Alex Pedersen, the former legislative analyst for Tim Burgess, will be sworn into office on Tuesday, November 26, the same day King County Elections certifies the election results.
Why so early? Because right now interim city council member Abel Pacheco is serving in the 4th District's council seat, having been appointed to fill out the rest of the term that Rob Johnson abandoned in April to take a job with the National Hockey League. Because Pacheco was never elected, it makes sense to get an actually elected person in there ASAP. (Pedersen will also get sworn in with the rest of the city council member-elects in early January.)
Pedersen was the only Chamber of Commerce-endorsed candidate—aside from Debora Juarez, who was endorsed by pretty much everybody—to make it through the election. He ran on an "accountability agenda," a vague catch-all that was appealing to critics of the last city council and the chamber. To help boost Pedersen's agenda, the chamber's PAC, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), spent close to $70,000 supporting his candidacy.
Headed into Tuesday, and the next four years, Pedersen has laid out some plans to achieve that more-accountable city council and offered predictions on which council members he's likely to have a good working relationship with. One person you might not expect to hear the business-backed Pedersen list as a potential ally: socialist council member Kshama Sawant.
First things first for Pedersen. City hall's constituent relations are antiquated, he said, and he wants to improve the customer relationship management system. His long-term goal is to implement a 311 number, what he described as "Find It, Fix It on steroids."
Cities like Tacoma have 311, a nonemergency line that "offers a concierge feel in the way of reception" and support. Pedersen would like to see Seattle implement something similar to make the city "more resident-focused." He acknowledged that this is a long-term goal.
Another aspect of accountability Pedersen is focused on is the development of the Regional Homelessness Authority. The legislation was submitted this fall by King County executive Dow Constantine and Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan to establish a "unified response to homelessness" in the region.
Currently, the plan is to have an 11-person governing board made up of experts on homelessness and previously homeless people with lived experience. These will be chosen by a steering committee composed of Constantine, Durkan, one King County Council member, one Seattle City Council member, two Sound Cities Association members, and two people with lived experience of homelessness, according to King County.
Pedersen would like to be on the Homelessness Authority's steering committee, but he's presently wondering whether the elected officials "should have more say in the day-to-day work of the regional authority, or are we trying to make it so it’s just experts and people with lived experience making those decisions?"
He's also worried that voters will look to the elected officials involved "for accountability," and that if results aren't seen, and "homelessness isn’t going down," that voters will "blame the elected officials who aren’t even part of it in a meaningful day-to-day way."
That's why he wants to create "some sort of balance with accountability and responsiveness" with the new Homelessness Authority. I am not sure what that means, but, he assured me, it doesn't mean slowing the authority down. Quite the opposite, actually.
He wants to "move it forward expeditiously so we can then move on to other issues about funding and programs proven to work." Then Pedersen wants to make sure that all of this funding is really necessary.
"Once we have the Regional Authority and we’re funding measures proven to work," Pedersen said, hypothetically, "Is more funding needed? Have we looked under every rock in the city government budget and found some savings, but then do we still need more money to build more permanent supportive housing even though we’ve doubled the Seattle housing levy?"
An independent study put out by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company stated that King County lacks affordable housing options and needs to spend around $410 million annually to even begin to solve the homelessness problem. Pedersen has been outspoken about how Seattle does not need more money for new affordable housing.
He hopes to be closely involved with the formation of the Regional Homelessness Authority.
Other than that, Pedersen wants to help save transportation from Tim Eyman's Initiative 976. He was still wearing his "No on I-976" button on his suit jacket lapel when The Stranger spoke to him. He also wants to improve the tree ordinance.
"We have a tree ordinance on the books now, but you can drive a truck through it," Pedersen said. "It’s not enforced." He said that protecting "carbon-sequestering trees" was a provision of the Green New Deal that he wanted to see accomplished.
As we were talking at Grand Central Bakery in Wedgwood, a woman interrupted. "Excuse me, are you Alex Pedersen?" They chatted for a second. I asked if that happened to him a lot. "It does happen more often," he smiled, "Yes."
Who are his allies?
Pedersen said he's excited to get to know his fellow council members better and establish some common ground now that the campaign season is over.
That's nice, but it leads directly to a bigger question: Who will his allies be when it comes time to vote on proposed legislation?
"I’ve thought a lot about this," Pedersen said. "It won’t be some kind of big picture-alliance, it’ll be on an issue-by-issue basis."
Specifically, Pedersen said he's looking forward to working with Lisa Herbold, who he worked with when he was a legislative analyst. He's also anticipating working with the other North End council members, Dan Strauss (District 6) and Debora Juarez (District 5), on issues directly related to their region of Seattle. "There may be some common goals as far as police precinct issues go," Pedersen said.
Notably, he pointed out how he and Council Member Kshama Sawant "have a lot of common ground on anti-displacement concerns."
Pedersen continued: "No matter who’s being displaced from their housing or their small business, that’s a concern of mine. I know [Sawant] is really concerned about anti-displacement."
But do they actually align on their anti-displacement concerns?
Sawant, when asked about this, was relatively diplomatic. She said, vaguely, that she would "work with all city council members who are willing to fight alongside our movement... and to overcome the opposition of big business and the real estate lobby."
Doug Trumm from the Urbanist was more blunt.
Answering the question of whether Pedersen and Sawant align on anti-displacement, Trumm said: "The short answer is no. Council Members Sawant and Pedersen overlap only in skepticism of developers, which is definitely a healthy thing to have if it doesn't lead to a fatalistic 'we can't build anything here' type of attitude. For Sawant, it doesn't. For Pedersen, it does."
"And," Trumm continued, "while Sawant is a huge proponent of public housing and rent control, Pedersen supports neither and has argued city government already has enough resources to deal with the affordable housing crisis."
Last week, Erica Barnett reported that Pedersen has already hired the first member of his new staff. Pedersen, according to Barnett, hired "neighborhood activist and longtime anti-density crusader Toby Thaler." Thaler, Barnett reported, "was a leader of SCALE, a group that spent two years appealing the Mandatory Housing Affordability on the grounds that increased density in the city’s urban villages would destroy neighborhood character, trample the neighborhood plans of the ’90s, and harm the environment."
Trumm, from the Urbanist, said that Thaler has frequently "been vitriolic and domineering" in the Urbanist's comment section and has been "described as an eco-fascist due to his belief that overpopulation is the root problem, which is why Seattle doesn't have a responsibility to grow in his estimation."
When asked about Thaler and the eco-fascist description, Pedersen responded in an e-mail, "Thanks for asking and let’s not get off on the wrong foot by regurgitating labels hurled at people."
He then included a full-list of his staff. Team Pedersen will be composed of four legislative analysts with one doubling as a district manager. Pedersen is looking to set up his district office in either the University District or in Magnuson.
Pedersen's new team consists of Alexa Halling, his former campaign manager, who has a public health background from her prior work at Harborview Medical Center; Cara Kadoshima Vallier, a former paralegal in the Seattle City Attorney's Office's Torts and Environmental Protection sections; Lhorna Murray, the community advocate and artist who helped organize the 2018 Seattle Women’s March 2.0; and, as mentioned, Thaler. Of note on his résumé is his instrumental role in the 1999 Fremont Neighborhood Plan that helped reconfigure bicycle and vehicle routing through downtown Fremont.