Dan “Ballard Dan” Strauss is running for reelection against another longtime District 6 resident, Pete Hanning, the former owner of the Red Door and current head of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.
However, Hanning does not enjoy Strauss’ popularity in Ballard, arguably the heart of the district. Instead, Hanning carried Magnolia in the primary, while Strauss won the neighborhood from which he draws his nickname, beating Hanning in overall vote totals. Will that success translate to the general? It all depends on the electorate’s mood.
Strauss, like fellow incumbent Andrew Lewis, is fending off a challenge from the right. Hanning has consistently railed against the council’s erstwhile efforts to defund the police in 2020 (which, for the umpteenth thousandth time, never actually happened). Strauss, who was quoted back then as being in “100% agreement” with those efforts, has already sent out mailers admitting it was “a mistake.”
Despite this sparring, the two candidates are not dissimilar. Both are pro-police, both are in favor of conducting sweeps in some form and both want to make sure drug possession and public use is illegal on a municipal level. In fact, Strauss recently joined five of his colleagues to pass Councilmember Sara Nelson’s drug criminalization bill.
There are differences, though. Are you more of a Ballard Dan type of person? Or is Magnolia Pete more your style? Read on and see.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for City Council?
Dan Strauss: It’s about making our city a better place. It’s making progress on how we address homelessness and changing those policies to be both compassionate and urgent. [It’s] about providing services and solutions that stand the test of time. It’s about increasing public safety for all Seattleites. It’s about creating housing that is affordable for working families, because the family that I grew up in should be able to afford to live in the Seattle of today and tomorrow. Those three issues are really important to me, and we have some good momentum right now in the right direction. And for me, you know, better or good is not good enough. I want to keep working on these issues to bring some lasting change for our city.
What makes you more qualified for this position than your opponent?
I [have] been doing this work and been creating results. I worked as staff for about a decade before I was elected. We also had a pandemic, recession, a civil rights reckoning and civil unrest in the first six months of my term, which added challenges. A decade plus of working in government bringing solutions to everyday people has given me a very good foundation. What makes me more qualified is that I’m doing the job, I have the relationships and anyone else, no matter who they are, will have a learning curve.
What are the biggest three issues Seattle is facing right now?
It is addressing public safety, homelessness and housing affordability.
If elected, are you willing to fight the rich and powerful to accomplish your policy priorities? And do you support taxing the rich more?
Yeah, so, I was one of the original four co sponsors of the Jumpstart tax, which is what kept us out of having to make severe budget cuts and layoffs during the pandemic. It supports building housing at a higher and faster rate and it’s a good, progressive revenue source that’s not on the backs of everyday Seattleites.
Do you want to stop the sweeps? If so, how would you do that? If not, how do you justify them? And do you believe that sweeps are effective?
Sweeps don’t work. I would say that they in some ways encourage street homelessness. What I have done, and what I’m continuing to do, is to set up models of homelessness response that give outreach workers the time that they need to understand who a person is, what they need, and [to] make a service match. Because when we do that, we see people coming inside. I’ll use the example of the Ballard Commons Park, where, during the pandemic, there was a sweep. Two weeks later, everyone was back. [It] didn’t work. When we implemented our program with Evergreen Treatment Services [and] REACH [at Woodland Park], we were able to house — I think it was 70% of the people who had been living in that park.
The reality of being able to move 49 people inside in three days — if you had told me that that would happen in 2018, I would have laughed you out of the room. And then to see [the] Regional Homelessness Authority with their encampment resolutions under the Ship Canal bridge [and] under I-5 with 100% intake? And then a week later in Chinatown-ID with 88% intake? The reality is that when we take the time to get to know a person, it works. One of the policy changes that I’ve seen in the city that has been a result of these projects is that outreach workers are now getting four to six weeks knowledge of when an encampment is going to be removed. And that is increasing the amount of people coming inside.
Is there anything that you would want to do to institutionalize that kind of approach?
I think that gets into me trying to micromanage the Mayor’s office, right. And where I come from is leadership by example. You know, [the Mayor’s staff] are good partners in this in the sense that they see that we need to change the way we’ve been doing business.
The Mayor has made it clear that any alternative crisis response for 911 calls must follow a co-responder model and involve police officers. Do you agree with this? If so, why? If not, how would you convince the Mayor to adopt some fully non-police crisis response teams?
We already have alternatives, like Health One and park rangers and Community Service Officers, just to name a few. So, as we go through this process, can we better utilize Community Service Officers to be that police role? Can we better utilize our outreach workers to be doing homelessness response? You know, the question that you asked is, “Do they all have to be co-responders?” I would say that that’s dependent upon the type of call and priority.
How would you promote safety for homeless folks rather than from homeless people?
