Pete Hanning is a former club security guard, bar owner and hard partyer who has seen a lot — he was the owner of the Red Door, a well-known and quite raucous bar in Fremont. Sober now, Hanning shares openly that he previously used and sold drugs. Currently, he’s working as the head of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.
As you might imagine, given the Seattle Times’ undying love for all things related to chambers of commerce, Hanning earned that paper’s endorsement. Like his opponent Dan Strauss, Hanning is in favor of funding the police and criminalizing drugs. Friends with Sara Nelson, Hanning is squarely to the right of Strauss, but in Seattle, that doesn’t look classically conservative.
Unlike a lot of tough-on-crime candidates, Hanning places a heavy emphasis on homeless people being the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators of it and wants to improve access to treatment and housing. He is in favor of sweeps as a tool to get people safely inside. Public safety to Hanning might mean more cops and more criminalization, but he does at least want it for the whole public.
Will his pro-business, pro-cop persona be enough to unseat “Ballard Dan,” an incumbent with plenty of votes on record in favor of cops and business? Many observers think this election will go to “public safety” candidates, but both Hanning and Strauss qualify in this race.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for City Council?
Pete Hanning: Well, I love my city. I’ve been here 52 of the 54 years I’ve been on this planet. And I find that I get most satisfaction in my life when I’m of service to my community. I saw this as an opportunity to help my city out. I feel like we’re at a crossroads where some of the skillsets that I have could be helpful.
What makes you a better candidate than your opponent?
I have spent over 20 years working on issues around community and public safety. And when I’m knocking on doors, that is [the], if not number one, number two (and sometimes it’s number one and number two) issue that people are concerned about in our community. I’ve also found myself being disappointed with the current Council and the way it’s been more performative and divisive as opposed to kind of pragmatic and collaborative.
What are the top three issues Seattle is facing right now?
The top three that I hear on the doors when I am canvassing: public safety, housing and homelessness. And then around housing is that tension that we’re feeling economically [between] the great new influx of wealth and those who might be living on a fixed income or do more service industry jobs, like where I came from.
Are you willing to fight the rich and powerful classes to accomplish your policy priorities? And do you support taxing the rich?
I don’t support us, initially, just taxing more. I think I want to take a really hard look at the current budget as it is and make sure that we are being as diligent as we can be with those current resources. Do we have them in the right places? Are we getting the outcomes that we’re paying for? That being said, of course we need to look at finding new revenue streams that are more equitable. In my Stranger interview, they did not like the fact that I believe very strongly that tax policy is best done at the state level, if not at the national level.
Do you want to stop the sweeps? If so, how would you accomplish that? If not, how do you justify the current practice of sweeps? Do you think that they’re achieving their stated goal?
I do not think that they are getting the outcomes of the goals that any of us hoped for. I have done a bunch of outreach. I’ve worked with the Salvation Army in their street-level program. And when I’ve done outreach, one of the things that I’ve been really disturbed to see is the vast majority of our unhoused neighbors need as much of our services and support as we can possibly give them. And they’re there as folks who are really struggling. At the same time on those block fronts, especially in my community, like the Leary corridor where I do a lot of outreach, there will be one or two tents or RVs where obviously those folks are not in crisis. Those are the people who are perpetrating the drug sales that are keeping so many of these people in this really cyclical space. I want us to actually put more attention on those people who are preying upon our unhoused, because our unhoused neighbors are the ones who are the biggest victims of crimes every day.
So, do you want to stop them?
No. When I’ve been doing outreach, when I’m giving basic medical supplies, water, calories to these people, handouts [with] where they can get services, I also let some of those folks know that I am advocating for them not to be sleeping right there, because it is affecting the communities and businesses right in front of where they are. And that those businesses have a right to have a street front. So I think you can do both. You can show both compassion. The way I live my life is naming something, even the difficult thing. The disagreements that you and I might have politically are much better done face to face. When I acknowledge that I care about them and I see them, but at the same time I do feel that it is not appropriate for them to be kept there, they at least hear it. They hear what I’m saying.
To drill down a tiny bit more on this, you’re in favor of continuing to do them? And then we had that question, “How do you justify them?” How do you justify doing sweeps when [there isn’t sufficient shelter]?
Yeah, because everyone in this situation is being harmed. Not just the people who are on the streets sleeping, but the community in which they are [in]. There’s also that harm. We’re hoping that those folks will take some of those available shelters [and] assistance. But we know that there’s many different ways that people are going to be willing to finally get that help and take that help. And it’s not a perfect solution. I don’t think there is.
Mayor Bruce Harrell has made it clear that any alternative crisis response to 911 calls must use a co-responder model, which involves police officers. Do you agree with that? If so, explain. If not, how would you convince the Mayor to get on board with a fully non-police crisis team?
I’m fully supportive of co-responder programs. I think it is the model [going] forward. I think that the police officers would welcome an opportunity to be in second position, like they are when I do outreach. When we go out [with the Salvation Army], we don’t go out without a King County Sheriff, for the safety of everyone. But they are in second position. I have found that to be a really effective model.
