This story is part one of two pieces on the Jewish candidates in the City Council race. Read Part Two here.
A chorus of boos and jeers filled Ballard’s United Methodist Church until they fused into a chant: “OP-EN MIC! OP-EN MIC!” The moderated discussion of a corporate tax proposal to fund homeless services was set to answer written questions, but the crowd had other plans. Seattle City Council-
member Mike O’Brien’s attempt to speak was shouted down; another panelist was mocked. Questions posed to the audience were met with screams of “Resign!”
That was May 2, 2018, dubbed by local National Public Radio affiliate KUOW as “the day that Seattle Nice died.” The torch-and-pitchfork hostility that temporarily disrupted the city’s passive-aggressive stereotype shocked many but surprised few. A year later, the groundswell of frustration over homelessness, housing, and transportation seems to have reached a breaking point, and thanks to district elections, voters know just where to point their fingers.
More than 50 candidates have declared their bids for the Seattle City Council August primary, touting hyperlocal platforms and addressing concerns that span bike lanes to Bezos. The four candidates who identify as Jewish are no exception.
In District 2 (Beacon Hill, Georgetown, Chinatown-International District, and Rainier Beach) community organizer and human rights commissioner Tammy Morales is one of six candidates competing for the seat Bruce Harrell is vacating. Morales, who has been involved with social action activities at Temple Beth Am, emphasizes economic, racial, and social equity. She’s a heavy hitter, backed by an endorsement from US Representative Pramila Jayapal.
“The economy isn’t working for everybody, and there are so many creative solutions coming out of South Seattle and [Chinatown-International District] that often go unheard,” Morales says. She sees comprehensive updates to infrastructure and policy framework as necessary and wants to find progressive revenue sources, which could include revisiting the head tax.
After years developing connections across the diverse district, Morales feels uniquely qualified to be a voice for working families. “For this district in particular, it’s important that the representative has those personal relationships in all of our ethnic communities to understand what’s important to each neighborhood.”
Among Morales’s crowded field of opponents is Ari Hoffman, a business owner and synagogue leader based in Seward Park whose focus is public safety. Spurred into action by proposed legislation in 2016 to allow homeless campsites in green spaces, and the discovery of waste and needles in Jewish cemeteries off Aurora Avenue in North Seattle, Hoffman — who likens Georgetown to a zombie apocalypse after dark — is outraged by the lack of response from councilmembers over homelessness and its connection to housing affordability, drug use, and crime.
His affiliation with neighborhood groups Safe Seattle and Speak Out Seattle, along with his interviews on conservative programs, have generated friction in Seattle’s progressive circles. That hasn’t prevented him from garnering support within the Jewish community, he says. “When you’ve worked in the community as long as I have, not everybody agrees with you. But this is a different forum, and people know I’m a guy who gets things done.”
Up in District 4 (Eastlake, Wallingford, Ravenna, University District, and Laurelhurst), another hub of Jewish life, Joshua Newman, a Boeing employee, former president of his neighborhood community council, father of four, and Beth Shalom board member, hopes to bring an engineer’s sensibility to solving housing and transportation problems. The winner of this crowded race will replace interim councilmember Abel Pacheco Jr., appointed by the Council in April after Rob Johnson stepped down.
A staunch transit advocate — many of his tweets end with the hashtag #ThinkOutsideTheCar — Newman’s platform notes the need for the City Council to provide “legislative oversight” of the mayor’s office to ensure progress is made on the transportation front. Newman sees the district’s increase in homelessness as a sub-problem of housing availability and proposes steps like expanding Housing First programs and updating housing policies. Acknowledging concern around structural changes to the area, Newman is optimistic. “We should look to beautiful cities” — he offers Boston and Amsterdam as examples — “as proof that density, beauty, and iconic architecture easily co-exist.
Over in District 6 (Ballard, Green Lake) Dan Strauss’s strong political bona fides as a former legislative aide for Sen. David Frockt and current policy adviser for councilmember Sally Bagshaw may give him an edge in the race for retiring Mike O’Brien’s seat.
Strauss has high hopes for unifying a district deeply divided on homelessness, zoning, transportation, and taxes, believing his roots as a born-and-raised Ballardite will work to his advantage. “Ballard in particular has gone through so many changes, it’s time we have some homegrown leadership that preserves the community while promoting the economy,” Strauss says. “Bridging the gap between where we come from and where we’re going is important.”
The son of social workers, Strauss says, “the concept of service, of ‘repairing the world,’” was rooted in his Jewish upbringing and informs his ethos of servant leadership. This ethic, commonly referred to as “tikkun olam,” has come to connote social responsibility among American Jews, but the candidates have distinctly personal interpretations behind their calls to service.
For Morales, whose mother worked two jobs and often had to bring her daughter along on weekends, “the social justice driver is just part of who I am.” She hopes to leverage her position against the “hateful rhetoric” she sees rearing its head against the city’s most vulnerable populations. To Newman, it’s a baseline belief structure tied to his faith, a “recognition of the essential value of human life and that everyone deserves respect.” Hoffman puts it simply: “When people need help, you help them.”
But even approached with the best of intentions, serving the public still means navigating bureaucracy for your neighbors in a political climate where, often, the person who shouts the loudest is heard.
Elected officials shouldn’t have to be yelled at, says Strauss, but the job isn’t for the faint of heart. “I’ve been yelled at by Ballardites since I was a youth soccer referee at age 14,” he says, so it’s “nothing new to me.”
Next up: Read part two of this story featuring Council candidates Michael George, Cathy Tuttle, and Phil Tavel.