Nelson is all about economic recovery and bringing accountability back to city hall.
Nelson is all about bringing accountability back to city hall. COURTESY OF THE NELSON CAMPAIGN

Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson considers herself a "progressive small business owner," and she thinks Seattle is missing that small-business voice on its city council. If elected, her main priority will be Seattle's economic recovery.

That's the basic pitch driving her run for Seattle City Council Position 9, the citywide position vacated by Council President Lorena Gonzalez, who is running for Mayor.

Nelson, who has a background as a city council aide, is vying for the seat along with master's student Claire Grant, Gonzalez's chief of staff Brianna Thomas, and activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver.

This isn't the first time the brewery owner has tried for a seat on the dais, and it's not the first time she's pitched herself as the business candidate. In 2017, she finished third in the primary for the other citywide seat, Position 8. This time, though, Nelson is newly sober.

Over the phone, Nelson said she noticed her drinking "take an uptick during COVID." One night last fall, she snapped when she "caught her son doing YouTube" and smashed his phone with a meat tenderizer. Her father had been an alcoholic, and Nelson's own drinking started to worry her, and so six months ago she decided to check herself into an inpatient recovery program. Nelson described her sobriety as a "personal project" that has made her more empathetic.

Nelson didn't want to come across as if her experience in recovery could help her "deal better with the homeless situation," but going through addiction personally made her respond differently emotionally to the homelessness crisis, Nelson said.

On homelessness, Nelson wants to "reframe" the narrative around the crisis as a public health emergency. She also wants to "restructure our response."

Nelson wants to collect more data on people who experience homelessness to understand what leads them to homelessness and which services different people need. She thinks the annual Seattle/King County point-in-time count isn't "granular enough," and said she wanted to pair a "centralized portal" with her mapping solution "so we know where deficiencies are."

Essentially, Nelson believes that Seattle has spent too much on homelessness. She opposes the JumpStart Seattle payroll tax and does not support passing new progressive taxes. The city just needs to spend existing money responsibly, Nelson said. She also wants to be more transparent and accountable, in case you were wondering.

When asked if she would bring back the Navigation Team, the team that swept homeless encampments, Nelson said that she saw a benefit to that strategy because "those cops got to know people in encampments." She's not sure social workers could make the rounds like those cops did and "build that rapport and those relationships" since they're "stretched thin."

Nelson did not answer directly whether she supported encampment sweeps, but she said that "allowing people to live in the rain, in the cold, in parks, and open spaces is an abdication of council responsibility."

As far as the city's economic recovery is concerned, to help small businesses Nelson wants to stop collecting B&O taxes from federal emergency grants and from industries hardest hit by the pandemic. She also wants to invest in a team that courts new businesses to come to Seattle, and she wants to create more job and apprenticeship programs.

Nelson opposes using police funds to invest in alternatives to policing. She applauded policymakers who worked to address systemic racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, but said "good policing takes more money." She supports a more "holistic approach" to public safety, such as expanding the behavioral health crisis response team or adding more funding for Health One, an unarmed Seattle Fire Department emergency response program for downtown.

"I just quote Chief Carmen Best—and by the way, I think it’s tragic the way she left," Nelson said, referencing how the Seattle Police Department's chief quit after last summer's protests. "The first black woman police chief in Seattle said, 'We can walk and chew gum at the same time.' We can have safe communities and we can have good cops. It’s not either-or."

But how do we change the culture at SPD?

Nelson sighed, "It's going to sound lame, but it starts with making sure we are adequately training and conveying to cops that their first responsibility is to serve."

What does she think about the officers from Seattle attending the "Stop the Steal" rally that turned into the insurrection?

"I believe that it’s a minority of cops that are on power trips," Nelson said. "We need to watch that very closely."

Nelson is currently leading District 9 candidates in campaign contributions. Since she announced her candidacy in February, Nelson's campaign has raised over $90,500. Oliver, who announced last month, is closest behind with $67,100 raised.