Back to the Middle: Post-election Analysis of the Seattle 2017 Races

November 10, 2017 

The following factors had the most influence on the Seattle races, in descending order of importance…

● Low voter turnout
● Low-info voting
● The media
● Labor unions
● National politics
● Local politics
● Money
● The candidates

With the exception of Mitzi Johanknecht’s upset win in the King County Sheriff race, there were no surprises, and in fact, the only reason Johanknecht won was because the Seattle Times ran a couple exposes in the weeks before the election. (This is one of the few things the Times has done right lately.)

For races that were not contested by an incumbent (mayor, council Position 8, city attorney) the slightly-less-radical candidates who had machine backing and/or big money behind them won.

The Big One: 2017 Seattle Mayoral finalists Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. Image: KOMO

The candidates who lost will be tempted to blame it on money, but that’s actually near the bottom of the list. Cary Moon didn’t lose because she didn’t have the war chest Jenny Durkan had; she lost because she was too radical for voters. Moon squandered what political capital she had with the middle by leaving the issues behind and trying to court Nikkita Oliver in the last weeks of the campaign. Oliver was clearly bitter about Moon edging her out in the primary and she was never going to requite Moon’s affections. But even if she had, it wouldn’t have closed the gap between Durkan and Moon. I always said Moon shouldn’t have been in the race….


Council Position 8

Like Jenny Durkan, Teresa Mosqueda also benefited from voters turning away from the radical left. Mosqueda presents as a social justice warrior, but her opponent Jon Grant is a sullen, anti-establishment radical of the Kshama Sawant type. And a White male to boot! Labor and Democratic Party bosses needed to keep this character out of City Hall, and Mosqueda was their secret weapon: a sexy, bouncy young Latina who just happened (what luck!) to be an experienced labor organizer and political operative with tons of “progressive” credibility. It just doesn’t get any better than that for the Machine, folks. Between her charisma, the help she got from unions and the Dems, and the public’s disenchantment with radicals like Grant on the other, Mosqueda could have won the election without spending a dime.

City Council Position 8 (citywide) finalists Teresa Mosqueda and Jon Grant


Council Position 9

Ironically, the same forces that kept an bad candidate out of one seat kept a bad candidate in another one. Lorena Gonzalez was the incumbent, and like any smart incumbent who’s not dealing with a scandal, she sat the election out. Gonzalez made just a handful of public appearances and did not distinguish herself at any of them. She relied on the Stranger, the unions, the Democratic Party machine, and lazy, apathetic voters to do the work for her. As I demonstrated in a series of blog pieces, Gonzalez cheated on the Democracy Voucher Program and in that way she was able to score some extra cash, but she probably would have trounced challenger Pat Murakami anyway. In the end, it didn’t matter that Murakami – a grassroots activist and business owner who had a broad base of support in the neighborhoods – ran a smart and principled campaign, but wasn’t enough to overcome the incumbent’s edge. Especially in a down-ballot race where that incumbent had help from Labor and the Democratic Party bosses.

City Council Position 9 (citywide) finalists Lorena Gonzalez and Pat Murakami

City Attorney

The city attorney race was much like Position 9. On one side you had an incumbent, Pete Holmes, who wasn’t a complete screw-up and who had the backing of the Democratic Party machine, unions, and the hard-left media. Against him was Murray aide Scott Lindsay, who, though he had the advantage of youth and a political pedigree, was cast as not experienced enough AND not left enough. A death sentence in Seattle. This was another down-ballot race that didn’t attract much interest from voters. Despite the blow to his ego, Lindsay’s probably not going to fade away.

City Attorney finalists Scott Lindsay and Pete Holmes


A word about the media…

Increasingly, the press exerts a corrupting influence on American politics, that’s a given, but it had an especially pernicious influence in the Seattle elections this year. You might think that the media’s influence extends no further than the occasional expose or the editors’ picks in voters guides. That’s not the half of it.

The media shape voters’ choices from the earliest stages of the race by helping some candidates while holding back others.

After accused pedophile Ed Murray dropped out of the Seattle mayor race, the field became choked with 21 candidates, many of whom were vanity candidates or outright kooks. Of that number, there were at least 10 viable candidates, some of whom represented a moderate-to-right point of view. Unfortunately, the two main Seattle newspapers, the Seattle Times and the Stranger, immediately sidelined the moderate candidates and selected six left-wing candidates that they considered viable. Other organizations followed their lead, and from that point on, these six “leading” candidates would be the ones who got the interviews and invitations to forums, while the other 15 had to wait in the lobby. The media’s hasty filtering of candidates dumbed down the primary gave us a dumber general election. It never occurred to the voters frustrated with their lack of meaningful choices in November that that had happened back in May, when the Stranger and Times had colluded to keep moderate-to-right candidates off the field.

