Candidates for Seattle city council in district 3, Kshama Sawant, left, and Egan Orion, right, debate on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Town Hall Seattle.
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Candidates for Seattle city council in district 3, Kshama Sawant, left, and Egan Orion, right, debate on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Town Hall Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Boos and hisses at the Sawant-Orion debate at Seattle's Town Hall

Organizers urged the crowd to be quiet at last night’s District 3 debate between Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant and challenger Egan Orion.

But the crowd of around 400 at Town Hall wasn’t having it.

There was lots of animated applause, finger-snapping and hissing as well as jeers and boos when moderator Chris Daniels named debate sponsor, Amazon.

That’s because Sawant, best-known for her battle to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, has also been a fierce critic of Seattle’s biggest corporation.

The candidates were asked if they would continue to fight for the “head tax,” also known as the Amazon tax, which the council repealed last year. Sawant indicated that she would, because Seattle’s taxes are regressive.

“We cannot hold our breath and expect that the corporate-dominated state legislature is somehow going to get its act together after 40 years and do something,” she said.

Orion did not voice support for the head tax. A community leader who runs PrideFest and is the former head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, Orion said the head tax failed because of polls that showed “8 percent of voters trusted that the council would use the head tax funds wisely.” He vowed to “restore trust” with the voters.

Based on the primary results, the race for District 3, which includes Capitol Hill, Madison Park, and Beacon Hill, is viewed as a highly competitive race.

Sawant came out of the primary with less support that she might have liked: 37 percent, which puts her in the danger zone for an incumbent.

Rent control

The candidates also disagreed on rent control. Sawant has just introduced a new rent control measure to fight displacement. If it passes landlords can’t raise the rent more than the rate of inflation. That's called rent “stabilization” in most cities.

Rent control is currently illegal under state law. As such, the measure could only go into effect if state law changed to allow it.

Orion blasted the plan last night, saying small landlords would sell their buildings, which would, in turn, hurt supply and make the city even less affordable. But Orion does also support a version of rent stabilization, where landlords can’t raise rents more than about 10 percent per year.


Homelessness

Sawant and Orion also sparred over homelessness.

Sawant has proposed legislation to fund more tiny house villages, “where we have wooden structures that offer privacy and dignity and power outlets, which are especially important to disabled homeless community members.”

Orion said he’d push to invest in housing for chronically homeless people with services on site.

“Instead of investing heavily in these short-term solutions, we need to invest big and invest for the long term so we can help those who are suffering most on our city streets get the help they need, get back and be stable and be able to contribute to society again,” he said.

Candidates for Seattle city council in district 7, Jim Pugel, left, and Andrew Lewis, right, debate on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Town Hall Seattle.
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Candidates for Seattle city council in district 7, Jim Pugel, left, and Andrew Lewis, right, debate on Thursday, September 26, 2019, at Town Hall Seattle.
Credit: KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

District 7: Andrew Lewis and Jim Pugel

A much more congenial tone was struck in the other council debate last night between Seattle city prosecutor Andrew Lewis and former Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel.

Even when the candidates disagreed, it was very hard to tell in this debate for council District 7, which runs from Pioneer Square to Magnolia.

One topic where the lawmen do not agree: Safe injection sites. Lewis is in favor. Pugel is against.

They also disagreed on what to do about repeat offenders, with former cop Pugel taking the somewhat tougher line.

“If they don’t take treatment, if they don’t take diversion, if they don’t take reasonable offers, we have to incapacitate them,” he said.

Lewis pointed to three priorities: “A therapeutic drug court where folks can opt in to get the kind of accountability we need. Making sure we have a high risk offender unit in the city attorney’s office. And strengthening our collaboration with the other jurisdictions in the region,” he said.

This race is also seen as highly competitive. In general, Lewis has received more backing from labor, particularly UNITE HERE! Local 8, and Pugel, from the business community.

Ballots will be mailed out on October 16.

Correction, 11:45 a.m., 9/27/2019: The Seattle City Council passed, then repealed, the "head tax" on businesses. An earlier version of this story was unclear.