As the 2023 local elections march on, we’ve noticed a few city council candidates bullshitting, flip-flopping, and trying to thread impossibly small needles in an attempt to appeal to as many voters as possible. 

We know it’s hard to honestly and directly answer questions about policies and values, and we recognize that candidates can evolve on issues, but a few cases just felt particularly galling.

Cathy Moore Stays Close to Power

District 5 City Council candidate Cathy Moore is flip-flopping on one of the most divisive issues that City faces right now: whether or not to prosecute possession and public drug use. 

In her Seattle Times questionnaire, which was published at the end of May, Moore said, “no,” Seattle should not prosecute public drug use. At the end of June, she also told the SECB that jail does not deter low-level crimes. But, according to the Seattle Times Editorial Board, she said she would have voted to give the City Attorney the power to prosecute possession and public use.

Sure, the state already made the disastrous decision to make possession and public use a gross misdemeanor, but handing prosecution power to Seattle's Republican City Attorney will likely result in more criminal cases and more jail time for people caught possessing drugs–the very thing Moore said she opposes.

So, what changed with Moore? Did the TV news brainwash her? 

In an email, Moore’s campaign manager said, “We're focused on winning the election, and are prioritizing our limited time,” so they did not have time to defend Moore’s switcheroo. The campaign manager said that Moore addressed her answer to the Seattle Times questionnaire in the SECB interview, but she did not, according to our record. Even if she had, that would not explain why she changed her mind between that questionnaire and her endorsement meeting with the Times.

Neither Tricked Nor Treated

District 3 City Council candidate Ry Armstrong mischaracterized their interview with the Stranger Election Control Board, seemingly to save face with abolitionists and the greater Seattle left. In a large Signal group chat full of lefties, they claimed that the SECB “tricked” them into an unflattering quote by asking, “If you had to criminalize drug use, what would you do?” 

According to the audio recording of the interview, the SECB did not ask that question. 

During the meeting, Hannah asked Armstrong to “speak to” the fact that they answered “maybe” to the Seattle Times’ question about support for prosecuting public drug use. Armstrong went on to tell us some nice things about rehab and treatment, but so did a lot of people hungry to throw people in jail, so we pushed them again. 

“But you said you would ‘maybe’ prosecute?” We asked. 

“Maybe if it's like a ‘three strikes, you're out’ moment,” Armstrong replied. 

When Armstrong said they “want to give room for empathy and for a medically based alternatives before just, like, sweeping all these people in jail,” Vivian asked, “...And that room is three strikes?”

“Plus or minus,” Armstrong replied. 

Bill Clinton loves that idea. He and the tough-on-crime Democrats introduced a three-strikes rule in their 1994 crime bill, which, according to the ACLU, aided in the mass incarceration of Black men. Moreover, studies show that compulsory drug treatment doesn’t work. If you buy that, then jail should not even be on the table as a solution to the overdose crisis.

After seeing Armstrong’s false claim about the SECB “tricking” them into this answer, on Monday Hannah corrected the record on Twitter. In their response, Armstrong said they never claimed the SECB “tricked” them. Hannah then posted a screenshot from the Signal thread where they wrote, “They tricked me in that question and quoted me out of context.” 

In response to that, Armstrong posted two now-deleted replies and eventually settled on, “That is how it felt in the moment. I responded emotionally and is the context for my answer. I apologize for that. I said Maybe initially because I am not an expert, but am always learning and growing.”

They did not address the fact that they made false claims more than once, or, more charitably, forgot what they wrote hours earlier. Nor did they address the near conspiratorial claim that we see them as a “threat.” Threat to what? People who want to do drugs outside more than three times? 

Okay, okay, we’ll stop being mean. Ultimately, they walked everything back and said they no longer believe in prosecuting public drug use. In fact, they testified against the council bill to give the City Attorney authority over those cases. However, our endorsement meeting did happen after that vote, so the argument that they have since learned is a little ahistorical. We understand feeling nervous in front of the all-powerful and very hot SECB, but we do not appreciate candidates wrongfully coming for our credibility.

