On Wednesday Brianna Thomas, chief of staff for Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez, announced her bid for her boss' open citywide Position 9 seat.
Thomas last ran for council in 2015. At that time she was gunning for the West Seattle/Delridge seat, but she ended up taking 4th place in the August primary with a little over 10% of the vote share.
The long-expected announcement comes a few weeks after Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson announced her second run for council, which, at least ideologically speaking, sets up the ol' conservative Democrat vs progressive Democrat contest we've come to know and loathe here in this jewel of capitalism. That dynamic might change if some other people jump into the race, but right now only perennial candidates have filed.
Attorney and Creative Justice co-director Nikkita Oliver, who earlier this month told the South Seattle Emerald they were "still mulling" a run for something in city government in 2021, offered no comment on a report in PubliCola of their interest in the seat.
Thomas started out her professional career working two jobs. By day, she served as an office manager for the Church Council of Greater Seattle. By night, she checked IDs and cleaned glasses behind the bar at the Showbox.
In their own ways, both jobs trained her well for a life in politics. The job at the church council taught her how to reach a consensus with "419 member congregations across 17 denominations...all called by their God," Thomas said during a video conference. Meanwhile, the job at the music venue taught her how to clean up buckets of (fake) blood.
"My first day at work was a Gwar show, and when I got to work a blood tank exploded," Thomas recalled. When asked how she responded to that crisis, she said, “You mop up the fake blood. You can’t just have a bloody back hall.”
While she couldn't name her all-time favorite show, she said one of them was Bomba Estéreo, which she described as "three hours of sweet, sweet, body-rocking music."
Her decade-long political career began with an internship in the office of Democratic state Senator and Level 65 necromancer Steve Hobbs. She also worked as a legislative aide for Democratic state Senator Bob Hasegawa. She eventually went on to run campaigns for politicians and initiatives, leading the Honest Elections Initiative, which got us the Democracy Vouchers, and the “Yes for SeaTac" campaign, which paved the way for us to get the $15 per hour minimum wage. After the loss in 2015, Gonzalez scooped her up to serve as a legislative aide. She now works as the Council President's senior advisor.
Thomas must not be doing such a bad job in that role, as she enters the race today with an endorsement from her boss and also from state Senator Joe Nguyen.
According to a press release, the planks of Thomas's platform include "Criminal Justice Reform and Accountability, Equitable Economic Recovery, Supporting Small Businesses, and building an Environmentally Sustainable Seattle."
Thomas said culture change at the Seattle Police Department must "come from within," both from leadership and from rank-and-file officers on patrol demanding that change "every day."
As for the change she'd want to impose, Thomas said, "What we need to do and what we are doing is taking a look at what we’re asking of police officers," echoing a call for reform embraced by both police officers and criminal justice advocates.
"I don’t think a gun-and-badge response to what is fundamentally a homelessness crisis, or a mental health crisis, or an economic crisis is the right response. A police officer showing up isn’t going to cure food instability," she continued, "We’ve got to invest in community-based alternatives, and we gotta do it in a way that’s sustainable."
Some of those community-based alternatives she named included Community Passageways, Creative Justice, and Choose 180.
For Thomas, an “equitable economic recovery” means investing in communities hit hardest by the pandemic, which means Black-owned and other small businesses and also the city's creative sector. "Seattle is a music city, an art city. We paint and we carve stone. It hasn’t been affordable for artists to create in the city for some time. We need to get back to the roots of who we are, and that involves supporting small businesses, art spaces, and mom and pop shops," she said.
If she lived in a perfect world, Thomas would add more employees at Seattle's Office of Labor Standards and at the Office of Economic Development, saying she'd "rather spend more on education than enforcement so a worker gets what they’re entitled to on the frontend as opposed to the backend."
Thomas took an environmental approach to her arguments in favor of more upzoning, saying that not legalizing apartments in more of the city was "bad business for the earth."
"I know folks get nervous about change, but this is a city. It’s going to grow. It's going to look different. That’s the nature of cities," Thomas said.
She also said she believes the city needs to raise more revenue to address the housing crisis, and said she'd look for it among "corporations in our city who have made money hand over fist during this economic crisis."
"I’d love to have a conversation with them on what a policy looks like that they won’t sue to death," she added.
In terms of working with others on the council, Thomas said she could see herself working with Councilmember Alex Pedersen on "rapid transit corridors all day." With Councilmember Kshama Sawant, she could see some shared policy interests around "small business supports."