How do you promote public safety for homeless folks, rather than from homeless folks?
I want to get them into stable housing, get them treatment, get them calories, give them the tools to be in a healthy community. That’s one of the things I really like about the tiny home programs is it is just those little steps of how we reconnect them to community. But we need to go after the fucking drug dealers. I feel very strongly about that. This is the great crisis of our time. It is killing the [greatest] amount of our neighbors. It is destroying their ability to be in community [and] to make really good, healthy decisions. This poison is so scary.
Do you support superblocks and pedestrianized main streets in urban villages? Would you prioritize private vehicles or pedestrians, cyclists and transit?
D, all of the above. I think every community should have streets in which they are prioritizing pedestrian and cycling activities, if not 24/7, at least [for] lots of time periods. You know, we have simple technology around retractable billiards and things like that. I mean, there’s all kinds of environmental design that we can do that really incentivizes that kind of connectivity. I’m working on a couple projects in Fremont as executive director [of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce] where I want to get four-way stops and crosswalks. I love the crosswalks that are at sidewalk level, right? So that the pedestrian doesn’t step down, the car is slowed down and they have to go [at slower] speeds. I think that there is plenty of opportunity to do that. But where I really push back is small businesses. A lot of times we’ll rely on freight delivery and freight corridors. And as we continue to move toward a more delivery-style society, that’s only going to increase, so we also have to really understand their place in it. Why I’m so passionate about freight is [that] every bus, van, truck also equals at least one job, if not a couple of jobs. Those jobs are valuable jobs [and] they are not ones that necessarily require higher education. And so I always want to make sure that I am also defending their place on our roadways.
Do you know how many public, 24-hour restrooms there are in Seattle?
There are 65 24-hour public toilets in Seattle. Only 11 of them are not porta-potties. What would you do to change this?
I think we should be investing in water fountains and public bathrooms throughout our city. They are just as important as community centers. I love our Fremont library, but I also love it because I know it has a public bathroom. I use it two, three times a week. We should be investing in that. I would welcome whatever information you guys have on it. If you have some reporter who’s done more work on that, I would love to talk to them more about it. I would love to, in the next month and a half, raise that issue. We all recognize [that] access to a clean bathroom and clean drinking water should be a fundamental right. Just like housing should be.
Do you support or oppose the Seattle City Attorney’s efforts to prosecute drug possession and public use in the Seattle Municipal Court? If yes, how do you square that with the reality that that type of criminalization of drug possession has disproportionately targeted Black, Brown and Indigenous individuals? If you are against that policy, how you would go about addressing the overdose crisis?
I’m supportive of the policy. I think there are many different pathways to sobriety and getting help around addiction. Sometimes having a pause in jail is an opportunity to start to allow people to get some addiction help. And there is a reality that there is some civil misbehavior that is happening in our communities at such a high level that it is affecting us all. That’s hard to say, because I do care about each individual. But I do support it.
On the disproportionate enforcement issue, how would we maybe make sure that doesn’t happen?
Making sure that we do put back in place community court again in a way that is actually providing some diversion, so that people can step off the pathway to jail toward getting help, is going to be really important. It is most likely because of the community in which I do my outreach and [in which] I live, but the vast majority of the people who I see who are in crisis and are unhoused are white. But I think that it is a question that should be always asked. And we should always hold ourselves accountable to making sure that we are not disproportionately treating one group at a disadvantage and also [be] recognizing the healing that we need to do in communities of color.
Northwest Seattle has become notorious for anti-homeless vitriol. I’m sure you’re very aware of it. We’ve seen an increase in violence and threats of violence against our homeless neighbors citywide, often fueled by anti-homeless rhetoric. Do you see a connection between this rhetoric and violence? If so, how would you address that?
I think it gets back to our earlier conversation about where we’re at as a culture [and] as a society. A woman at one of my events a couple of months ago admitted — and I was really proud of her and it rang true with me — she said, “I’m having compassion fatigue.” And I think there is a level of frustration. Sometimes there are some who allow [the] darker parts of themselves to fall into violent rhetoric or even violent behavior. That is really troubling. Because that is not how I want to be engaged in my community. That being said, what you are pointing to is true. I don’t know if it is more prevalent in D6 or in northwest Seattle than it is in any other [area]. But I do know that I hear a lot of frustration and anger over what seems to be a lack of response, and [there is a lack of] understanding of what is being done with all the resources that are being put toward it.
What would you do to address the way that people are reacting?
I think I acknowledge their frustration and I share some of their frustration. It’s one of the things that has gotten me to this point of running for City Council and wanting to help out. Because I do feel that we need to make sure that we are showing that we are using our resources wisely and that we are holding all of us accountable. And society. What we can’t do is allow for vigilantism to happen on any level. Unfortunately, it seems that there is an allowance [for] certain folks to not be held accountable. And to that I point back to the people who are openly selling fentanyl in our communities and bringing this poison in.
Read more of the Oct. 11-17, 2023 issue.