When you take that kind of media shaping and apply it to an electorate that’s already disengaged and apathetic, it’s a recipe for low voter turnout. And that’s a recipe for a failed city. Which is exactly what Seattle will become, unless we keep heading back. Back to the middle.

–David Preston

Disclosure: I was a candidate in the Position 9 city council race. I also managed mayoral candidate Harley Lever. –Editor

 

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Recalling Mike O’Brien: The Basics

November 14, 2018 

The right to recall an elected official is a constitutional right of the people set forth in our constitution. The procedure is governed by statute. A “typewritten charge” needs to be submitted and it has to allege malfeasance, misfeasance or violation of the oath of office.* That charge has to be specific as to date, location and nature of the act or acts complained of. The charge has to be submitted by a person in the position to know and signed under oath. The prosecutor then writes a ballot synopsis. Then there is a hearing in superior court. The hearing can involve lawyers and testimony.

The court decides whether the factual allegations are sufficient (the court’s role is not to decide whether they are truthful) to move forward and also whether to make changes to the ballot synopsis. The official to be recalled can appeal a sufficiency finding to the supreme court. A sufficient charge can move forward with a petition and there are timelines for gathering signatures, timeline for the above-mentioned hearing, signature requirements (35% of total number of votes cast for the position), form requirements, an opportunity for response, a recall election – majority rules. If the recall is successful, the seat is vacant. What happens next? I believe the City Council can then fill the position until the next election but I would need to read more.

The standard for proving the legal and factual sufficiency of a petition in the superior court is high and there is a well-developed body of cases rejecting petitions based on, essentially, policy or judgment disagreements, among other similar things. There was a recall effort against Kshama Sawant’s predecessor Richard Conlin, but the Recall Conlin petition did not clear this high bar. 


*
(1) “Misfeasance” or “malfeasance” in office means any wrongful conduct that affects, interrupts, or interferes with the performance of official duty;

(a) Additionally, “misfeasance” in office means the performance of a duty in an improper manner; and

(b) Additionally, “malfeasance” in office means the commission of an unlawful act;

(2) “Violation of the oath of office” means the neglect or knowing failure by an elective public officer to perform faithfully a duty imposed by law.

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The Ins and Outs of Recall Elections

November 12, 2017

This article is the first in a series of posts related to removing Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien from office.

A recall election is one option we have for ridding ourselves of bad politicians. Recall elections are difficult to organize and win, and that’s by design. You don’t want them to be too easy to win or you risk intimidating the good guys and undermining the democratic system. But you can’t make them too hard to win, either, or you risk allowing garden-variety oafs and miscreants to morph into downright tyrants.

Recall elections can succeed (or fail) in several ways. If a recall vote succeeds and you remove the offending politician, that is an apparent success. However, a moral defeat can still be snatched from victory’s jaws, because when the bad pol is removed, a successor must then be appointed (not elected) to serve out the rest of the bad guy’s term. If the successor is even worse than the pol who was removed, you can chalk that up as a moral defeat.

Victory can be snatched from defeat’s jaws too. Even if the recall fails, depending on how far it gets and how it’s conducted, it might just weaken the target sufficiently so that he falls in the next election. Or it might discourage him from even running again. Some of you will recall citizen Elizabeth Campbell’s recall complaint against Councilmember Richard Conlin in 2011. Though that complaint didn’t get past the first hurdle (a judge found it “insufficient” to proceed to the petition stage) the resulting bad publicity for Conlin tarnished his image and likely contributed to his loss in the next election.*

And there is yet another risk to be considered here, because the flip side of a tarnished image for the pol is a burnished one for him. Should he survive the recall with a handy margin, he will be stronger than before, and if that happens, then the would-be recallers might actually be lengthening the bad guy’s “hour upon the stage,” rather than shortening it. Something to think about.

Lately I’ve been looking into the matter of recalls, with an eye toward removing CM Mike O’Brien from his perch before his term’s up in 2019. In my next post, I’ll be sharing what I hear from the lawyers.

Thanks for reading and don’t touch that dial. –David Preston

*Conlin lost to Kshama Sawant, which was actually a moral defeat, since Sawant has been, if anything, even worse than Conlin was.

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Ethics Evasion Commission

November 7, 2017 

The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission enforces the Seattle Code of Ethics, which was designed to keep Seattle government honest by applying fines and other penalties to elected officials, candidates, and city employees who violated the rules of the Code. Unfortunately, the Commission has few tools at its disposal, and the ones it does have, it uses timidly. Its members are appointed by some of the same officials it is tasked with policing, and in some cases, which I’ll discuss below, it is staffed by these officials as well. The Commission is necessarily a political creature, and it is only as honest as the political culture in which it operates. When that culture is honest and peer pressure works to enforce normative behavior, the Commission appears to be working to keep everyone honest. As the culture degrades and becomes increasingly dishonest, the Commission lowers its standards accordingly. Where it blessed and sanctified an honest culture before, it now does the same for a corrupt one. And what else can it do? By itself it is powerless to change the course of events.

