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caption: Ballot drop box in South Park
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Ballot drop box in South Park
Credit: David Hyde

Seattle’s top issue for its next mayor, according to these voters

KUOW waited near the ballot drop box outside the South Park library for hours this week, asking people what their top issue is in Seattle’s race for mayor.

The response was nearly universal: Homelessness. How to address it is where voters, and candidates, differ.

Longtime South Park resident Charles Lambert said as mayor he would cut spending for certain items he considers less important — like public art — to make homelessness the number one priority.

"I've just seen so many homeless camps, [and people living in] buses on the other side of South Park, it's just ridiculous,” he said.

caption: South Park resident Tadesse Feleke says if he were mayor, nobody would have to sleep outside in a tent
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South Park resident Tadesse Feleke says if he were mayor, nobody would have to sleep outside in a tent
Credit: David Hyde

South Park resident Tadesse Feleke said as mayor he would make sure people do not have to sleep outside in tents.

RELATED: Follow KUOW's election coverage here

“I would set millions aside, and build apartment for homelessness,” Feleke said.

Sheena Wang. who said she's new in town, would make "houselessness" her top priority and "make sure people are getting resources to get back into society.”

Richard Sysinger said he's concerned about, “the people on the streets, stuff like that, and lawlessness, just people living outside of the law."

If Sysinger were mayor, he would work to increase access to housing, mental health services, and get people help with addiction.

Matthew Mihlon said no mayor can solve what he says is the larger problem, which is capitalism.

“I guess I'm frustrated because it seems like other places in the world manage to deal with this. I think it's deeply systemic. It's baked in. I mean, it's intentional, in some sense, you know, the level of income inequality that we have in the United States is intentional,” Mihlon said.

caption: South Park resident Matthew Mihlon says no mayor alone can solve homelessness
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South Park resident Matthew Mihlon says no mayor alone can solve homelessness
Credit: David Hyde

South Park resident Bob Neal said he would tax businesses to provide more help, but he would also take tougher approach to unauthorized encampments.

“We'll give you everything you need. But you're not allowed to live on the street — period. You know, either leave, or take what we have,” he said.

Mayoral candidates on the issue

Homelessness is also a top priority for the mayoral candidates, but they differ on what to do about it.

One of the clearest differences between Seattle's mayoral candidates is how they plan to vote on the proposed Compassion Seattle charter amendment, which would amend the city's charter.

The change to the charter would require the city to spend more to help homeless people. For example, it proposes the creation of 2,000 new units of emergency housing within the first year.

Deputy Mayor Casey Sixkiller has said he would vote for it, as would former Councilmember Bruce Harrell.

“This is a crisis and we need to treat it as such. Modifying the charter brings it to the critical status of police, fire, and other critical institutions like our libraries,” Harrell said.

caption: Bruce Harrell is a former Seattle City Council Member and candidate for mayor in the 2021 primary election.
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Bruce Harrell is a former Seattle City Council Member and candidate for mayor in the 2021 primary election.
Credit: Courtesy of the Bruce Harrell Campaign

Candidates who say they will vote against the proposed charter amendment include Council President Lorena Lorena González, and Architect Andrew Grant Houston.

caption: Lorena González is a Seattle City Council Member running for mayor in the 2021 primary election.
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Lorena González is a Seattle City Council Member running for mayor in the 2021 primary election.
Credit: Courtesy of the Lorena González Campaign

Critics, including mayoral candidates, have said "Compassion Seattle," would make it too easy for the city to remove unauthorized encampments, which is amendment underlying goal.

“I am not interested in an attempt to legalize sweeps,” Houston said.

Colleen Echohawk, an advocate for homeless people, is also against the amendment in part because she it doesn’t identify new sources of tax revenue.

“It mandates a bunch of things happening without providing funding to pay for them,” she said.

caption: Colleen Echohawk is a candidate for Seattle mayor in the 2021 primary.
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Colleen Echohawk is a candidate for Seattle mayor in the 2021 primary.
Credit: Courtesy of the Colleen Echohawk Campaign

If you are a registered Seattle voter and you decide to vote in the August primary, your ballots must be returned to a ballot drop box or postmarked by August 3. The top two vote getters will advance to the general election.

Disclosure: Colleen Echohawk is a former board member for KUOW.