Hi, everyone. My name is Sara Nelson, I’m running for City Council, and I’m the business candidate.
How did I—a former Sandinista brigadista who met her husband at the WTO protests—become the “business candidate?" Well, besides the fact that The Stranger and Seattle Times both agree on the label—a sure sign the stars are aligning—it’s really not a surprise. I do co-own a small business. My company, Fremont Brewing, has grown from three full-time employees to 55. I’m proud of that.
I’m also pretty vocal that I think our local small businesses need a seat at the table in politics. With more than 60 percent of King County’s private-sector workers employed by small businesses, they’re incredibly important to growing our economy, tackling affordability, and ensuring we don’t turn into Bellevue. I’m absolutely willing to be the candidate of progressive small business.
On the other hand, being the “business candidate” feels a little weird. I’m no right-winger. I’m a recovering academic who taught Anthropology and Women’s Studies at the University of Washington. I was an activist in my twenties, and I’m an activist today. Let’s just say I’m not waiting for my invite to Dino Rossi’s country club.
Still, I get why “business candidate” has a negative connotation. Too often, business has been the Voice of “No” in Seattle politics. I understand some of the frustration—sometimes, the City Council aims for giant corporations and misses, body-checking small, locally-owned businesses instead. Immigrant- and minority-owned businesses are often the most affected. I will certainly work to avoid those unfortunate misfires.
But Seattle is a progressive, experimental city, and I’m proud of that. I believe it’s time for a voice for small business that matches that progressive spirit. That’s exactly what I’ll bring to the City Council.
I’ve already been doing this work for years. I actually have more City Hall experience than all of my opponents combined. As senior policy advisor to former City Councilmember Richard Conlin, I worked for over a decade on a wide range of issues, from transportation to economic development to social justice.
Councilmember Lisa Herbold is the perfect example of why experience matters. She too was a long-time Council aide who really understands Seattle municipal government, and when she was elected she was ready to hit the ground running and be effective from Day One. The same would be true in my case
Over my 11 years as a Council aide, some of my proudest work came on environmental policy. I helped pass landmark legislation on climate change and zero-waste policy that made Seattle a national leader on environmental issues. As your City Councilmember, I’ll make Seattle a national leader again.
Running a business hasn’t changed my passion for sustainability. In fact, it’s given me a soapbox to advocate for progressive environmental policies. I’m proud that in 2014 Fremont Brewing was honored with the King County Executive’s “Small Business of the Year” award. We’re one of the top craft breweries in the country when it comes to conservation—we also won Sustainable Seattle’s Triple Bottom Line Sustainability Award for small businesses this year.
Having navigated the city’s loose network of environmental incentives when adding green features to my own business, I know there are better ways to engage local business on sustainability. That’s why I’m on the steering committee to expand the EnviroStar program to make greening up easier. I want to serve as an example for business owners to say “Yes” to doing everything we can to operate sustainably and benefit of our environment.
That’s not the only case where I think progressive business can help us get to “Yes.” I absolutely, 100% believe that businesses have a moral responsibility to treat their employees right. At Fremont Brewing, we’ve been providing our staff a living wage, healthcare, retirement benefits, and paid family leave long before any were required by law. We did so because it’s the right thing to do. On the City Council, I will help sort out the legitimate business concerns from the nonsense, and make the right thing happen. That’s exactly why it’s important to have progressive business owners involved in local government.
Small businesses are the beating heart of Seattle. They’re where we work, eat, drink, and sing most of our ill-advised karaoke. Having progressive small business at the table means reducing political polarization, helping workers, and supporting what makes Seattle a place we’re all proud to live.
And that’s why I—a progressive Democrat—don’t mind being “the business candidate” this time around.
Sara Nelson, co-owner of Fremont Brewing, is a candidate for City Council Position 8.