Elected to the City Council in 2019, Lewis is wrapping up his first four-year term in office. Prior to that he spent two years as an assistant city attorney in the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and about a year as an assistant deputy prosecutor in the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Much of the Council’s work in the past three years was responding to the pandemic. Lewis counts some of those efforts among his proudest first-term accomplishments. He helped expand JustCare, an intensive homeless outreach program focused on moving people out of encampments Downtown. Lewis helped launch the Third Avenue Project to address drug dealing and other illegal activity Downtown, and worked on the dual-dispatch pilot program to send mental health professionals out with police officers on certain calls. He also highlighted in-district efforts such as getting $19 million in the city budget to overhaul the Queen Anne Community Center.
“The first four years, we set up a lot of really, really important initiatives that I want to get done,” said Lewis. “We need to make sure we have a council member who has the experience and tenacity and the ability to get this done and deliver. I don't want to see these community investments squandered by an inexperienced replacement.”
Kettle is a retired Naval officer who spent more than 20 years in the military. He spent 10 years as a board member with the Seattle chapter of the World Affairs Council, eight years on the Queen Anne Community Council, including as chair of its public safety committee, and is currently on the West Precinct Advisory Council.
Kettle said he’s running because he’s concerned with what he sees as the City Council’s failings on public safety, public health and homelessness and the resulting impact those issues have on communities, businesses, the transit system and more.
“I have an eight-year-old who just started third grade. I need her and her friends, and that whole generation plus others in society, to be able to go to the aquarium without fear of being exposed to this or that,” said Kettle. “We as a community need to start from that safe base. That's important because from that safe base, with everything working and moving forward, we are in a stronger, better position to help those in need.”
Crosscut sat down with both candidates to discuss the big issues facing Seattle, their ideas for making progress, how to pay for programs and much more.
Lewis supports Mayor Bruce Harrell’s police hiring plan to net about 500 new deployable officers and is optimistic that attrition on the force is starting to level off. He also wants to continue expanding the number of all types of first responders in the city.
Lewis wants to scale up the newly launched dual-dispatch pilot program that will send mental health professionals and case workers out with police officers for some 911 responses. He wants to continue supporting efforts like the Third Avenue Project doing outreach on the streets and “community violence interruption” programs led by nonprofits such as Community Passageways.
The Councilmember also wants to focus on closing homeless encampments to address crime. He argues that while people experiencing homelessness aren’t necessarily committing crimes, encampments can draw drug dealers, people fencing stolen goods and people engaging in sex work. A study by Lewis’s office last year found that 18% of shooting incidents in police data had a link to homeless encampments or involved perpetrators or victims experiencing homelessness.
Lewis argues that by expanding the availability of homeless shelters such as tiny home villages and motel conversions and reducing the number of unsanctioned encampments, the city could reduce crime.
Kettle’s first priority on public safety is rebuilding police department staffing. To get there, he said the City Council needs to change its attitude toward policing. “You want bosses that are supportive and recognize your service. So we need a City Council that has a different approach to SPD. That tone, that new relationship, has got to be the first thing.”
To help bolster the number of officers quickly, Kettle said he wants to explore bringing back recently retired SPD officers. The idea comes from a Naval concept of “retire/retain” that allows recently retired officers to return to active duty.
He also wants to partner with Seattle community colleges to help create a new pipeline of Seattle residents entering the police force. The Seattle Fire Department has a similar partnership with North Seattle College.
Kettle said he supports the new Before the Badge program that requires new recruits to meet with community members in their precinct before they start patrolling. He wants to see SPD deploy more beat cops that have relationships in the communities where they work.
Kettle also said he supports the aims of the dual-dispatch pilot project and thinks that Seattle will need to continue to explore mental health responses and other police alternatives to make progress on public safety.
Homelessness and housing
To make progress on homelessness Kettle wants to revisit the leadership structure of the King County Regional Homelessness Authority. He thinks the entity has had a “false start” due to its structure with a CEO and three different governing boards and committees. “You have to have clarity on your chain of command with all these pieces. … You need to clean things up from a leadership management perspective and incorporate lessons learned.”
Changing the governance structure of the Authority would require majority support from the City Council and King County Council as well as buy-in from the mayor, county executive and Sound Cities Association. In July, KCRHA began to re-evaluate its structure.
Kettle supports clearing unsanctioned homeless encampments as quickly as possible, and thinks tiny home villages are a successful shelter model.
He also thinks the region needs to do vastly more on mental health and addiction treatment to address that aspect of visible, unsheltered homelessness. “We need to hold the state and the county’s feet to the fire when it comes to mental health and public health spending.”
As previously stated, Lewis supports expanding the supply of tiny home villages to help move people off the street and eventually into housing. Lewis set a goal in his first term of doubling the number of tiny homes and raised $2.5 million in private funding to help do so. The effort did not result in any new tiny homes built, which Lewis blamed on reluctance from former Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Lewis also wants to ensure the Unified Care Team is fully funded. The program leads the city’s work on encampment outreach and clearing.
To really address homelessness, Seattle needs more affordable homes for people to move into. Lewis said it will be essential for voters to renew the Seattle Housing Levy in November to help pay for construction, maintenance and operations of new units. He said it will also be important to make sure the city is maximizing the impact of housing that’s paid for by the Jumpstart payroll tax on large employers.