I’ve followed the doings of the Commission for the past two years and have noticed that when it comes to complaints against City employees and candidates, penalties are light, even when the complaint is proven. A complaint I made against City Council candidate Lorena Gonzalez was affirmed at a hearing in early September. The Commission acknowledged that Gonzalez – who was trying to be certified for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program – had wrongly claimed that she’d attended three public forums during the primary. But they declined to impose any penalty on her, reasoning that since the program was new, and since it was complex in some of its aspects, Gonzalez should be not be held to the letter of the law. A week later, the Commission qualified Gonzalez to participate in the Democracy Voucher Program, thereby entitling her to receive some $140,000 worth of vouchers she’d collected in the taxpayer-funded campaign financing program. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 4: Where was Lorena?

October 1, 2017 

News of my complaint to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission on Lorena Gonzalez made the Seattle Weekly. Good on them. One correction to their story: Weekly writer Dan Person noted correctly that I was a candidate for Seattle City Council Position 9; however, since I’m not a Democrat, he assumed I’m a Republican. Actually, I ran as an independent. Otherwise, Person got the story right:

[Click on the image below to read the Weekly story.]

Continue reading

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The New Witch Hunters

September 28, 2017 

In the 1950s, Senator Joe McCarthy’s “House Un-American Activities Committee” hung like a noose around the liberal establishment’s neck, ready to draw tight at a witness’s refusal to name his associates in the Communist Party. Initially McCarthy went after bona fide party members, but as the Red Scare deepened, HUAC expanded its reach and began going after anyone suspected of being a little too left for comfort. Artists, peace activists, labor organizers, or just anyone who questioned McCarthy’s methods: they were all suspect. Suddenly, there was a communist hiding under every bed.

Ultimately, McCarthy was disgraced and banished from politics, and the word “McCarthyism” entered the lexicon as a word meaning a culture of denunciation and fear, a method of silencing one’s political opponents through public interrogation and guilt-by-association. Perhaps we thought we’d left the witch hunts of those days behind with the Cold War and hula hoops. If so, we were wrong.

Trump’s America

November 2016: In the first days after Donald Trumps election, he began receiving unwelcome gestures of support from far-right political figures. They included white supremacist Richard Spencer, who concluded, from some of Trump’s campaign rhetoric on immigration, that a President Trump would be favorable to Spencer’s white identity politics. Trump was perceived as being slow to denounce Spencer and has made a series of political missteps on race since then, culminating with his equivocal remarks following a mass demonstration by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12. Continue reading

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 3: What’s left of the Dream?

September 8, 2017

Remember when the Democracy Voucher Program was proposed? It was supposed to get big money out of politics and get grassroots candidates in. We’re now six months into our first election with the vouchers and where are we on that whole get-money-out-politics thing? Well… let’s see.

¶ In June, someone sued the City over the program, claiming it was compelling taxpayers to pay for someone else’s free speech. That suit is in process and inside sources tell me it’s got legs. Continue reading

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Activating a space to discourage camping

September 4, 2017

In a recent public meeting on a homeless encampment in the Ballard, Seattle’s Director of Homelessness George Scarola told neighbors of the camp that they could “activate” public spaces to keep homeless people from camping there. According to a man who was at the meeting and gave me a report, Scarola told the crowd that, “Activation consists of making use of the space the homeless are camping in to make it harder for them to use it. Things like establishing gardens, planters, sticker bushes, a P-patch, and so on.”

I took this before-and-after picture in my White Center neighborhood to illustrate how the activation process works.

In July, a homeless man began camping and hoarding in a planting triangle along Ambaum Boulevard that had been reclaimed from unused pavement just a few years earlier. Although the area is highly visible to sidewalk and street traffic, the trees, the high grass, and the flat ground were all inducements to camping.

After tolerating the man’s presence for a month or more, neighboring businesses worked with police to have him removed from the spot. The area was then plowed up and replanted with plants that will colonize the space and make it inhospitable for camping. Or so it is hoped.

–David Preston

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 2

August 17, 2017

Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher Program has a long way yet to go to fix Seattle politics. One could argue that, rather than discouraging corruption, the program is actually rewarding it. The program gives qualifying candidates access to great quantities of taxpayer-funded campaign cash, but to qualify, candidates must attend three or more public debates or forums during the primary and campaign seasons, in addition to gathering signatures and raising a hefty chunk of cash on their own. The requirements are not impossible to meet, but they are steep, as I have discussed in other posts. So steep, in fact, that they are likely discouraging outsiders and self-funded candidates and encouraging everyone who’s left to cheat in order to get their hands on that extra cash.

