Alex Pedersen has an impressive resumé. From working for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during the Clinton administration, and then an extensive foray into the private sector, to working for multiple city council members, including Tim Burgess, Pedersen is ready to throw his own hat into the ring. Pedersen lives at the convergence of the University District, Ravenna, and Roosevelt neighborhoods. He's running to fill Councilmember Rob Johnson's seat in District 4 in what is shaping up to be a competitive race. Pedersen is the first city council candidate to have qualified for the Democracy Voucher program. It takes at least 150 contributions and signatures from Seattleites to qualify. Pedersen's campaign also claims to have raised the most money in the race through traditional fundraising.
Pedersen and I chatted on the phone this morning. I almost missed the call (thanks for nothing, traffic) but made it in the nick of time.
NG: Why was now the right time for you to run?
AP: I thought about running for City Council when the district system was implemented but I wasn’t quite ready; I went back to the private sector, I worked with financial analysts and affordable housing across the country. The work we were doing had a national footprint and I got to see what other states and cities are doing.
I announced my candidacy on November 28. I like the change the voters made to have some districts and some at large—I know my district really well. When I worked for Tim Burgess one of my jobs was to attend all the community meetings. Providing that constituent service is something I'm used to doing. I find it really fulfilling to really knowing what’s going on in the community.
That's not a great fit for everyone’s skill set, but it is for mine. What’s really needed now is some more variety in the city council, where you have more people focused on the city budget and making sure we get the best results for people looking at the numbers really closely. The budget is now up to $6 billion, people need to be looking at that more carefully.
What do you think the biggest issues facing the district are?
The biggest issue is rebuilding the trust between city hall and the residents of Northeast Seattle and rebuilding that trust means providing more accountability. By accountability, I mean being more responsive to residents and small businesses and being more transparent in what’s coming out of city hall and using input from residents. I think that’s a top issue, that goes into the other more traditional issues.
I also think that city council should be doing everything it can to keep people in their homes, to keep small businesses from having to close up shop and move elsewhere. For instance, keeping an eye on the cost of utilities—that's not something you hear a lot of elected officials talk about but it’s something we have control over and that impacts everyone. Those bills have been going up. I want to try to keep costs low to prevent economic displacement.
I’d like to focus on the last mile to get people to light rail. I hear a lot of people say they’d like to light rail but they’re not sure how to get there from their house. I want to increase bus service; there were some changes to the bus routes, I'll be helping to smooth that out, helping to be an additional voice to all the different transit modes, and help people use transit.
What’s your take on what's happening on 35th?
That goes back to rebuilding the trust; residents and small businesses felt like that the city government was moving ahead with the plan when they didn’t have adequate input or notice. That distrust created a backlash which may result in significant modification of the plan. If there had been more careful engagement with the community there wouldn’t have been so much noise about it. I am concerned that there is a plan to remove bus stops. There’s stuff block by block that’s really important that a transportation planner downtown may not know, they can benefit from the input. I think it was handled poorly from the city and the residents became very vocal—which is their right. It’s too bad that the city handled it that way. A district council member should be more in tune with what’s going on.
You mentioned homelessness?
Homelessness is something that everyone’s concerned about and it’s really the number one issue. Rebuilding the trust is important so we can potentially get more resources for homelessness. City council should be providing the mayor with the tools and oversight that she needs to help to reduce homelessness and get people housed. I’m glad she’s working with King County, but one of the challenges for the mayor is that all nine city council members have their own ideas. It would better if we were growing in the same direction and providing oversight and that support on homelessness and sticking to those programs that have proven to work.
Do you think your affordable housing will help?
Yes. [Pedersen laughs] You probably want me to expand on that, right?
Yeah, that'd be great.
When I worked at HUD I worked in the division that provided the grant for homelessness and then in the private sector with the financing of affordable housing. I know how the numbers work, I know how to make the deals pencil*. Let’s look at that, let’s help you get it there. That financial knowledge will be really helpful so that we can craft the right balance of policy to increase affordable housing—for example, to encourage more affordable housing to be built on site instead of built into a fund.
Why are you the right choice?
I think to rebuild the trust with city council and get things done for the good of the city we need some council members with additional financial and private sector experience to have that financial acumen to make sure our growing budget is used effectively. I’ve got a unique combination of public service experience and private sector experience and also I'm very in tune with the district. I wrote a neighborhood newsletter for five years where I’d feature small businesses and community events. As several council members decide they’re not going to run again it’s important to have some council members who know what the process is.
Anything else you want to add?
I’m really proud that we’re participating in the democracy voucher program and we’re the first to qualify. I think just having qualified first we believe it shows that we have a really organized team and we have broad support and are looking forward to engaging more with the residents and small businesses of the district.
*I assume this is industry jargon.