Seattle City Council District 3: Egan Orion and Kshama Sawant

L-R, Egan Orion is challenging incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant to represent District 3. (Photos courtesy campaigns)

Incumbent Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant is facing challenger Egan Orion for the District 3 seat, which includes Capitol Hill, the Central District and Yesler Terrace.

Egan Orion

Seattle’s lower- and middle-income residents and small businesses feel that they are being left behind or pushed out by the city’s growing economy. What three concrete actions will you take to address those concerns?

We should start by addressing the most immediate issue facing Seattle—our homelessness crisis. I will work with regional partners to bond for more permanent supportive housing units and expand the number of low-barrier, 24/7 shelters available throughout the city with access to treatment on demand. We need a comprehensive plan to address homelessness, not just a patchwork of disconnected services and unclear outcomes—we owe this to our unsheltered neighbors and to our community at large.

Additionally, too many of my neighbors are struggling to afford rent and stay in their community. The skyrocketing cost of living is disproportionately displacing marginalized communities that have long called District 3 home — such as the LGBTQ and African American communities. We must address this lack of affordable housing by expanding “light density” options to fill the missing middle of housing—like duplexes, triplexes, and small multi-family buildings with single floor living for ADA accessibility and for seniors to age in place.

Finally, we need to do a better job supporting small businesses, especially women, minority, and LGBTQ owned small businesses by finding ways to ease or defer certain taxes and fees, making more predictable changes to regulations and rules, and improving access to capital and workforce development. I will advocate for our diverse and dynamic small business sector.

What is your stance on the city of Seattle’s “welcoming city” policies on residents’ immigrant statuses? Should any of these policies be changed, and how?

I strongly support Seattle’s status as a welcoming, sanctuary city. We must boldly tell immigrants that they are not only welcome, but wanted members of our community. In the face of a federal administration spewing hate and bigotry, immigrants must know they are safe in Seattle. To this end, the city should continue to provide legal resources for immigrant communities, especially undocumented immigrants. The city should also maintain its “sanctuary” status; under no circumstances should Seattle police officers help deport an undocumented immigrant arrested for a non-violent crime. Going forward, the city should actively seek out the opinion of immigrants themselves to ensure city services align with their needs.

Reports of hate crimes have been on the rise in Seattle. How will you make sure people of all backgrounds feel safe from perpetrators of hate crimes and also feel safe reporting the crimes?

I know the pain that hate crimes inflict not only on the victims, but entire communities. After the Orlando massacre, I organized a vigil for the LGBTQ+ community to mourn the lives stolen by hate-fueled gun violence, and since then I’ve been working with the Office of Economic Development to make progress on this issue so no one in our queer and trans communities ever feels unsafe. Although we can’t necessarily end the hate itself, we should do everything possible to protect our most vulnerable communities.

We must create an environment where marginalized groups, including LGBTQ+, people of color, immigrants, and all at risk of hate crimes—feel comfortable going to the proper authorities whenever a hate crime has occurred. We know that these communities have complicated histories with the police, and challenges that extend to today. We must improve community policing by hiring police officers and community officers who look like and come from the neighborhoods they serve and know the local residents. Let’s create a conscious, purposeful system that addresses the historic imbalance between communities of color and the SPD and ensures safety for all.

Finally, representation matters! As a queer man, I can help educate others in leadership positions about the challenges the LGBTQ community faces and how, collectively, we can create a city that’s safe and welcoming for all.

What letter grade would you give the city on reforming race and ethnicity-based bias in law enforcement and why did you give that grade? What would you do differently, if anything?

I would give the city a “D.” While Seattle and the SPD have made progress on meeting the federally mandated consent decree, we are still partially out of compliance. And, as referenced in the previous question, too many communities still do not feel comfortable with our current policing.

All communities—black and brown communities especially—deserve to be safe. We must reduce crime, hold perpetrators accountable, and protect the residents of our neighborhoods while avoiding the creation of an overwhelming police presence that breeds distrust. Seattle needs a more diverse, representative police force so that law enforcement comes from the communities they represent. Again, let’s focus on community policing, building trust within our community, and eradicating unnecessary use of force by the police.

Outside of just our police, we need to reform our criminal justice system that disproportionately harms people of color and minorities. Seattle needs to continue to use and expand upon the L.E.A.D. program and more frequently implement drug and mental health courts so that people who commit crimes get the help they need. To get help, people need to want help, and many are not yet ready to engage with these methods. I want to continue to improve our rehabilitation efforts, rather than just throwing folks in jail where no real progress will be made.

What is your track record on addressing the needs of immigrants and communities of color in your district?

As Executive Director of PrideFest, I spend much of my time thinking about how to lift up, amplify, and celebrate the voices of marginalized members of our community. The focus of my work has been ensuring LGBTQ+ people of all backgrounds are highlighted and empowered, and I’ve fought to ensure that LGBTQ+ immigrants and queer people of color are included in the conversation, featured prominently, and not erased at PrideFest, or any of the events I’ve worked on.

Additionally, in my work with the small business community, I’ve fought to protect women and minority owned businesses. I’ve worked to make sure that these businesses had a seat at the table, so that even in a changing economy and a growing city, their business could continue to thrive District 3.

