Strauss is wrapping up his first four-year term on the Seattle City Council. Prior to his election in 2019, he worked as a policy adviser for former Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, a legislative aide to former State Sen. David Frockt, and for the Alliance for Gun Responsibility on its campaign to pass a statewide red flag gun removal law.
Taking office just months before the pandemic began meant much of Strauss’s freshman efforts were about addressing the turmoil: encampment outreach and clearance in Ballard Commons and Woodland Park, allowing covered outdoor dining to support restaurants, working on policing and public safety.
“Things are better, but better is not good enough,” said Strauss. “We’ve made a lot of progress on some of the biggest and most intractable issues facing our city over the last few years. And the thing that I know today is that we cannot afford to lose any momentum.”
Hanning has been executive director of the Fremont Chamber for a little over a year. He builds on a long career in the bar and nightlife industry, including nearly 20 years as co-owner of The Red Door in Fremont until its closure in early 2020. Hanning also has spent years volunteering in civic and political roles including the Seattle Police Department’s North Precinct Advisory Committee, Washington Hospitality Association, Seattle Restaurant Alliance and Seattle Nightlife and Music Association.
Hanning decided to run for office out of frustration with Seattle’s slow progress on public safety, homelessness and housing and a feeling that the current City Council’s approach isn’t going to change things.
“Over the last few years, the Council seems to have drifted to be more divisive and combative; performative for sure,” said Hanning. “I would love to help build a healthier relationship at the Council. … We really have to lean into the hard things right now, and really have those conversations in a way that names that we’re not going to be able to solve everything but we sure can make things better.”
Crosscut sat down with both candidates to talk about the big issues facing Seattle, compare and contrast their ideas for making progress, how they want to address the budget and more.
Hanning is an unwavering supporter of hiring more police officers. Mayor Bruce Harrell has set a goal of having 1,450 deployable officers at the Seattle Police Department, up from the current roughly 950. But Hanning thinks politicians need to be honest that “We are not going to be able to hire our way out of this situation anytime soon.”
Because of that, he wants to implement measures to improve existing policing and expand police alternatives.
On that first point, he wants Seattle to utilize more police technologies to complement human police work. One example: ShotSpotter, which gets installed in high-violence areas to provide officers with audio detection of gunshots. Hanning acknowledged that the technology has been controversial — detractors accuse it of being ineffective and say it contributes to overpolicing of Black and brown communities. But he sees it as a step the Council could take to show police “a willingness to invest and try other tools to alleviate or limit some of the gun violence.”
Hanning thinks it would be useful to allow officers with a certain level of seniority to take their patrol cars home with them. He argues it would be a perk for officers that also benefits the city, since an officer driving into the city from home would be on duty and available to take calls as soon as they entered city limits, helping reduce 911 response times.
Seattle created CARES, a third public safety department, to house 911 dispatch and the soon-to-launch dual-dispatch pilot program that sends mental health professionals and social workers out on some calls for people in public crisis. Hanning wants to see that department grow to a scale “so that they really have autonomy and culture and direction; where they can lead a lot of these efforts.”
While some advocates have called for a true police alternative that sends mental health professionals and social workers on calls without an officer, Hanning supports the dual-dispatch model, though he thinks police should often be a background presence for mental health calls. He said he volunteers with The Salvation Army to do homeless outreach, and that they always have a King County Sheriff officer with them.
Hanning criticized Strauss for changing his position on policing — from the Council’s summer 2020 call to defund the department by 50% to being a pro-police candidate now.
Strauss said his 2020 position was nuanced, but that “a lot of that nuance was lost between people who were yelling.”
Strauss is in favor of Harrell’s police officer hiring bonus and recruitment plan and voted to fund it. He said, “It’s important for me that we have police officers in our city that share values with Seattleites, and that they’re also competitively paid with other jurisdictions in our areas so that we’re able to recruit the best of the best.”
He said he’s been encouraged by the new Before the Badge program for new recruits that requires officers to meet with community members in their precinct before they start patrolling in an effort to build relationships and trust between officers and residents.
Strauss wants to expand all of Seattle’s first-responder efforts, including the dual-dispatch responders at CARES, the Fire Department’s HealthOne mental health response team, park rangers, and Downtown Emergency Service Center’s Mobile Crisis Team.
For D6, Strauss secured money in the city budget for the Ballard Alliance to hire a public safety coordinator who serves as point person between SPD and other city departments and Ballard businesses and residents on public safety issues. Strauss wants to see such positions expand to every neighborhood.
The drug crisis
In June, Strauss voted yes on the Council’s unsuccessful attempt to align city code with state law on drug possession and give the City Attorney authority to prosecute. He again voted in favor of the revised bill that passed in September. He thinks officers should lead with diversion and drug treatment, but said, “When you’ve tried that a number of times with an individual and if it’s still not working, then we still need to have every option on the table.”
To make treatment work, Strauss said, there need to be more treatment resources and services available. He supports the forthcoming crisis care centers and overdose recovery center the mayor has proposed. But he also wants to see the city build facilities that serve people with substance-use disorders at all steps of the process. “If a person is going to get clean needles, and in that moment they say, ‘Oh, I want to take the next step in my recovery,’ they shouldn’t have to get on a bus and go across town,” Strauss explained.
