts & Culture]. I’m proud of the work that we did together. I respect the employees at Arts. They work hard, and they’re doing some great work.
In your opinion, what are the biggest issues Seattle is facing right now?
The biggest issue in my mind is the public safety issue — gun violence at my kids’ school. We’ve seen outside of Garfield High School gun violence, as well, and our youth are having to deal with that. And just across the city, there’s a lot more shootings and hate crimes, like earlier this week with the Wing Luke [Museum]. Crime is increasing.
And then, of course, we have a housing affordability crisis that we need to address; we have unhoused folks. I support permanent supportive housing. That takes a really long time to come on board, so we need to find temporary housing solutions for folks, because it’s not humane to leave people living on streets. And where often, they’re being preyed upon in the encampments by drug dealers. Many of them need services — mental health and drug addiction services — and we need to provide those.
If elected, are you willing to take on the rich and powerful in order to accomplish your policy priorities? And do you want to tax the rich more?
If elected, I will work with everyone across the city — like I said, folks that agree and folks that disagree — to find solutions to our problems in the city. In terms of funding and the budget, I feel strongly that we need to be accountable to taxpayers for their dollars. We need to make sure that we’re looking at the city budget And making sure we're looking at the program, and that the programs have the outcomes that we intended when we made the investment to make sure the services are where they need to be.
Once we’ve engaged in that exercise then if we need more revenue … streams, we have [them] available. My dad was a blue-collar worker, factory worker, union worker, who worked really hard for his money. I feel really strongly that our folks are working really hard — our taxpayers — and we need to make sure we’re accountable to their dollars.
So no new taxes on the rich, or you don’t see them as an obstacle to enact progressive legislation?
Again, I would say we need the accountability piece and then we need to look at what revenue streams are available.
But the power of corporate lobbyists like Comcast and Amazon influencing city policy, do you see that as a big problem you have to take on or not?
I would answer the same. We need to look at the budget; we need to look at what we’re funding. Then, we need to look at what revenue streams we need to impose in order to make sure that we’re able to provide those services to city residents.
Do you want to stop the sweeps? If so, how would you make it happen? If not, how do you justify them? Do you think sweeps work?
So, if by “sweeps,” you mean the “encampments;” we need to make sure that we’re housing folks. And that includes temporary housing, because it’s not humane to leave people living on the streets under these situations. I do think we need to find temporary housing solutions for people while we’re waiting for the permanent supportive housing units to get built. So that includes temporary sheltering, hotelling, tiny home villages.
Right now, the city does about 900 sweeps a year. There isn’t enough shelter for everyone who’s being swept. So while there isn’t shelter, would you still support people being displaced? Do you support the city policy of sweeping?
I support finding temporary housing solutions for folks.
But stop the sweeps, yes or no? Do you have a position?
I support finding temporary solutions for folks: housing solutions.
Mayor Bruce Harrell has made it clear that any alternative crisis response to 911 calls must follow a co-responder model and involve police officers. Do you agree with the mayor? If so, why? If not, how do you convince him to get on board with the fully civilian team to help respond to 911 calls?
I support the mayor’s plan. We need alternatives to policing because we know that often, we don't need a police officer. If someone’s having [a] mental health crisis or [struggling with] drug addiction, they’re not trained necessarily to handle that situation. So social workers are a better response to folks. But then, oftentimes, the police officers are also there to provide support to the workers who are doing the work on the ground.
Do you envision some instances, like behavioral health crises, where you don’t actually need to use police resources?
We need to have more alternatives to policing, that includes, for instance, [an] expansion of Health One. Health One is a model that works really well and so, expanding alternatives of that nature is something that we need to look at.
What other changes would you make to the city’s approach to public safety?
We need to hire more police officers, because the response to 911 priority call times are so high. Twelve to 15 minutes is just totally unacceptable when someone needs assistance, so we need to get those down to five minutes. The drug possession law was really important, because we need to shut down the drug markets and get dealers off the streets. We need to have more social workers and mental health providers that are helping folks on the ground. So we need to find other alternatives to policing that we’re able to implement. I’m open to having conversations about what else would be helpful and what other models exist out there.
How would you promote safety for homeless people?
We need more officers, so we’re able to respond to priority calls. We need to have alternatives to policing. Health One, they’re the first line of defense when homeless folks are experiencing crisis, overdosing, things of that nature. I also have talked to the firefighters about the need for landing zones when they go and provide assistance for folks. They often need a place to bring folks for assistance and that's not available. Many years ago … there was a landing zone for them to go to, have a shower, have food and then [be] offered services.
Do you support superblocks and pedestrianizing main streets in every urban village? Would you prioritize private vehicles or pedestrians, cyclists and transit?
I think Pike Place Market, for instance, should be closed to traffic except for the commercial [uses], because the businesses in there obviously need to be able to get their items into the market. Definitely support bike lanes, and support ensuring safe access to pedestrians at the crosswalks. The Vision Zero goals are really important, and we need to support [them]. Not the least of which is when the kids are walking to school, making sure that they’re safe walking to school, safe from traffic — safe of every kind.
What are the three things that you would do to immediately improve the lives of Real Change vendors?
I would like to engage with the community and see what the needs are. As elected officials, we don’t have all the answers. We need to really work with [the] community to explore what the needs are and then address those needs. You know, we’ve talked about some of the needs and community, the affordable housing issues and the public safety issues.
Do you know how many public, 24-hour restrooms are in Seattle?
I don’t know actually, but I imagine not many, if any.
The Seattle Parks and Recreation website says there’s about 65 of them, 11 of which are not porta-potties. If elected, what would you do to change that?
I would work with the parks department, and I would work with [the] community to see where the needs most are.
Do you support or oppose the Seattle City Attorney’s efforts to prosecute drug possession and public use in the municipal court?
I am supportive of the drug possession law. We need more tools for shutting down the open-air markets, for shutting down drug dealers who are preying on folks.
How do you grapple with the realities that criminalization disproportionately targets poor, Black, Brown, Indigenous and homeless people?
I grew up in a neighborhood that was really low-income and primarily Black and Brown as a Latina woman. I grew up during the crack epidemic, folks were really struggling with drug addiction in my neighborhood. To me, it’s not incongruous with the needs of Black and Brown communities who are experiencing drug addiction struggles at the hands of drug dealers.
I’m sure you’ve read Michelle Alexander, seen “13th” — all these different movies about mass incarceration. Do you think the council’s bill falls in line with that push, ever since Reagan and Nixon, for a War on Drugs?
I do, because the War on Drugs from that era was really on Black and Brown folks in general. Today, what I’m advocating for with this drug possession law is not to put folks away who are using drugs, but to be able to funnel people into services. In my community growing up in the Bronx, folks needed help and they needed services. They were getting addicted to crack and other drugs at the time because drug dealers were preying on them.
Read more of the Oct. 4-10, 2023 issue.