This is part two of a two-part series on the Jewish candidates in the Seattle City Council race. See part one here.
When Michael George was growing up, his single mother worked multiple jobs to keep the family afloat. There came a point where she could no longer afford to send him to Hebrew school. The rabbi told her not to worry — the fees were waived and other parents showed up to take him to and from school.
It was a quiet mitzvah, and it’s something he’s not forgotten.
“All these people really stepped up for us as a family. They didn’t say anything about it — I didn’t even know about it until after the fact — and there were really no strings attached,” he says. “We need to step up for everyone. We don’t need to make a big deal about it, but we need to take care of everyone. Making sure that you find opportunities to do quiet mitzvahs is really what it’s going to take to make this world a better place.”
George is taking those lessons learned as a child into his campaign for Seattle City Council. He’s joined by at least six other Jewish candidates in a crowded primary (four of whom — Tammy Morales, Ari Hoffman, Joshua Newman, and Dan Strauss — Jewish in Seattle covered in the June issue) that has more than 50 people vying for the chance to steer the city.
Running for the seat in District 7 (Pioneer Square, Downtown, Belltown, Magnolia, and Queen Anne) that will be vacated by Sally Bagshaw, George believes his background working in the private sector on complex housing and transportation projects will be helpful when it comes to practically addressing issues such as affordable housing and cost-effective public transit.
“We need to balance our approach to homelessness a little better,” he says. “We need to step up on treatment for people suffering from mental health and substance abuse issues so we can get them the help they need, but we also need to make sure our public spaces feel safe.” In District 7, George advocates for a one-for-one replacement of the Magnolia Bridge, increased bus service, and taking community centers seriously. The father of two young children also wants to work on a district high school and downtown elementary school, middle-income family-sized housing, and expanding daycare facilities.
In District 4 (Eastlake, Wallingford, Ravenna, University District, and Laurelhurst), Cathy Tuttle is concerned about sustainability — and while the environmental component is a huge piece of that, it goes well beyond trees and air quality.
“In order to make a community that continues into the future, it needs to contain more than just green — it needs to include people and the lives that they live,” Tuttle says. “The social justice impacts of sustainability, children’s health and education, maternal morbidity — all of those aspects are what make up a sustainable community.”
Tuttle has a PhD in urban design and planning from the University of Washington and has spent her time in Seattle in public service, in roles such as working on Seattle’s neighborhood planning commission and with Parks and Recreation as a project manager and planner, bringing about 40 new and upgraded parks and community centers during her tenure. In her eight years working as the executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a coalition focused on safe streets, the organization advocated for about $100 million for street improvements in the city.
Among her priorities are frequent, reliable transportation; safe walking routes; and affordable workforce housing. In knocking on more than 5,000 doors in her district, she’s heard time and time again how concerned people are about no longer being able to afford to live in the city they love, and she hopes to change that.
“The whole idea of providing for the people that serve you, providing sabbaticals, giving solace to the stranger in your midst — all of these are deeply ingrained parts of Jewish culture where we support everyone,” Tuttle says. “There’s a sense of community and family that drives all of my work.”
To the south in District 1 (West Seattle and South Park), Phil Tavel has been wanting to run for City Council for the better part of a decade, and now, the time is right. With a wide-ranging background — he’s been everything from a high school physics teacher to the founder of a video game company to a public defender — Tavel believes his varied skill set in mediation, understanding complex situations, public speaking, technology and science, and fundraising will be an asset.
His first priority is creating a stronger safety net in the criminal justice system. For those who enter jail homeless, instead of being released back onto the streets, he would like to see them placed in a transitional program with access to treatment if needed, vocational training, and a pathway to permanent housing. He also wants to audit some of the city departments, such as transportation and utilities, to get a better understanding of their efficiencies and inefficiencies. “If you can measure it, you can manage it,” he says. “I don’t think we have a good handle on what deliverables we’re getting.”
Tavel believes the city should find ways to collaborate with the small-business community and explore public-private partnerships. In his home district, there are several dangerous intersections and crosswalks to fix, along with crumbling roads.
Going to temple growing up, Tavel was introduced to the values of hard work, studying, and giving back. “I learned to be a valuable member of your community — when you see that things can be better, figure out what you can do to do your small part for it,” he says. “There’s always more to learn, always more to do in your community, and that rings really true now more than ever.”