Hanning supports the aims of the city’s new drug possession law, but wants police to focus their efforts on arresting drug dealers and others perpetrating crimes against Seattle’s unhoused residents. He said, “They’re the fentanyl dealers. They’re the ones forcing these folks into sex work or using them to fence stolen goods or to steal goods for them. I don’t want our law enforcement officers to be spending time with the people who are in addiction.”
Hanning believes tiny home villages are one of the most effective forms of shelter to get people off the street, and he wants the city to quickly stand up as many new villages as it can. He also likes the idea of using housing vouchers to prevent people from falling into homelessness or help move people into private housing if they’re already experiencing homelessness.
Currently, far more people qualify for federal housing vouchers than there are housing vouchers available. Hanning envisions funding a local voucher program by reallocating some of the nearly $100 million Seattle provides to the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.
Some of that money could come from examining whether there are “overlaps of nonprofits that are all working in the same space” to find efficiencies. But, more important, Hanning said he will press other King County cities to contribute to the Regional Homelessness Authority since Seattle and King County are the only local governments doing so currently. “I guarantee you if I’m on the City Council, I will be a stick in the sides of the other cities saying show up. … It is not going to be successful unless the region as a whole participates.”
Strauss believes making progress on homelessness begins with continuing to evolve how the city approaches encampment clearance. He said when he came into office, city policy was to provide encampment residents 72 hours’ notice before sweeping, far from enough time to build relationships or get people moved to shelter. With the large encampments in Ballard Commons and Woodland Park, outreach teams spent several months building relationships with people there and had a higher success rate moving people to shelter. “That’s a testament to actually taking the time to figure out who a person is and what they need.”
Because there is far from enough shelter space for the number of people experiencing homelessness, Strauss supports building more shelters and prefers tiny home villages and Pallet shelters. But he said his primary focus is expanding the supply of permanently affordable housing. With more permanent housing for people to move into, he argues, tiny home villages and other shelter types will have faster turnover and serve more people.
Strauss supports the aims of the Seattle Housing Levy to build new affordable housing, and sponsored legislation to speed the design review process for subsidized housing projects. But he’s also excited about the Office of Housing’s Rapid Acquisition program, which helps nonprofit housing agencies buy existing market-rate apartment buildings to use as subsidized affordable housing because this can get new units online far faster than new construction.
Seattle’s housing affordability woes extend into the middle class. Strauss said he wants to see all types of housing in all parts of the city. “It’s important that we don’t create communities that are exclusive to only one segment of our economic spectrum,” he said.
To help speed the construction of new housing, Strauss said he’s asked the city auditor to conduct a full examination of the permitting process to find ways to improve it and cut red tape.
Hanning takes a similar stance on construction of new market-rate housing: “I believe in more housing in every neighborhood.”
He’s excited about the state’s “missing middle” housing law that requires cities to allow quadplexes and sixplexes in all neighborhoods. He said it will not only help expand housing options in Seattle, but also lead to denser construction in surrounding suburbs that might help take pressure off the city’s housing market.
Paying for promises
Driven in part by the slowing real estate market, layoffs in the tech sector and inflation, Seattle is projected to face a $251 million general-fund deficit in 2025 that will grow to nearly $500 million in 2026. The incoming City Council will have to navigate that shortfall as they seek to fulfill their campaign promises.
Progressives want the city to levy new taxes to tap into Seattle residents’ vast wealth. Business leaders and the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce want city officials to tighten the belt and take a close look at existing spending to find savings.
Asked about the projected deficit, Hanning rejected the narrative. The city budget has grown significantly over the past decade, and while Hanning acknowledged that it makes sense for it to grow given Seattle’s booming population, he thinks, “We have done a really poor job in showing the taxpayer and the voter that we are spending the money wisely.”
He wants to start with a budget audit to see if there are outdated programs or overlaps between departments that can be cut to find savings. Then he wants to focus on supporting businesses to increase tax revenue without implementing new local taxes. Lastly, he thinks Seattle should be working harder in Olympia to lobby for a statewide income tax.
Strauss pointed out that much of the projected general fund deficit would come from increases in city worker wages, something he supports. “Our city workers need to know that we appreciate them, because everyday Seattle residents depend on their work to get basic services, whether it’s, you know, sewer, garbage utilities, keeping the lights on.”
He also thinks it’s appropriate for the City Council to audit the existing budget to look for efficiencies or outdated programs, but said he strongly opposes cutting services that Seattleites need. Strauss similarly thinks it’s important to focus on economic recovery in the city to bolster things like sales tax as real estate excise tax revenue dips.
Once those things happen, Strauss is open to exploring new revenue, but he doesn’t want to put more taxes on the backs of “everyday Seattleites.”
Fundraising and endorsements
As of this writing Hanning is leading on fundraising with over $182,000 in campaign contributions. Strauss has over $135,000.
Hanning has been endorsed by former Seattle City Councilmembers Sue Donaldson, Peter Steinbrueck, Margaret Pageler, Jan Drago and Jane Noland as well as former King County Councilmember Dwight Pelz. Hanning lists his Seattle Times endorsement, but does not have any organizational endorsements listed on his campaign website.
Strauss has been endorsed by 28 current and former local and state elected officials including Mayor Harrell, outgoing Seattle City Council President Debora Juarez, Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and King County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay. He’s also endorsed by 19 labor unions and the MLK Labor Council, King County Democrats, Sierra Club and Alliance for Gun Responsibility, among others.