Below is a complaint I filed today with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission (SEEC). The complaint is against Lorena Gonzalez, who is the incumbent in City Council Position 9, one of two citywide Council positions up for grabs in this year’s election. The gist of the complaint is that Gonzalez misrepresented herself on a self-report form. To qualify for the voucher program, Gonzalez was required to attend three “public forums” during the City Council primary season. Two of the three events Gonzalez claims to have attended were not public forums according by the SEEC’s definition, and Gonzalez apparently wasn’t even at one of the events she was trying to use in order to qualify.

The document below is four pages, including attachments.

Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Complaint Against Lorena Gonzalez 8.17.17 redacted

.

–by David Preston

Editor’s note: I was also a candidate in this race. I came in third in a field of seven candidates.

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Democracy Slouchers ~ Part 1

July 4, 2017

I-122, the “Honest Elections” initiative (aka the Democracy Voucher Program) was supposed to get money and corporate influence out of Seattle politics. It looked great on paper.

The PROBLEM: “Wealthy special interests have too much power in Seattle. When these interests spend huge amounts of money on elections, that’s not free speech; that’s buying our candidates.” —Voter’s guide “pro” statement excerpt

The SOLUTION: Give qualifying candidates taxpayer money to campaign and then cap the amount they can raise and spend on the election.

New PROBLEM: Limits on spending amounts don’t apply to PAC ads or other “independent expenditures” done by non-candidate groups. Nor do they apply to any candidate not participating in the voucher program.

New SOLUTION: Raise the contribution and spending limit to allow the Democracy Voucher participants spend as much as they want. As long as they can show that their opponent (or his PAC buddies) are spending more than them.

–Wait… wut? Now we’re back where we were before the Democracy Voucher program, where candidates can raise and spend as much as they want. The only difference is that now some candidates are getting money from taxpayers… including from taxpayers who don’t support them.

Here’s the operative lingo from a memo sent out by Seattle Ethics and Elections Committee Chairman Wayne Barnett last week:

If a qualified candidate demonstrates to SEEC that he or she has an opponent (whether or not participating in the Program) whose campaign spending has exceeded the Campaign Spending Limit for the position sought as indicated above, where SEEC deems the excess material it shall allow such candidate to choose to be released from the Campaign Spending Limit and campaign contribution limits for the Program, in which case SEEC shall allow such candidate to redeem his or her Democracy Vouchers received theretofore or thereafter up to the amount of the Campaign Spending Limit only, then allow such candidate to engage in campaign fundraising without regard to any Program requirements.

Don’t kid yourselves Social Justice Warriors. Money is just as much a factor as ever in Seattle politics. And so is influence. Whether it flows from the spigot of a giant oil corporation or from the mouths of a hundred casting-call protesters at City Hall. It’s there, alright. All your lofty ideals haven’t changed a thing. Maybe they’ve even made it worse.

–David Preston

See an article about other issues with the Democracy Voucher program here. The City of Seattle was recently sued over the program by a man who claims it’s un-Constitutional. You can read more about that here.

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The Testament of Christian Otto

June 24, 2017

Two months ago, I was contacted by a homeless man named Chris Otto. Mr. Otto claimed he had been in a position of authority at two homeless programs run by SHARE (the Seattle Housing and Resource Effort) and had some info he wanted to pass along concerning the group’s operation. This was not the first time I’d been offered an expose by an unhappy SHARE client or employee, and I respond to such offers cautiously, because they typically don’t pan out.

True to the pattern I’d seen with other SHARE exiles, Otto was a bit scattered, as one would expect from a person in his situation. Yet he was considerably more focused than some of the other inside sources I’d worked with, so I stayed in touch with him while I thought about how to handle the information he was giving me. I asked him to summarize his observations in a letter, which he did (see below).  I make no claim as to the accuracy of Mr. Otto’s statements, but they are broadly consistent with what I’ve heard from many others. My own research supports some of his claims.


The Testament

That [SHARE boss] Scott Morrow manipulates the people in SHARE needs to be underlined; there seems to be a level of sadism in his demeanor as well. He monopolizes people’s attention by manipulating them into participating on committees to do various kinds of chores. There’s the finance meetings, communication group, Direct Action Work Group (DAWG), Obtuse Objective Group (OOG), bar committee, screening committee, power lunch, weekly “house” meetings, social media group, grant writing committee, political rallies, plus other stray duties such as Elective Committee* (EC) and security responsibilities. How anyone could be expected to have a life outside of the organization is beyond me. Continue reading

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Ghostwriter

June 5, 2017

What would you think if you discovered automobile executives had written a bill on auto safety and handed it to your senator to sponsor? And what if you learned those same executives had penned pro-industry letters to the editor for your senator to send to the local newspaper under his signature? No self-respecting American would tolerate something like that. But substitute ACLU for “automobile executive” in this scenario, and substitute “a bill on homeless encampments” for “a bill on auto safety” and you’ll have an approximation of what happened at the Seattle City Council last fall.


