Rounding out Real Change’s coverage of the Seattle City Council elections is the heavily-contested race for District 2, covering Southeast Seattle. Incumbent Councilmember Tammy Morales, who is perhaps the most left-leaning incumbent running for reelection, faces a spirited challenge from community activist and landlord Tanya Woo.
Morales is running on her strong ties with local progressive community groups and a focus on addressing public safety concerns, such as racism, poverty and economic inequality. Morales opposes sweeps and wants more funding for civilian-led safety policies — she faced a lot of backlash from conservatives after she backed reducing the police budget during the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising. She has also come out strongly for social housing, being the first council member to endorse I-135.
Morales visited the Real Change office to explain why District 2 voters should entrust her with a second term.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for reelection to the Seattle City Council?
Tammy Morales: Well, the work I want to do is not finished. The things that are really important to me are to keep working on anti-displacement efforts and really to close the racial wealth gap in the city — or try to. That includes trying to increase affordability for folks, making sure that we have vibrant commercial districts, healthy local businesses and [are] working on community safety for all of our neighbors.
What makes you better than your opponent, Tanya Woo?
I won’t say I’m better than Tanya Woo. What I will say is that I do believe I’m more qualified and experienced. I’m trained as a neighborhood planner. The work that I’ve done my entire career is about community economic development and supporting working families. And that’s the work that I want to continue doing for the people of District 2.
In your opinion, what are the biggest issues Seattle is facing right now?
We have a couple of overlapping crises that we have been dealing with for a while around homelessness, [like] a lack of housing that regular people can afford. We have a lot to do to make sure families are safe in their communities. And I am talking about safety in a lot of different ways. My district is the place where almost 60% of traffic fatalities happen. So that has become a very important issue to me because I’m tired of hearing about my constituents dying in bicycle or pedestrian accidents. And then we have every summer a gun violence issue that we really need to figure out how to get our hands around.
If reelected, are you willing to fight the rich and powerful to accomplish your policy priorities? And do you want to tax the rich more?
One of the first things I did when I came into office was work on progressive revenue. It’s something I supported even before becoming a council member. And I absolutely supported the payroll expense tax [and] the head tax before that. So I think if we’re going to be able to provide the services that the most vulnerable in our city need, basic services to keep people safe and healthy, then we’re going to have to find additional ways to create progressive revenue. I know there is a task force that met recently; they didn’t make any recommendations. But they did identify three more feasible options and I support investigating all of them.
Do you want to stop the sweeps? If so, how would you make it happen? And if not, how do you justify them? Do you think sweeps work?
That’s something that I worked on [during] my first year in office, trying to figure out how to stop the navigation teams from moving people from one side of the street to the other. One thing we know for sure is that, if we want to address homelessness, we need housing. We need services and treatment for those who are experiencing chronic homelessness, having some acute issues and trying to survive on the street.
Moving people from one place to another just puts them at greater risk for losing their belongings. Service providers lose touch with them if they have moved to a different neighborhood or a different part of town. So, I don’t think that this is an effective use of public dollars and I don’t think that it solves the problem of creating housing. It is not a real solution to the homelessness problem that we have.
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 will you convince him to get on board with a fully non-police crisis team to respond to calls?
I would much prefer that the police not be involved. We know that there is a lack of trust between police and many of our community members, especially when folks who are experiencing homelessness have been traumatized by having their things taken, having their belongings thrown in the trash [and] being harassed. And so if the goal is to help move people into more housing — into shelter, into services — then the people who should be doing that work should be trained case managers, social workers and health counselors. I think that model would be best.
I do also acknowledge that some street outreach workers don’t feel safe going into some situations. I don’t necessarily hear them asking for police, but I know that there is some concern sometimes. So I’m not quite sure what the balance is, except that I think we should be sending many more trained social workers and case management professionals into those situations, and really minimizing any presence of the police.
If reelected, what changes do you want to make to how the city approaches public safety?
I think that we very often conflate the concept of community safety [with] just a police response. And I don’t think that serves any of us. Community safety is about being able to cross the street without getting hit. It’s about being able to navigate your neighborhood without fear of violence. But it’s also about the kind of community conditions that create safety for people. I don’t dispute that there are some cases where we need police.
And I think we really need to be investing in the prevention that can help eliminate the conditions that lead to violence in the first place. So youth programming, more affordable housing, greater food security, access to economic opportunity. The things that can really create safety for people are the things that help them meet their basic needs so that they have a chance to thrive in their communities.
