Andrew Lewis is running to represent Seattle’s District 7. Don’t be fooled by the lack of a second District 7 candidate interview — Lewis is not running unopposed. In fact, he is enduring a rather testy challenge from the right in the form of Bob Kettle. However, Kettle was the only candidate to decline an interview with Real Change, thusly fending off several attempts to reschedule: “Unfortunately, between campaign commitments and Bob’s family commitments, we just don’t have the time to spare.”
That left us to chat with only Lewis, which is nothing to shake a stick at. A consummate policy wonk who has endured two tumultuous mayoral administrations, the man can talk for hours about, well, everything. Fortunately for our newsroom staff’s lunch plans and whoever manages Lewis’ schedule, we only had one hour this time around. We did still manage to cover quite a bit of ground during it.
Lewis is full of interesting ideas, but elections aren’t won on ideas these days. Instead, they’re all about image. Can Lewis keep tough-on-crime Kettle from boiling over into his seat? Read on and decide for yourself.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Real Change: What motivated you to run for City Council?
Andrew Lewis: I’ve lived in Seattle my entire life and I love the city. I think Seattle has boundless potential to be the definitive American city of this century. And I wouldn’t do any politics other than local politics; local politics is all about our quality of life. Especially now that I have a nine-month-old daughter, my wife and I are really looking to be involved in building the community that we want her to grow up in. That’s a big part of what we do at City Council. We’re trying to build a strong city, a resilient city and one where there’s boundless opportunity.
What makes you better than your opponent, Bob Kettle?
I’m mostly going to focus on why I think I’m best suited for this. I’ve worked with Bob Kettle on the Queen Anne Community Council. I think he’s an earnest person. I think we have very different worldviews. I fundamentally believe homelessness is fundamentally a housing problem. I don’t think that a lot of our chronic challenges related to public health, public order and housing insecurity can be solved purely with an enforcement approach. I don’t think you can punish somebody out of being poor.
In your opinion, what are the biggest issues facing Seattle right now?
I really think that the biggest issue that we’re facing right now truly is disorder. I want to use that term instead of saying crime or homelessness. I really think that there’s this correct perception of public disorder in Seattle from having a significant number of our neighbors who have very significant public health challenges [and who are] living unsupported because they’re not in a position where they can afford anything in our housing economy. They’re competing for increasingly scarce housing opportunities with people in the service sector or even entry-level people in the tech world, and it’s resulting in a significant amount of chronic homelessness. Homelessness is best understood, I think, as a problem of success. If your city is successful, if people want to come here, the city is going to develop, expand [and] build more high-end housing at the expense of more traditional affordable housing to cater to those new arrivals. And if the city is not adroit at planning for that success, it leads to a significant portion of your city being priced out. I mean, if you look at cities that don’t have significant homelessness problems: a lot of them are cities that are contracting. You know it’s like Detroit, Baltimore. And their housing is plentiful. It comes back to housing, but I think it’s intimately related to the crisis of disorder that we are facing that is real. But I think some people misdiagnosed it as a purely enforcement-based problem when it’s much more complicated [and] multifaceted.
If elected, are you willing to fight the rich and powerful classes to accomplish your policy priorities? And would you tax the rich more?
I am a co-sponsor of the JumpStart Seattle tax, which is injecting hundreds of millions of dollars of investments into housing every single year, and I’m proud of that record. I have worked in coalition with a lot of people who are part of the Downtown Seattle Association or the Chamber of Commerce. I don’t have a cultural aversion to doing that. And I think that those collaborations have been very helpful in many instances to advance critical things like JustCare. So, I’m not going to be a person who is going to have a combative philosophy with some of the interests in the city that do represent business. I think that we need to have holistic approaches to how we budget and that includes these discussions about revenue.
Do you want to stop the sweeps? If so, how would you make that happen? If not, how do you justify them? Do you think that sweeps are effective?
The critical thing that we need to do is expand places for people to go, and this has been my core leadership tenet for my entire service. In my first term, I’ve exploited every opportunity possible to expand hotel/motel sheltering [and] every opportunity possible to expand tiny house villages. I’m really focused on having a process where you solve for everyone in a given encampment location. In some cases, that did mean that people [at] JustCare encampment resolutions did relocate, but it was part of a deliberative process where they worked with the people who were doing the outreach to identify another location where they could move their tent. But that was a very small portion of the people. I think it was something like 80% to 90% of the people involved in JustCare resolutions were willing to take advantage of some kind of shelter that was offered. Overwhelmingly, people who are in encampments in Seattle, who for whatever multitude of reasons might refuse services, would accept an alternative service if it were offered. And that includes most prominently tiny homes, which I think have become our most dominant option for people [and] have the broadest appeal and the most utility. So I think continuing to dramatically expand those would go a long way to helping navigate people out.