This might be an unpopular opinion, but what I see going on down at Leary is that there are predatory people who are keeping folks in their positions by exploiting their weaknesses because they are gaining from other people’s suffering. And, you know, when there are shots fired down at Leary, it’s not housed people that are getting shot. It’s folks that are experiencing homelessness. If we just turn a blind eye to the violence that is occurring within that, within those communities, if we turn a blind eye to that predatory nature, it is folks that are experiencing homelessness that are the ones that are being impacted the most.
What kind of things would you want SPD to do in those situations? In my personal experience, I haven’t seen SPD really visiting too many campsites except for during sweeps, [or] when [an] incident [has] already occurred.
I mean, there’s a definite relationship of trust that doesn’t exist right now — between outreach workers and SPD [and] between people who are experiencing homelessness and SPD. For us to be able to make serious interventions, those bridges of trust have to be built. Outreach workers need to be able to trust that SPD will come in and not arrest everyone, and that they’ll arrest the person that is inflicting harm on others. Right? That doesn’t exist right now. I really hope that we’re able to build those bridges because it’s going to create a safer neighborhood for the folks who are living on our streets and who are living in houses or apartments or whatever other type of housing.
Do you support superblocks and pedestrianized main streets in every urban village? And would you prioritize vehicles or pedestrians, cyclists and transit?
All right. That’s the whole answer. We can go to the next one.
I mean, the work on Ballard Avenue that we’re doing right now — you’ll see in the next month we are creating a people lane. It’s not dedicated for bikes. It’s not dedicated for walking. It’s not dedicated for anything other than people. It’s a slow space where if you’re riding your bike, you go slow. If you’re walking, you know, you’re paying attention to other people. It allows businesses to use the pergolas to do business. And just through that, we have higher foot traffic on Ballard Avenue today than we did pre-pandemic in 2019.
Do you know how many public, 24-hour restrooms there are in Seattle right now?
No, I don’t. I do know that there’s one in the Ballard Commons. Well, technically three, but two of them are porta potties. So I don’t know if that counts.
We have the numbers. According to Seattle Parks and Recreation, there are 65 24-hour public toilets in Seattle, only 11 of which are not porta-potties. If [re]-elected, what would you do to change that? More Portland Loos?
They are an easy way to put up a restroom in a public space. It’s different than having to leave a building open. I think about Salmon Bay Park with the cinderblock bathrooms, as compared to the Portland Loo in the Ballard Commons, which is also different than the restrooms at the Green Lake Community Center. The restrooms at the Green Lake Community Center are part of the overall building footprint, so leaving those unlocked all night is not a good idea for building security. The cinderblock bathroom in Salmon Bay Park probably has more resiliency to be left open overnight, but still it’s still enclosed. And then you look at a Portland Loo, which is designed to be in an urban space and gives people access to be able to have some privacy to use the restroom.
So more of those basically?
Do you support or oppose the Seattle City Attorney’s efforts to prosecute drug possession and public use in the Seattle Municipal Court? If so, how do you square that with the reality that criminalization disproportionately targets poor, Black, Brown, Indigenous and homeless people? If you oppose the bill, what is your alternative plan to addressing the fentanyl and meth crisis?
Yeah, so I voted for the bill, and I’ll be voting for the bill again. And what I said last time is the same thing that I’ll say to you today, which is that we have to lead with diversion. We have to lead with diversion, because jail is not rehabilitation. It’s not rehabilitative. And it’s the most expensive option that we have on the table. And that’s why it’s important to lead with diversion. And if diversion doesn’t work for an individual time and time again, we still need to have every option on the table. I don’t want to lead with arresting and locking people up. It still needs to be an option on the table. For me, it would be a last resort. That’s where I’m at.
Northwest Seattle has become notorious for anti-homeless vitriol. Some of the highest concentrations of complaints from residents are centered on locations like the Ballard Library and the Greenwood QFC. We’ve seen an increase in violence and threats of violence against our homeless neighbors citywide fueled by anti-homeless rhetoric. What can you as a councilmember do to combat this rhetoric and to promote more of an understanding between housed and homeless people?
There’s a service that works for everyone. I carry this message, and I am able to use factual data and experiences that people have felt with Ballard Commons and Woodland Park to say we have been successful at meeting people’s needs by not demonizing them and using harm reduction strategies, using strategies that stabilize folks and then connecting them to the places that they need to go. One of the tools that I use with this is, you know, both my public safety task forces that I have in the community that include people that hold less nuanced views — I’m able to share with them, right? — and to also hold office hours every single week, because people come to me with these same complaints, and we’ve got a half of an hour to sit down together and talk about the work. It combats this vitriolic narrative that is founded on a lack of understanding of where people are in their lives, and that the majority of people I’ve met who live on the streets don’t actually want to live on the streets.
Read more of the Oct. 11-17, 2023 issue.