Lewis sponsored legislation in 2021 to reduce the time it takes for permanent supportive housing projects to get approved and eliminate some project design requirements, such as on-site bike parking. Doing so is estimated to save developers more than $47,000 per unit of permanent supportive housing, which combines affordable units with on-site services such as counseling.
Lewis said he wants to continue working on efforts to maximize affordable-housing construction. One example: changing regulations to make it easier for developers to build micro-apartments again in Seattle. Doing so would not only provide cheaper market-rate housing for young Seattleites and other people in a transitional period, it would also make federal housing vouchers stretch further, since voucher holders exiting homelessness would have a cheaper apartment option to spend their voucher on.
When it comes to housing and density, Kettle called himself a Comprehensive Plan “five guy.” It’s a reference to the upcoming comp plan update, which proposes five revisions to Seattle zoning. Option five allows the most housing construction citywide.
Kettle said he wants to see more affordable-housing construction, including in his home district. Currently under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program, market-rate developers are required to include either subsidized affordable housing within their projects or pay a fee into the city’s affordable-housing construction fund. Most choose the latter option. Kettle wants to reexamine the MHA program to help ensure affordable housing is more evenly distributed throughout Seattle.
Though he’s supportive of more housing, Kettle wants most new construction to be built along public transit routes, and wants the city to proceed with caution. “If you don’t do it in this kind of measured way, you end up creating … new problems.”
Both candidates have promised to focus time and energy on helping Downtown recover from the pandemic.
Kettle said that part of helping the neighborhood recover is addressing street disorder and graffiti to make it a more inviting place. He also wants to recruit more businesses to set up shop in empty retail spaces and provide incentives for them to do so.
Kettle links Downtown’s recovery to the broader drug and homelessness crises, and argued that if the city makes progress on those areas, it will help bring workers, residents and tourists back to the neighborhood. “We can’t have secondhand fentanyl smoke on our buses. We can’t have our businesses blocked. We have to have the ability for the workers to get to those businesses … not to mention the ability of customers and clients coming in.”
Lewis said he’s buoyed by the progress Downtown has made since the worst days of the pandemic: Summer hotel occupancies and tourist visits are back to pre-pandemic levels and in-person office work is back to more than 50% of what it was before the world went remote.
To continue building on that, Lewis wants to create incentives for developers to convert office space into housing, arts spaces, schools and childcare. He wants to streamline permitting and land-use rules to make it easier to open new businesses downtown. And he wants to work on large-scale infrastructure projects like the Downtown Seattle Association’s Third Ave Vision, which would overhaul the transit-only street to make it more appealing to pedestrians, shoppers and businesses.
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.
Lewis agrees with the Chamber that it would be prudent for the city to start by analyzing its current programs and priorities to see if there’s overlap that can be eliminated. But he doesn’t think that will be enough to close the gap and continue paying for the services Seattleites expect.
Last year, the City Council used an unexpected surplus of Jumpstart payroll tax revenue to help cover the general-fund shortfall. Lewis wants to explore making that a permanently available option, while still making sure most Jumpstart revenue goes toward its stated goals of affordable housing, homelessness, climate resilience and small-business support.
Lewis said he would be open to new taxes only as a last resort. “If additional revenue is warranted, we need to show our work, we need to do our due diligence.”
Kettle sides with the Chamber on the budget as well, and wants to start with a full audit of city departments and programs. He also argues that it doesn’t make sense to earmark revenue sources to specific program areas, as the city often does right now. Some revenues, such as utility payments, are restricted by state law. Others, such as Jumpstart, are restricted by city statute that the Council could change.
“When you have the silos that exist, these walls that exist, I think that creates this false narrative,” said Kettle. “Are we properly spending to be most efficient, to get the most results on that investment?”
Contributions and endorsements
Kettle has raised over $187,000 in donations. He also has big-business PAC money supporting him from the outside. The National Association of Realtors spent more than $52,000 to support Kettle’s campaign. An independent expenditure group called Downtown Neighbors Committee spent $63,000 on ads opposing Lewis.
The Downtown Neighbors Committee has raised over $110,000 from many of the same business executives and developers behind the independent expenditure committees backing Rob Saka in D1 and Maritza Rivera in D4. The Downtown Neighbors Committee’s funders include the Washington Multi-Family Housing Association, developers John Goodman and George Petrie (one of Washington’s biggest Trump donors) and many more.
Lewis has received endorsements from a lengthy list of local and state elected officials including Attorney General Bob Ferguson, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle City Councilmembers Lisa Herbold and Teresa Mosqueda. He also has organization and labor endorsements from the MLK Labor Council, SEIU, UFCW 3000, the Teamsters, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Planned Parenthood and more.
Kettle has been endorsed by Seattle City Councilmembers Sara Nelson, Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez, former Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Peter Steinbrueck, Jan Drago and others. He’s also earned endorsements from the Seattle Firefighters Union, Moms Demand Action, National Organization for Women and others. The Downtown Seattle Association rates both Kettle and Lewis as "strongly aligned."
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that the Downtown Seattle Association does not endorse candidates, but instead rates them on alignment.