A serious problem

Homeless encampments on public land have been a troublesome issue in Seattle for several years. Some citizens think the camps need to go, some don’t mind if they stay. However, as the number of camps has grown and expanded across the city, the balance seems to be shifting in the “need to go” direction. After a multiple homicide at one camp in late January 2016, Mayor Ed Murray declared the camps to be a nuisance and said the City would begin “sweeping” them shortly. Continue reading

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Speaking Truth to Power

June 1, 2017

Here’s a video excerpt of a brave Seattle woman confronting the City Council with my “Anatomy of a Swindle” blog article. This took place on October 14, 2016. The context is a discussion about Mike O’Brien’s proposed encampments legislation. The legislation would have allowed homeless campers to hang out on public green spaces indefinitely. Fortunately, the measure was defeated.

–David Preston

Here is the article to which the woman is referring:

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Seattle’s Democracy Voucher Program: A Candidate’s View

In 2015, Seattle voters passed an initiative to create a public-finance pool for candidates in city elections. It’s called the Democracy Voucher Program, and it’s funded by a special property tax. Registered voters receive four $25 coupons in the mail, which they can distribute in any combination to various candidates for city office, who can then use them to finance their campaigns, provided they meet certain qualifications. The Voucher Program, which is in its first year in the 2017 races, is run by the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission.

James Passey was running for a city council seat this year, but he recently withdrew, citing the Voucher Program as one of the reasons. When I asked him how the Program had factored into his decision to quit, here’s what he said: Continue reading

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Puff Piece

April 29, 2017

In my years of trying to bring the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) to justice, I have been repeatedly frustrated by their slick public relations operation. Here’s an organization that engages in a number of deceptive or dishonest business practices, and yet not a week goes by that I don’t see an op-ed piece by LIHI director Sharon Lee in the Seattle Times or a flattering story about her operation on some national news outlet. A reader of the Safe Seattle Facebook page sent me this piece from the Wall Street Journal a few days ago. It’s an advertisement for LIHI, disguised as a news story on a new low-barrier encampment* in a struggling north Seattle neighborhood.

Here are just a few of the many problems with the video:

¶ Nearly all the time is given to Sharon Lee and a single happy camper. Video footage of squalid tent camps along the road is contrasted with shots of the charming “tiny houses” inside the LIHI camp, as if if those are the only two options: LIHI or the street. Continue reading

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Call Me Reverend

April 11, 2017

Call Me Reverend:
The Bill Kirlin-Hackett Story

Mr. Mild

The first impression one gets of the Reverend Bill Kirlin-Hackett is of someone we’d expect to find singing kum-ba-ya around the campfire or handing out coffee and hugs at a 12-step meeting. A mild, genial, soft-spoken man in the mellow years, Kirlin-Hackett fits the image of the country parson to a tee. And he uses that impression to great effect, whether he’s meeting in backrooms with legislators or sweet-talking a donation from a church lady. But who is this guy, really?

 

Continue reading

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The Margin Dwellers

April 4, 2017

A word of advice to aspiring reporters: Don’t ever volunteer for the poverty beat. It’ll tear the heart out of you.

Meet Jennifer Allison (on the left). She’s the manager at the Georgian Motel on Aurora Ave N. in Seattle. She’s lived there for ten years, managed the place for seven. On the right is her good friend and tenant, Myrna. On the far right is Myrna’s dog, Nala.

The Georgian is in arrears on power and water, and unless a $20,000 miracle happens by 5 PM on April 5th, Jennifer, Myrna, and the Georgian’s 26 other tenants will have to leave. What will become of them? Some will find other places, maybe. Another motel within their means. A few might leave town for cheaper pastures. The rest will likely wind up on the streets. If not this month, then the next. Continue reading

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Encampment Complaints: A suspicious pattern

March 23, 2017

The document in the link below was produced by Seattle’s Customer Service Bureau (CSB) in response to a public disclosure request from Safe Seattle. The document shows how many citizen complaints the City got in a six-week time period. The report is a whopping 37 pages long with hundreds of individual complaints. And remember: that’s for just six weeks. And this list does not even reflect all the encampments that were in existence around the city at that time; just the ones that one or more complaints came in on.

https://tinyurl.com/illegal-camp-complaints

So, what can we learn from this report? A couple of things jump out. First, we can deduce that the number of complaints reflects the actual situation on the ground — relatively speaking. In other words, there is a correlation between geographical regions and relative numbers of encampments in those regions.

It is clear from a quick scan of the data that the north side of town is bearing the brunt. At 148 complaints, the North has more than twice the number of complaints than the next highest region.