Nilu Jenks: Trying to Please Everyone on Taxes 

District 5 candidate Nilu Jenks does a very good job of emphatically saying a whole lot of nothing on the topic of progressive taxation.

In surveys and in public forums, she said she “supports” the progressive taxes named in the City’s 2018 progressive tax task force, and she supports a capital gains tax. All that sounds good! But when you dig a little deeper, you see how wobbly that support really is. 

When the topic of taxes comes up, Jenks mostly likes mentioning her support for a land value tax and a vacancy tax–both of which are probably illegal and thus not too useful in conversations about meeting the City’s need for more revenue in the next few years. Moreover, in the D5 endorsement meeting with The Stranger, she said she wouldn’t raise the city’s payroll tax on big business if recession fears loomed, and that she was generally reluctant to tax businesses who could show her where a given tax would “hurt” them.

Okay! Fair enough. Support with a lot of asterisks. Heard. 

However, last week, before we published our endorsements, Jenks heard we didn’t like her answer on taxes and wanted to tell us we had her all wrong. She stopped Rich twice on the same day to drive home the point that she “likes taxes” and thinks we need to turn our upside-down tax code right-side up, and thinks inequality is so bad, etc. 

“I like taxes, I like taxes, I like taxes!” she repeated, tonally insisting that we’d simply misunderstood her position and her passion for taxing big business. 

Okay! Got it! Jenks likes taxes! She likes taxes! 

But then this week the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA), one of the mouthpieces for big business, published their candidate scorecards, and her tone seemed to shift. DSA asked, “Do you agree that the City should prioritize existing spending before imposing new taxes or increasing existing ones? In a detailed manner, please describe how you would propose addressing the budget issues the city is facing.”

Jenks’s answer, emphasis ours: “I strongly believe this. We are likely facing a commercial real estate credit crunch and an oncoming economic recession. The lens for all my policy priorities is in line with the reality of this economic downturn. I do believe we can look at taxes that would contribute to the health and vitality of our city while addressing tax fairness.” 

The eye of the needle she’s threading here is so small it’s practically nonexistent. In May, she told the Seattle Times that the City should “seek additional revenue to address projected budget shortfalls,” but now she tells the DSA she “strongly believes” we need to “prioritize existing spending before imposing new taxes or increasing existing ones.” These two statements, in addition to her other statements at forums and the like, can only co-exist in a vacuum.

In asking about existing spending, the DSA assumes the City can simply find all the money it needs in the couch cushions and so wouldn’t need to seek additional revenue to fill budget gaps. In asking about support for progressive taxes, The Stranger, at least, assumes we need new progressive revenue to fill gaps and to increase investments across the board.

Jenks avoids taking on either assumption and ends up offering answers that would align with conservative Council Member Alex Pedersen’s not-so-sneaky plan to pass a capital gains tax to subsidize people who water their lawns, but not with something like a proposal to raise JumpStart to pay for more affordable housing. 

In an email asking her to square the answer she gave to DSA with the answer she’s given on progressive taxation, Jenks offered more of the same: “We have an affordability crisis in Seattle, and our state’s tax system is regressive. We can use our tax policy for progressive change. Within this context, I don’t support increasing property taxes or the sales tax. I support a capital gains tax. I support JumpStart. I support a land value tax. I believe the city can be fiscally responsible and not add to the city’s unaffordability while passing progressive taxes like a capital gains tax or a land value tax.” 

That last sentence comes closest to a response to the question, but it dodges the central conflict. The truth is that any tax proposal will meet the full force of big business opposition, as evidenced by the fact that they’re already trying to blow up the new progressive tax work group by turning it into a budget-cutting party. Anything less than full-throated support for increasing or imposing the progressive taxes we have at hand–yesterday, and without conditioning that support on cutting existing spending–only reveals a candidate who will cave the second that opposition mounts.