New Seattle City Council, same policy on homelessness?
Homelessness was a big issue — maybe THE issue — for Seattle voters in this election.
In a recent Crosscut / Elway poll, 64 percent of voters disapproved of how the city was handling that issue.
KUOW's Kate Walters spoke with All Things Considered host Kim Malcolm about how things are playing out after the updated ballot count on Wednesday afternoon.
Malcolm: What do you see?
Walters: It’s a bit of a mixed bag. It doesn't look like an outright rebuke of the incumbents or a dramatic swing one way or the other.
Incumbent Kshama Sawant is trailing. But the other two incumbents running for reelection, Lisa Herbold and Debora Juarez, remain in the lead in their races.
So voters certainly weren't in the mood to completely remake the City Council with a fresh slate of candidates.
Some of the candidates backed by the business community are winning, but not all of them. So it doesn't look like there's going to be this big swing toward a more moderate, center-leaning council.
What changes are we likely to see then in policies around homelessness?
It may be that there's actually no huge shift in the way that the council is tackling this issue. Some of the candidates who had more hard-line messages about cracking down on tent camps are trailing at this point; Heidi Wills, running for District 6 in northwest Seattle, for example.
At the same time, some of the candidates who are on the other end of the spectrum and want to stop camp removals altogether are also trailing, like Shaun Scott running in the district that includes the University District.
What would it mean if Kshama Sawant loses?
Sawant’s been one of the most outspoken council members on many issues, including some homelessness policies.
She's championed some pretty bold moves, including the controversial head tax. She's also pushed to defund the city's team that does both outreach to and removal of unauthorized encampments. And she's currently proposing legislation that would vastly increase the number of tiny house villages in the city to create more shelter for people who are homeless.
Now, if she loses, that doesn't mean that other council members won't take up the mantle of those issues. But some of that 'shout it from the rooftops, swinging for the fences' type of energy might be lost.
I think it depends on who you talk to as to whether that's a good thing or a bad thing.
What have homelessness advocates told you?
They actually don't see these results signaling a huge change around how homelessness is handled.
People told me that while the City Council has become this lightning rod, policy priorities actually don't get set in a silo for this issue. The council works with the mayor, the county, other stakeholders. So it's not really up to them alone anyway.
Another thing I heard is that there's actually a lot of agreement even among candidates who are opposing each other.