So why should this be? Is it because there are twice as much greenbelt and park acreage on the north side? –Doubtful.

Is it because the population density is twice as high on the north side? – Again, not likely. Yes, the north end is denser than some other parts, but not THAT much denser.

So is there some OTHER reason why those tents are all popping up in the north? Could there be any connection between the mess in the north and the fact that this is encampment advocate Mike O’Brien’s district? Or the fact that there are two large, city-sponsored encampments already there, thanks to CMs Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw?

Hmmm…..

If you’d like to report an illegal encampment or similar issue to the City, you can do that through the Customer Service Bureau, here.

–David Preston

Postscript: It would be interesting to do some longitudinal GIS mapping to see how the illegal encampment clusters in other neighborhoods have developed in relation to the Ballard and Interbay encampments is. I’d also be curious to compare this period to the same time last year, and the year before that, and so on.

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The Thin Veneer

March 13, 2017

In my time, I’ve been in some pretty bad places. Figuratively and literally. I was raised in an affluent home, but as a young man, I traveled to an embattled Third World country because I wanted to see how the other half lived. I was stranded there for a time, and I became so immersed in the poverty – and so shocked by it – that I went into a profound depression, which worsened when I came home to the “shock” of affluence. I later became impoverished myself, living for years in a series of filthy, vermin-infested flophouses in the poorest quarters of town. Even after I came to Seattle, I lived for several more years in the “projects” on the south side, before finally pulling myself out of my funk and moving on to better things.

In the course of my years among the down and out I became a student of misery, sensitive to its many moods and incarnations. I’ve heard Seattle tent camps compared to the slums of Bangalore, and I can tell you that that statement is, in the main, false. But not in the way you might think. In some ways, the Bangaloreans have it better than our homeless. They’ve not fallen as far for one thing, most of them. And they have a sense of community that comes from a universally shared misery. People can maintain social norms there, even amid the despair, simply because there is no better option them. And they know it.

I’ve seen people in our camps trying to recreate that community, telling themselves they’ve got it. It never lasts. These squalid tent camps and corner lots crammed with prettified shacks they call “tiny houses” will never be the stable, self-managing villages that the poverty pimps say they are. The briefest visit will disabuse the outsider of that idea. Drifters and malcontents, damaged souls with a history of anti-social behavior . . . These poor souls can be corralled for a while, kept in line under the whip of a single dominating personality (the camp boss). But left to their own devices they will never do any better than they could under the regime of brute force. And they will usually do worse. Which makes the “sanctioned” camps actually look good in comparison to the unsanctioned ones. Thus, when homelessness and homeless camps are presented to us as an inevitability, and these two options (sanctioned or unsanctioned) are offered to us as the **only** choice, the sanctioned ones suddenly don’t seem so awful any more. And as for the unsanctioned ones, even THEY are better than the street, aren’t they? To my mind there’s little difference, since none of the three options gets people any closer living in a real home. And none is very far above the level of a brute struggle for survival. It’s just a question of whether you spend most of your time fighting the local camp boss . . . or fighting the streets.

I was chatting candidly with the head man of an unsanctioned encampment the other day. This fellow had been there for a year or more, and he was telling me of his aspirations to get sponsored by a willing non-profit and blessed by the city leaders. He was duly frustrated that his efforts weren’t bearing fruit. City officials weren’t leveling with him, he said, but I could see in a trice what the problem was. “We had a lot of stealers in this camp a few months back,” he explained. “But we dealt with ’em, and now we’re good.”

“How did you deal with them?” I replied.

He leaned over and gave me a knowing grin.

“Jungle law.”

–David Preston

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The tarnished halo of Rob Ferguson

March 12, 2017

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is exulting in his successful court challenge to President Trump’s immigration ban. Ferguson obviously cares about immigrant rights, but has he been as diligent in protecting people who already live here? What about homeless people, for example? Or taxpayers? That’s his job, after all. Or it’s supposed to be.

In 2004, when Ferguson was a King County Councilmember, he was cozy with Scott Morrow and SHARE. He even stayed overnight at one of Morrow’s tent camps in Lake City, speaking warm-and-fuzzily of his experience to a Seattle Times reporter afterward. Ferguson naively told the Times that the majority of campers at this camp were getting up early in the morning to scoot off to work. The “working poor” he called them. (They may have been leaving the camp alright, but they were not going to work.)

Ferguson was later instrumental in helping SHARE get their hands on a free County-owned vanpool van, and his office has not responded to requests to investigate the SHARE organization. SHARE’s roots run deep in the political soil of Washington State. And its branches reach to the sky. Given that, how likely is it that any Ferguson or any other government official here would push for an investigation into SHARE’s operation?

Oh, Rob. You sly devil you.


