Bridges connect City Council District 6 to the northwest edge of downtown. Those bridges cross railroad tracks and a ship canal that fueled Seattle’s growth in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the 21st century drawbridges sometimes slow automotive traffic, but the communities of District 6 are tightly stapled to the city.
The northwest neighborhoods such as Ballard (where I live) offer culture, cuisine, and charm to those who venture across the cuts made for ships and trains. They also offer city parks, industrial zones, and big parking lots that attract drugs, crime, and people escaping poverty in recreational vehicles.
District 6 candidates for the Seattle City Council participated in a debate about homelessness hosted by We Are In and KNKX public radio on October 10 on the campus of Seattle University. The moderator and both candidates noted that many positions of incumbent Dan Strauss and challenger Pete Hanning are similar. Among issues they agreed on was the need to distribute low-income housing throughout the city (including in District 6), the need for changes to zoning laws, and the need to punish the criminals who prey on the unhoused. Strauss apologized to the moderator: “Pete and I agree. Sorry, it’s not a debate.” (A common tactic for an incumbent is to cite agreements with the challenger.)
As of October 9, Hanning has a fundraising advantage. At $182,218 he has raised 29% more money than Strauss and has 21% more total donors (1,894 vs. 1,541). Hanning got the only applause during the debate when he said: “It’s not just the unhoused who are suffering here. It is also the businesses and residences in those communities when those encampments are there.” In an interview, he added: “Our unhoused neighbors are our neighbors. So are our police officers. We need to find grace for all.” This quest for balance between the housed and the unhoused and the police and the policed played heavily in Hanning’s endorsement by the Seattle Times. He has also been endorsed by six former City Council members.
Strauss has the power of the incumbency. In his closing remarks he said: “Things are better than they have been, but they are still not good enough. The difference between me and my opponent is that I am doing the job. I am here and committed to keep working on these issues, I have delivered for our city and our district.” Strauss has a broad list of endorsements from politicians including Mayor Bruce Harrell, Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and former councilmember Sally Bagshaw, for whom Strauss was a staffer. He also has endorsements from the Seattle Firefighters, the Seattle’s Building Trade Unions, and the Sierra Club.
In their Seattle Times profiles, both candidates prioritized public safety, affordability/cost of living, and homelessness as the top issues facing Seattle. But in one-on-one interviews, each revealed that their self-described approaches to problem-solving are different.
Strauss described his work in terms of policy and process and his career based in public service since he was a child. He talked about a four-step process he developed for clearing the Ballard Commons homeless encampment (census, needs assessment, shelter placement, and site resolution) and presented that work as a prototype for clearing encampments in Woodland Park, City Hall, and beyond. He also highlighted his prior work and education in political science and public administration and said that “it takes a year in City Council to get up to speed.” His work is just starting to show results because “it takes four years for any public policy to be fully implemented.”
Henning described himself as a political outsider, who is running for City Council because he saw a leadership vacuum and believed he could fill it with experiences he has gained in the hospitality business, entrepreneurship, and leading the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. “I have been on a lot of boards,” he said, among them the Fremont Neighborhood Council, the North Precinct Advisory Council, and the Washington Restaurant/Hospitality Association. He believes he can “put some sanctity into what it means to be ‘of counsel’ in the context of the City Council. Listening is a powerful verb. I want to lead with that. I like to show up and I like to help.”
Both candidates said they will serve the city as a whole. For Strauss, this involves using District 6 as a “proving ground” to show what can work in other parts of the city. He said: “The whole city is important to me. I’m not bottled into District 6. It is a launching pad and testing area.” Hanning added: “The needs are all the same and many of those needs are regional.”
Both candidates are long-term Seattle residents who have seen the city and District 6 change. Hanning noted that the average age of Seattle residents is now 35 and less than half of residents own their homes. He believes these changes are “part of the reason for agitation in our politics. We are struggling with the pace of change.” Strauss believes the influx of younger, non-native citizens has reduced the “Seattle freeze” by making it easier to form friendships with neighbors who are not already entrenched in relationships with people that they’ve known since childhood.
Many communities in District 6 were annexed by Seattle at about the time the bridges connected them to downtown more than 100 years ago. Voters living in District 6 now must decide which of the two candidates seeking to represent them can build the strongest bridges to a better future.