Following years of personal struggles, former NBA athlete and small-business owner James Donaldson is making another play for the Seattle City Council.

Since his last run for city council, which he scrapped in favor of a mayoral campaign to challenge Greg Nickels, Donaldson has suffered a massive heart attack that put him in a coma, fallen in debt from his closed physical therapy clinic business and his own medical bills, had his mother die, went through an unexpected divorce, and his Magnolia home is now in pre-foreclosure, he said.

The former Sonics center said he was in a dark place, and even contemplated suicide. Then quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who played for Washington State University — Donaldson’s alma mater — took his own life in January 2018.

“That just shook me to my core,” Donaldson said.

Following Hilinski’s suicide, many news outlets and people who knew the college student began telling his story, Donaldson said.

“I came up with the thought of, ‘Goddammit, I’m going to hang in there,’” he tells Queen Anne News. “‘I’m not going to leave this world by my own hand.’”

The District 7 candidate said he started feeling more like himself by Thanksgiving, and he now has a new Your Gift of Life Foundation he’s created to bring awareness to suicide by speaking candidly about experiences with depression, mental health and thoughts of suicide. He regularly speaks at area schools.

“It’s been some of the most rewarding work that I’ve ever done,” Donaldson said.

As Donaldson sees himself as a role model for youth, he also wants to set an example for how to lead by serving on the city council, he said.

Donaldson’s 2009 mayoral campaign finished fourth, which he felt good about, he said, especially considering his funds had fizzled out by June.

“I learned how strategic politics really is,” he said. “It was just like prepping for a basketball game in a way.”

Donaldson ran for mayor at the same time outgoing District 7 Councilmember Sally Bagshaw was running for city council, and he said he reached out to her when he decided to run this year. He said he received her blessing, though he knows she’s supporting Michael George’s campaign.

A late entry in the District 7 race, Donaldson isn’t going to use the City of Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program to fund his campaign.

“We feel like, with me being around town as long as I’ve been and being as involved as I’ve been, we’ve got quite a few people that will be interested in supporting,” Donaldson said.

That would open him up to accept support from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy political action committee, which focuses on pro-business candidates.

Donaldson said Seattle looks much different than in 2009, and the left-leaning progressive attitude in city hall has had a negative impact on the business community.

He was not a fan of the short-lived head tax on large companies that would have generated additional revenue for affordable housing and homeless services. Resources are not the issue, he said.

“I think the issue is really working in a proactive intervening way with so many homeless in the streets,” Donaldson said.

He wants to see case workers assigned to encampments, where they can document the needs of those living there, but he also wants the city to have more authority to sweep those areas.

“They become an eyesore, they become a nuisance,” Donaldson said, “they become a public safety hazard.”

The District 7 candidate said the city needs to do a thorough assessment of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that requires a city have enough shelter capacity for its homeless population before enforcing anti-camping and vagrancy laws.

He sees these encampments impacting downtown business owners, and he wants there to be zones in these areas that prohibit such activity during certain hours of the day.

“I know business owners would love that, because I was a business owner as well,” he said.

The District 7 candidate said he’d also like to invest in private security contracts to provide patrol in business districts and also be ambassadors for the city in greeting tourists.

“I’d like to see private security,” he said. “I think it’d be less expensive.”

The city could fund such a program at the start, Donaldson said, with business owners paying a graduated scale later.

Donaldson said he recently interviewed people living unsheltered along Seattle’s waterfront, where some told him they chose to be homeless and others complained about the conditions of local shelters.

“They just do not want to go into that sort of environment,” he said.

Donaldson said he also interviewed some tourists.

“They were just amazed what is happening to Seattle.”

KOMO’s “Seattle is Dying” special resonated with the District 7 candidate, but he doesn’t agree with the title.

“Seattle is not dying,” Donaldson said. “I refuse to believe it’s dying.”

He said he did like the Rhode Island model highlighted in the segment, referring to a prison-based medication-assisted treatment program for those in drug addiction.

Donaldson wants to tighten up laws to cut down on repeat offenders and better support Seattle Police.

“Right now, they’re totally handcuffed,” he said. “I wouldn’t blame them for shrugging their shoulders and saying, ‘Oh well.’”

As for retaining officers, Donaldson said he wants a clause in agreements that ensure those the City of Seattle is providing with police training commit to working here for a certain period of time.

Donaldson said the Puget Sound region will continue growing, and it’s up to Seattle to improve its infrastructure to accommodate increased density.

“It’s inevitable,” he said. “I don’t think people are going to say, ‘I’m not going to Seattle because it’s crowded.’”

The Queen Anne Community Council recently lost its appeal of an environmental impact statement regarding legislation that would ease regulations on developing accessory dwelling units. Donaldson said he’s in favor of more ADUs being constructed, and now the city needs to finalize those plans in a way that’s a win-win for Seattle and property owners. He expects single-family neighborhoods will be a thing of the past within the next two decades at the current pace of growth in Seattle.

Donaldson supports replacing the Magnolia Bridge, which could cost up to $420 million. He said it’s a good investment and could help deliver light rail to Magnolia.

“Magnolia one day needs to be connected to light rail coming up from downtown,” he said.

He sees no reason why the bridge couldn’t be rebuilt to support light rail, and possibly with two levels to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians. Covering the cost of construction will take support from the county, Port of Seattle, state and federal government, Donaldson said, adding he wouldn’t be opposed to a user fee.

“What’s wrong with paying 25 cents or 50 cents every time I run up the bridge?” he said.

The former basketball player is now considered legally disabled though fit, he said, having been medically cleared to handle the stresses that come with a political campaign. Like with the city’s race and social justice initiative, Donaldson is calling for an aging and disability justice initiative to help the city address its aging population of Baby Boomers and provide assistance. One example would be making public transportation free for seniors and those with disabilities.

The District 7 candidate said he knows he owes people money, and he plans to pay his debts. Part of his campaign involves transparency, he said, with voters following Donaldson from former pro basketball player to a man facing many challenges head on and speaking publicly about them.

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