 

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Beyond the Pale: A neighbor’s view of the Ballard Locks homeless camp

March 10, 2017

The Ballard Locks (also known as Hiram M. Chittenden Locks) are a system of mechanically controlled channels that allow watercraft to travel between the inland waterways of Seattle (Lake Washington, Lake Union, the Ship Canal) and Puget Sound. Located on the edge of Seattle’s historic Ballard fishing community, the Locks offer close-up views of both wildlife and marine traffic. The US Army Corps of Engineers, which built and operates the Locks, also manages the adjoining fish ladder and museum, where visitors can spend an hour or two after strolling the spacious, tree-covered grounds. Needless to say, the Locks have been a tourist magnet in the century since they opened. In the last few years, though, their luster has tarnished. Not because of anything the Corps has done on the property, but because of what the City of Seattle is allowing to happen . . . just outside the fence.

U. S. Government Locks – Seattle, Washington. Second largest locks in the world. Both mighty ocean liners and pleasure craft pass through these locks connecting Lake Union with Puget Sound. Color by Cal Harbert.

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Hello this is my daughter…

March 6, 2017

Seen in a Portland shop window in August 2017. It may have been there for some time, given the reference to winter clothes:

Click to Enlarge

HOMELESS IN DWNTWN PORTLAND
Please help my ill daughter

Hello this is my daughter H_______
She is Bipolar, not on meds 🙁
This is her 3rd relapse and the worst yet
She is HOMELESS in downtown Portland
She has no money, no friends or family there
She came from Hawaii, doesn’t even own winter clothes

She hangs in ____ Ave and _____St.
No cellular and VERY vulnerable
In Psychosis, semi-manic and very disoriented
I’m her mother, looking for angels with arms and legs
Looking for anyone who wants to take time to reach out and talk to her
I’m not asking for money, just a human caring heart to help her realize she needs help
She has a membership at _______________

If you go there, you may find her
I can be reached on my cell if you want to hear her story
My name is Bea, her desperate mom, pls call me at __________
I’m praying for you to help today, since I can’t, she rejects me while ill 🙁


I called the number on the flyer and left a message, but it was never returned. I believe the flyer is genuine, but the person who wrote it was probably ill advised to give so much identifying info on her vulnerable daughter. (To be safe, I smudged out the identifying info.)

This family’s tragedy is all too common. A vulnerable, mentally ill person goes off her medications or refuses treatment and winds up on the street in another city where her chances of being harmed or killed are several times greater than they would be if she’d stayed at home. I understand why a young person might refuse treatment or flee a situation where she feels that her family is trying to “control” her, but if mental illness is involved then it will probably not end well.

This situation points up the inadequacy of our “involuntary commitment” laws. Even where you have a loving family that wants to help, it is often not enough.

How many of our homeless folks in Seattle started out like this young woman in the flyer? You might be surprised. Or maybe not.

–By David Preston

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Anything helps. Or does it?

Click to enlarge

February 20, 2017

This snapshot of a Seattle panhandler was sent to me by a reader who inferred that because the woman was sitting in a comfortable chair sipping a pricey coffee, with a dog and a cushion, she’s not genuinely needy but merely lazy.  In fact, we don’t know what this woman’s life is like. If we give her a buck, she might do something good with it, or she might do something bad with it. The money might help tide her over till her housing application comes through. Or it might go toward her next fix. Continue reading

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Brandie Bright and Dark

February 13, 2017

Oh the irony! Seems that one of the ACLU’s two homeless plaintiffs – a woman who is crying foul over City crews removing her stuff from public land without due notice – is apparently quite the little thief herself. According to court records, Brandie Osborne has broken into people’s homes to steal their things. And she didn’t even given them the same 72-hour notice that she’s demanding of the City. Nor did she store the things she’d stolen so the rightful owners could later claim them.

Below is a picture of Ms. Osborne “speaking out” against the City’s plan to clear out “the Jungle” in the summer of 2016. Before moving ahead with that plan, the City teamed up with Union Gospel Mission to visit every illegal camp site and offer the residents a warm, indoors place to stay, along with adequate food and case management services. Many people accepted the offer. But not Ms. Osborne. It appears that she and the ACLU already had a plan of their own.

Jungle resident Brandie Osborne speaks out against Seattle’s plan to clear the area of illegal homeless encampments. Click to listen to the KUOW radio program about this.

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ACLU vs. the People

*** TBQ Readers, your help is needed. Please read to the end to find out how you can help make us all safer. ***

We were cautiously optimistic when we learned that the Mayor was moving ahead to clear dangerous homeless encampments from city sidewalks and green spaces. Unfortunately, the Washington chapter of the ACLU has also moved forward on its threat to sue the city for a restraining order. Their grounds? –That the clearing operations violate Constitutional prohibitions against due process and “unreasonable search and seizure” of property. This, despite the City’s reasonable, good-faith efforts to notify campers at least 72 hours ahead of time beforehand and to sort out and store their property so they can reclaim it.