On the City Council, I would bring this same approach: listening to and seeking out all members of our community to understand their needs and challenges. I would pay particular attention to vulnerable, underrepresented, and marginalized voices in District 3, and never stop fighting for economic and social justice for all.

Egan Orion’s website: https://www.eganforseattle.org/

Kshama Sawant

Seattle’s lower- and middle-income residents and small businesses feel that they are being left behind or pushed out by the city’s growing economy. What three concrete actions will you take to address those concerns?

The affordable housing crisis is the central issue facing working people in Seattle. We need universal rent control. The crisis can only be addressed through bold public policies to make housing affordable. We need a massive expansion of social housing (quality, permanently-affordable), funded by taxing big business.

I’m proud to have supported the City Council resolution for a Green New Deal that passed last month. I proposed amendments that would have overwhelmingly benefitted working class people. These included making clear that we need public transit to be free for all to use in order to expand ridership, advocate for rent control and expanding publicly funded affordable social housing, so people can afford to live near where they work, shop, and play.

Seattle has one of the most regressive tax systems in the Country. We need to tax big businesses and Seattle’s super-rich – not working and middle class families – to fund transit, housing, social services and the other pressing needs. But as we saw from the shameful Amazon Tax repeal, that we cannot rely on establishment politicians, even well-intentioned ones, who under pressure will capitulate to big business.

What is your stance on the city of Seattle’s “welcoming city” policies on residents’ immigrant statuses? Should any of these policies be changed, and how?

Seattle’s current “sanctuary city” laws at present provide few real protections. Seattle should refuse all cooperation with Trump’s deportation machine. Seattle should end heavy-handed policing tactics that criminalize immigrants and people of color. Anyone suspected of a crime who ends up in King County Jail or in the court system risks being deported by ICE agents. Furthermore, immigrants face discriminatory housing and employment policies, and bear the brunt of Seattle’s affordability crisis. Seattle can’t consider itself a “sanctuary city” if working class immigrants can’t afford to live here.

I have used my office to build movements against Trump’s xenophobia and bigotry. I joined a direct action to block the ICE office in downtown Seattle; my office organized a rally in response to the first DACA recipient in Seattle to be detained under Trump in 2017; we supported the hunger strikes two years ago at the Northwest Detention Center against the inhumane conditions for undocumented immigrants at the prison; and I was proud to help lead a mass nonviolent civil disobedience at SeaTac Airport to demanding the release of those detained by Trump’s racist Muslim Ban.

Reports of hate crimes have been on the rise in Seattle. How will you make sure people of all backgrounds feel safe from perpetrators of hate crimes and also feel safe reporting the crimes?

These acts are a part of the emboldening of right-wing ideas since Trump took office. We need to build social movements to protect against bigoted attacks and to make further gains in our struggle for full equality for all.

Our city needs an independently elected office to investigate workplace sexual, gender, and racial harassment and provide support and justice for those impacted by hate crimes. We need to fully fund anti-bullying and harassment education in all our schools and workplaces. Seattle should reject federal laws and that allow discriminatory practices and policies.

Through our movement and my work around the People’s Budget, we’ve won important gains for the LGBTQ community, including funding for an LGBTQ senior center in the heart of Capitol Hill and an LGBTQ wellness center at NOVA High School.

District 3 — including the historically people-of-color Central District and the historically LGBTQ Capitol Hill — is at the epicenter of gentrification in Seattle. To make our city an accepting place for the LGBTQ community and immigrants we need to fight for rent control and a massive expansion of social housing make Seattle affordable for all.

What letter grade would you give the city on reforming race and ethnicity-based bias in law enforcement and why did you give that grade? What would you do differently, if anything?

Grade: F

The city has failed to make meaningful steps toward police accountability. Even the very limited accountability reforms passed by council were undermined in the last contract which the City signed with the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild. I was the only elected official to vote against that contract. It was later ruled by the Federal Judge Robart to make Seattle out of compliance with the Federal Consent Decree on Excessive Use of Force.

While there have been some improvements, I cannot in good conscience give the reforms any grade other than an ‘F’ regarding race and ethnicity-based bias in law enforcement, when black and brown people continue to be disproportionately killed by Seattle Police Officers. What grade would Charleena Lyles give the reforms were she somehow able to grade them posthumously?

I believe we must create a democratically elected community oversight board with full powers to hold police accountable, including the ability to set department policy and to subpoena officers.

What is your track record on addressing the needs of immigrants and communities of color in your district?

As an elected representative of Seattle’s working people for the last six years, and as a South Asian immigrant woman, I am proud to have worked alongside communities of color, workers and the labor movement, small businesses, and marginalized communities.

Together we’ve won the first $15 minimum wage of any major city in the country (the most effective single policy to reduce Seattle’s racial pay gap); replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day; blocked a proposed $160 million police bunker; won tens of million for affordable housing and social services, and passed a series of landmark renters’ rights victories.

Unionization is one of the most effective ways to end the racial pay gap, and I have used my office to support workers in their efforts to form unions and fight for workplace rights.

When I have questions about how issues may affect immigrant communities, I have discussed with the activists and representatives from those communities. We helped SHA tenants organize against the 400% rent increases. We’ve helped the Vietnamese Senior Association fight for and win funding for bus passes and cultural enrichment activities.

Kshama Sawant’s website: https://www.kshamasawant.org

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