Mayor Bruce Harrell has made it clear that any alternate 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 the mayor to get on board with a fully non-police crisis team to respond to 911 calls?
So it’s been a really great experience to work with Mayor Harrell on the dual dispatch, and I think it’s an important distinction. It’s not a co-responder model, but a dual dispatch model. Dual dispatch is when two separate independent units respond to the same call but in separate vehicles [as] separate teams. It’s an important distinction because a dual dispatch model can ultimately become incrementally more independent as time goes on and we evolve our first response system. I’ve been an advocate of creating an alternative 911 response along the lines of Cahoots in Eugene, Oregon, or STAR [Support Team Assisted Response] in Denver to name a couple of the famous [programs].
Are there any specific changes that you want to see made to improve public safety?
Yeah, I think that we need to definitely have the system of alternative first response that we’ve just kind of discussed. I think dual dispatch is a great first step, and it’s going to make a huge difference. I would like to see that evolve over time as we continue to build it up. We also need places for people to go, we need post-overdose Recovery Centers, which we’re going to be funding in this next budget. We need things like the crisis care centers that we funded, we need very low-barrier enhanced shelter options that can take people who are discharged from these crisis centers to make sure that they don’t return to the street and return potentially back to being in harm’s way. And that’s the kind of robust system that we need to create to get through this crisis that we see play out on the street every day. We’re arguing about our positions when we have the same interests. We don’t want someone screaming with their shirt off in the street, who is having a meth-induced psychosis episode. No one wants that to be happening, including the person it’s happening to.
That kind of gets at our next question. We hear a lot of this rhetoric that homelessness, crime and disorder, as you put it, makes housed people feel unsafe and is a safety crisis for housed people. But at Real Change we see the other side of that, which is how unsafe it is for people experiencing homelessness and people who are unsheltered. How would you promote safety for those people?
I mean, it’s critical, right? Like we were just discussing, all of us have the same interest, including the person who has these public health challenges and isn’t getting care for them. One of the best things that came out at the tail end of JustCare was a really, really aggressive approach [to] getting people enrolled in public insurance who weren’t, so that people could access care more broadly. No one is more likely to be a victim of crime than someone experiencing homelessness in the city. You know, overwhelmingly our community members who are being killed by gun violence are overwhelmingly people experiencing homelessness, to a great extent — that always has to be front and center.
Much lighter question here. Do you support superblocks and pedestrianized main streets in every urban village? Would you prioritize private vehicles or pedestrians, cyclists and transit?
I’m a huge supporter of pedestrian public spaces. Really proud that we were able to come together and pedestrianize a portion of Pike Street in downtown. It really is showing people the utility, the advantage, the power of pedestrianized spaces. I think there’s a lot of opportunities in the city of Seattle for similar locations.
Do you know how many public, 24-hour restrooms there are in Seattle?
Oh, goodness. 200?
Oh, sorry, 24-hour. I was thinking of, like, park restrooms, but they’re not 24-hour. So, yeah, less than five. I’m really swinging on both sides of it here!
And only 11 of them are not porta-potties. If elected, what would you do to change this?
I’m a big fan of expanding access to public toilets. I’ve been very outspoken on things like street sinks [and things] like having publicly available hygiene facilities. It’s a very common amenity in other major cities, internationally and domestically. I do think things like the Portland Loo are replicable installations that we can have in more places. It shouldn’t just be Ballard Commons park and a few other places that have them. There should be more publicly available amenities.
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 grapple with the reality that criminalization disproportionately targets poor Black, Brown, Indigenous and homeless people? If you oppose the effort, what is your alternative plan for addressing the fentanyl crisis?
Everybody knows in June, I famously was not willing to go along with the initial proposal from the City Attorney’s office to incorporate the RCW [Revised Code of Washington] into the SMC [Seattle Municipal Code]. As I made clear at that time on the dias, I’m not categorically opposed to doing it, but it has to be part of a broader package. The proposal that we have from Mayor Harrell’s task force that was convened in June to address this does involve codifying the statute. It also involves shoring up resources for additional investments in treatment and post-overdose recovery. Although, not as much as any of us would like. But it is a deployment of real resources to try to make a difference in this crisis, and also an emphasis on trying to resolve interactions with the criminal legal system earlier and before a court would get involved.
Read more of the Oct. 18-24, 2023 issue.