How would you promote safety for homeless folks in Seattle?
Ending encampment removals is certainly an important piece of that. Because moving people, eliminating their belongings, removing them from their caseworkers and their social workers just creates more harm for them. So finding ways to move people indoors: more permanent supportive housing, more tiny house villages, sanctioned RV lots. These are short-term solutions, but while we’re waiting for the apartments and the more affordable units to be constructed, we need temporary places for people to go where they can get access to services, to hygiene, to bathrooms, to kitchens — that’s how we create safety for them.
Do you support superblocks and pedestrianizing main streets in every urban village in Seattle?
Would you prioritize private vehicles or pedestrians, cyclists in transit, if elected?
Given the incidents in my district, I do think it’s important and I would love to see pedestrianized streets in every neighborhood. Every commercial corridor or business district should have one. We all have seen what a vibrant commercial district looks like. It’s why we go out in the summertime. We want to see street cafes, we want to see farmers markets, we want to see night markets and vendors selling arts, soaps and all the things. That’s what makes our neighborhoods interesting.
What are three things you would do to immediately improve the lives of Real Change vendors?
I think addressing some of their concerns around security [guards] and the way they’re being treated. One thing that I’ve heard is there is a sort of growing action from private businesses to tell them that they can’t vend anymore, even on a public sidewalk. So getting some parameters, getting some clear guidance for businesses that folks are allowed to be on public property and making sure that the harassment that they’re experiencing stops.
The affordability issues, obviously helping folks find ways to connect to services and to housing, so that we have more opportunity for people to get their own lives stable.
Do you know how many public 24-hour restrooms are in Seattle?
Something paltry, like 20?
A little bit more, according to the Seattle Parks and Recreation website. There are about 65 24-hour public toilets right now, 11 of which are not porta-potties. If reelected, what would you do to change this?
In my first two years in office, I put money in the budget to acquire Portland Loos, which are public restrooms. I think we have a couple of them. I know we have a couple at the Rainier Beach community center, for example. This is a huge challenge.
I was trying to do it sort of budget by budget. I really think we need a much bigger conversation in the city about how we’re going to address this. We’re a growing city. We keep wanting to attract these international sporting events. And we are just not ready to do that, let alone to serve the people who are already here and who need daily access to hand-washing, to toilets, to showering. I was surprised at how expensive they are, but this is a basic human right and a basic human need. We really need to become a city where it is OK to go to the bathroom without having to buy a cup of coffee to do it.
Do you support or oppose the Seattle City Attorney’s efforts to prosecute drug possession and public use in the Seattle Municipal Court?
What I think we should be working toward is giving judges the ability to refer to diversion. The state has made the decision that these are now gross misdemeanors, [and] the county prosecutor has the authority to prosecute. I don’t believe that the City Attorney needs to have that authority.
What is your alternative plan to addressing the fentanyl crisis?
I sit on the [King County] Board of Health. And it is really clear that we aren’t ready. We need a lot more treatment services. There is funding coming from the [opioid lawsuit] settlements — the Mayor has referred to this over and over again. But it’s a million dollars a year for 18 years and that’s not nearly enough money. So, we do need to figure out how we’re going to pay for it. But we need more treatment beds, we need harm reduction strategies, more access to buprenorphine and other medication that can help people withdraw from fentanyl use safely.
Over the past two decades, the Chinatown-International District (CID) has been overwhelmed by rampant land speculation and market-oriented development. How would you work to stem the tide of gentrification in the neighborhood?
I think one of the mistakes we made with [Mandatory Housing Affordability] was just allowing for the complete upzoning, without any mitigation or protection particularly for the CID. And we are now dealing with the consequences of that, right? So all these hotels are going up, all this sort of luxury housing is going up that the folks here just cannot afford. Part of the conversation that I’m hearing is about downzoning the CID. I think it’s a conversation worth having. It’s not going to stop what’s already in the pipeline.
There are at least two community developers here in the CID who focus a lot on creating more senior housing, more family-sized housing that is affordable. I think that kind of support is really important.
I get really nervous when I see a lot of national chains coming in that are Asian-y, but are pushing out local businesses. So we are talking with the Office of Economic Development about creating some financial tools to allow for local businesses to extend their commercial lease, to get support with the lease agreements [so] that they have — to be able to purchase their building rather than have a lease, or do a lease-to-own.
Read more of the Oct. 18-24, 2023 issue.