Lisa Hooper has been homeless for several years and has been living at many sites around the city. With the help of the ACLU, Hooper and another camper filed a lawsuit against the City for removing her belongings from public spaces. Image: KING 5 [Click the picture to see a news report.]

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Tent Cities: Not a way out but a way to HANG out

February 8, 2017

Except for the misleading headline, this article from Pacific Standard Magazine is a more or less honest view of a SHARE-run tent city. Based on my own experiences, I can say that the interview subjects are a representative cross-section of homelessness, not just in the camps but on the street as well. Of the six homeless people interviewed, only one of them became homeless here in Seattle. One couple came here several years ago, trading a relatively stable situation in Alabama, where they had shelter, for the streets of Seattle. This couple would certainly be counted as “local” by the standards of Seattle politicians. But would that be honest?

Click on the picture to read the Pacific Standard article.

The subjects were probably coached by the camp boss on what to say in the interview, but their comments are no less accurate for all that. The quote below crystallizes the message SHARE wants to broadcast to homeless people around the country. It’s one I’ve heard SHARE people say many times over the years:

Yes, they don’t make us get into housing. They don’t make us get into counseling. That’s our choice. But they do provide us a safe, comfortable place that we can stay where we don’t have to move all of our shit with us every time we go somewhere.

SHARE and it’s confederate organization, LIHI, are receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to run their Seattle camps. How does this “they don’t make us get into housing or counseling” line gibe with Seattle’s official motto that homelessness should be a “rare, brief, and one-time occurrence”? Think about it.

–by David Preston

This story originally appeared January 29, 2017 on the Safe Seattle Facebook page.

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Politics and privilege in the Emerald City

January 20, 2017

What do Sally Bagshaw and Donald Trump have in common? More than you might think. I’m not talking money here; I’m talking attitude. See, when you’re rich, you can’t help having one. An attitude, that is.


A friend linked me a blog post from last spring that summarizes reported assets of Seattle councilmembers. Combined assets for the nine CMs are about $25.8 million. (Washington is a joint property state, so assets reported include property owned by the CMs’ spouses.) That works out to about $2.8 million per CM. Salaries are around $120,000, which is half again as much as the median income of $80,000, as reported by the Seattle Times. Continue reading

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The Great Enablers

January 12, 2017

Quick: What do you call a Detox Center, without the “De-” part? You’d call it a Tox Center, of course. And that’s just what it would be: a place where addicts could keep poisoning their bodies, free from the medical intervention that is a hospital’s reason for being. And yet the harm reduction crowd see Tox Centers as a good thing. Let addicts keep poisoning themselves if they want to, they say . . . ‘cuz withdrawal hurts.

Click for New York Times Editorial

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Ballard Bridge Status: 1/10/2017

The Ballard Bridge spans Salmon Bay to connect Seattle’s historic Ballard neighborhood with points south. The bridge and surrounding environs have been a long-term site of homeless camps at both ends. These camps, particularly the one on the north end, have been the cause of much strife between local residents and Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien who represents the Ballard area. O’Brien has taken a hands-off approach to the camps, and this has filtered down to Seattle police, who have repeatedly told residents that there’s nothing they can do, that their “hands are tied.” In recent months, Ballard residents have taken to social media with their complaints, using the Safe Seattle Facebook page* to post dozens of still shots, videos, and personal stories illustrating the danger the bridge situation poses to the community. The posts are then shared around on the Internet – along with CM O’Brien’s contact information.

Click for Google Map View

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The Hidden Persuaders

Dedicated to Larry Kaminsky

December 27, 2016

Even as Seattle voters enact a flurry of laws designed to “get money out of politics,” the insinuation of paid political advocates into local government continues apace. This article looks at how that works with one politician: Mike O’Brien. But what goes for O’Brien goes for many others. The piece is part of a series on how advocates use – and get used by – politicians in the Emerald City.

The Crusader

In May 2015, Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien and dozens of other “kayaktivists” paddled their armada across Elliott Bay to do battle with an oil rig they didn’t want hanging around their city, even for repairs. The kayaktivists won the day: the oil rig skulked back out of the harbor, and O’Brien had another jewel in his crown of largely symbolic actions against the global menace of fossil fuel. Meanwhile, in O’Brien’s backyard, there was rising a two-headed monster that makes an oil rig look like a wind-up Godzilla toy. That monster is homelessness and addiction. But instead of confronting the beast head-on, as he did with the oil rig, O’Brien is trying to appease it.

Slaying dragons: Seattle District 6 Councilmember Mike O’Brien gets ready for the Paddle in Seattle. Photo: KUOW

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