West Seattle council candidates clash over drugs, cops, sweeps
District 1 city council candidates Maren Costa and Rob Saka mixed it up in front of a live audience at KUOW this week, with some lively back-and-forth on key issues including crime, cops, and drugs.
The scuffling between the candidates for District 1 started from the top, over a new law that makes public drug use and possession prosecutable under Seattle law.
The law is in part intended to prevent possible “harm” to the public. In an executive order, Mayor Bruce Harrell spelled out locations where police could consider making an arrest on that basis, like bus stops or schools.
Costa, a climate activist and former Amazon employee, told the crowd she wasn’t sure if she would have voted for the law or not. She questioned how effective it would be in helping people struggling with addiction.
“If evidence showed that locking people up worked, let's lock them up. But it doesn't,” Costa said.
The law emphasizes getting people into treatment over making arrests but does not include new funding for treatment. Saka, a former lawyer for the tech firm Meta, said he would have voted for the measure, despite the lack of new funding for treatment.
“The status quo approach where we turn our back on people in crisis and need hasn't worked. Fentanyl overdoses, drug overdoses, are killing people,” he said.
Sparks really started to fly when the conversation turned to public safety and policing, which has been a frequent source of friction between the two.
Costa said she’s the right person to tackle the recent spike in violent crime because she’s the only candidate “with a plan,” which includes support for hiring more police as well as support for alternatives to policing, such as skilled unarmed responders.
Saka countered with similar policy proposals, and repeated a claim he’s been making in debates that he is the only candidate with a “consistent” message on public safety. He accused Costa of backtracking on her earlier statement of support for “defund the police” at a King County Labor Council event earlier this year.
“Unlike my opponent, I said it was a horrible idea. She said it was a good idea. And now she's seemingly against it,” Saka said.
To be clear: The Seattle City Council never actually defunded the police by 50%, but a majority of council members did at that time express varying levels of support for that plan.
At KUOW, Costa clarified that she only meant “defund the police” was the right idea at the time for the City Council, citing polling numbers to suggest it was popular with Seattle residents back in 2020.
“Now in retrospect, did it work? No. Did we have a plan in place? No. We can do better,” Costa said.
For the most part, Costa bore a closer resemblance to the left side of the current council, with Saka sounding the more centrist of the two candidates, at one point saying he voted for Mayor Bruce Harrell and City Attorney Ann Davison back in 2021. In contrast, Costa voted for former council president Lorena Gonzalez for mayor and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy for city attorney.
On homelessness, Costa said she rejects the city's current approach to sweeping encampments, “because we are not doing a good enough job of hooking up people with services.”
“Moving people from one site to another is expensive, inhumane, and ineffective,’ she said.
On the other side, Saka said he backs the city’s current approach.
“We're not doing anyone any favors when we continue to turn our backs on people suffering, in need, and living in unsafe, unsanitary and deplorable conditions,” he said.
On what to do about the fact that the city is projecting giant budget deficits starting in 2025, Costa said she would support a proposed high-pay CEO ratio tax, whereas Saka was a “maybe," and added that the city should also be more “disciplined” about spending, a view he shares with the Seattle Chamber of Commerce.
There was some agreement, however.
Both Costa and Saka share a couple of favorite places in West Seattle — Alki Beach and Easy Street Records. And both voted for Lisa Herbold, who is currently the councilmember in West Seattle and who will walk away from council at the end of the year.
Herbold cited the unpleasant rancor that’s bubbled up in Seattle politics in recent years as one reason for her departure.