Teresa Mosqueda bills herself as a coalition-builder that can pass progressive policy.
Jon Grant believes in having a bold agenda and platform that are going to “take the city in a new direction.”
That’s the crux of the at-large city council race between the health and labor advocate and the former Tenants Union head, as the two jockey for the seat once held by now-Mayor Tim Burgess (and currently by interim councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley).
Mosqueda has the backing of five current city councilmembers (Bagshaw, Gonzalez, Johnson, O’Brien, and Juarez), in addition to Burgess, and points to her time with the Children’s Alliance and the Washington State Labor Council as evidence her approach gets results. In those roles, she oversaw the implementation of the Apple Health for Kids program, and the expansion of Medicaid for working families, along with crafting the statewide minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave policies.
Among her top priorities would be addressing the cost of childcare in the city — an issue she says is one of economic, gender, and racial justice — by looking at licensing requirements for providers, to potentially supplementing that cost for low-income families.
“You need to be able to work with people to find common ground and to advance progressive solutions,” she said. “That’s how I’ve done the work my entire career, that’s how we’ve accomplished true progressive policies, and I will be there to find those pathways forward to expand protections for working families in Seattle.”
Grant — endorsed by councilmembers Herbold and Sawant — also ran for the seat two years ago against Burgess. His biggest takeaway from his first campaign?
“It is very easy to buy elections.”
He was outspent 8-to-1 in 2015, but the margin is considerably closer this time around, with Grant raising just over $350,000, and his opponent approximately $440,000. Add the independent expenditures raised backing Mosqueda, Grant said, and the gap is about 3-to-1 (in reality the numbers show about a 2-to-1 advantage). Both candidates are participating in the Democracy Voucher program.
But Grant also noted his pledge to not accept any money from corporations, developers, or CEOs, and accuses his opponent of not doing the same.
“I think that informs who she is going to be answerable to, and I think that when we talk about these issues, we can talk a big game, but at the end of the day you have to follow the money,” he said.
Mosqueda, however, said Grant is “grasping at straws,” and that it was his campaign that petitioned the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission to lift the spending cap on the race. Up to that point, she said, every one of her contributions was under $250, and that, “he can’t claim that he has some sort of knowledge of corporate donors when there’s not a single corporation that’s donated to me.”
“He told the city it was unfair that I had more people and more contributions,” she said. “That’s what happens when people hear your message and it resonates. There is no collusion or big, deep pockets here.”
But Grant uses campaign spending as a jumping off point when discussing his broader platform, in particular his call for a 25 percent affordable-housing requirement on new development. Voters in San Francisco passed such a measure last year, but lawmakers have since lowered that figure to 18 percent.
“My opponent criticizes this as an example, saying that it was a failure,” Grant said. “I view it as a success. Maybe they weren’t able to keep 25, but they got to 18. For our part, we didn’t do that.”
A member of then-Mayor Murray’s 28-person Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (or HALA) committee, Grant wants “growth to pay for growth,” via impact fees, and to increase the corporate tax rate while also increasing the exemption on small businesses.
“Two-third of all businesses would actually get a tax break, but on the higher end — for large companies like Amazon — they would pay a much higher tax rate,” he said.
That would raise $160 million a year, money Grant said would go toward building 5,000 units of housing for the homeless in five years.
Mosqueda agrees that there isn’t enough housing, or enough funding in the city budget, but says that during a meeting with the Seattle Times, Grant took the side of the paper that there was already enough housing and shelter space.
“He cannot call himself a housing advocate and agree with the Seattle Times when they’re arguing with me about that,” she said. “I have been very consistent about needing to see more housing developed in our city, both for low-income families and middle-income families.”
To that end, she says Grant’s plans on housing affordability, “would bring us backwards,” and stall development.
In the near-term, she wants to bond against existing housing levy dollars and future MHA dollars to get funding in hand to build affordable and mixed-income housing using publicly-available land owned by the city, county, state, or even Sound Transit. Zoning is also a consideration, as Mosqueda wants to create density along transit lines and economic hubs throughout the city that are currently zoned for single-family use.
“I’m the only one who’s been saying we have to evaluate the fact that our existing policy around zoning is effectively redlining out the ability for more people to live in the city,” she said. “That’s not right, and we can create density and homeownership and, again, equity, both in terms of financial equity but also equity in terms of socioeconomic justice equity when we create more ability for folks to live in the city and hopefully have ownership options as well.”
The two candidates have also clashed on the extent of police reform efforts.
Grant wants greater transparency in negotiations with the police union so that voters can hold the city council accountable on those decisions, and wants to establish an independent citizen review board with the power to fire the police chief.
“I think it’s very challenging when you’ve got a police chief who serves at the whim of the mayor when the mayor has an interest to make sure that controversy is tamped down,” he said. “What we need is to make sure that officers who are bad actors are being held accountable, so I think that having that independence is so important, as well as that transparency.”
While important first steps have been made on reform, Mosqueda said, she wants a community member at the table for police union negotiations, and the full implementation of the Community Police Commission recommendations.
Grant says he will be, “radically accountable,” to the community if elected, noting his inclusion of the parties most effected by the policies being crafted during his campaign. That’s meant the input of DACA recipients on immigration policy, and the homeless on issues of housing policy, among others.
“I think that the more that we can get people on city council that come from the community, that advance the community’s interest and recognize that in negotiations between two parties, there are power imbalances, and that it’s the role of the city council to rectify that imbalance, it is the role of my job as a city council member to actually hold powerful interest groups accountable and build power in the community and not just hold power,” he said.
But Mosqueda cites claims of intimidation and retaliation against Grant from his time at the Tenants Union (EDIT: he responded to those claims in an interview with the Evergrey), and an instance in July in which he confronted a volunteer canvassing for his opponent (he apologized shortly after) as indicators that he’s not the type of leader the city needs.
“We have got to call out bad behavior, and he is not a leader when it comes to sticking up for our most vulnerable, especially women and people of color in the work force, and I hope to be that leader,” she said. “I’ve led by example, I’ve championed legislation and I’ll continue to do defend workers and communities that are under threat under this administration.”
Ultimately, Grant believes he can become a crucial vote on the council’s progressive wing. He noted a decision made during University District upzone process, as the council voted 6-to-3 against an amendment that would have raised the affordability requirement from 9 to 10 percent as the kind of one in which his vote could have swung the balance.
“If we can win this seat for Position 8, we can get a fourth vote that would be for affordability,” he said. “That makes it much harder for that fifth person to side against affordability or side against the progressive caucus on the city council, and I think that the more that that divide becomes clearer to voters, the harder it is for people on the other side of it to not go along with an agenda that is going to improve the affordability and livability of our city.”
But for Mosqueda, crafting that agenda would be best served by finding common ground to reach solutions.
“I recognize that in a city like Seattle people are coming to the table with various shades of blue and we all want to see progress in our city,” she said, “and hearing people and wanting to see the ball move forward is how we’re going to survive this storm called Trump, and make sure that we can sustain families, that we can sustain our local economy, and that we create true equity for our community.”
To learn more about Grant’s campaign, go to www.electjongrant.com. For more information on Mosqueda’s campaign, visit www.teamteresa.org. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.[Correction, 11/4: An earlier version of this story stated that Councilmember Bruce Harrell had endorsed Mosqueda, he has not made an endorsement in the race, while failing to include the endorsement of Debora Juarez. The story also noted that Grant's campaign was being outspent 3-to-1, the margin is approximately 2-to-1]