SEATTLE — In the campaign to become Seattle’s next city attorney, the two candidates want to tell you that their past comments aren’t representative of who they are.
One of the candidates, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, is a self-proclaimed “abolitionist” who is trying to turn the criminal justice system upside down. In Twitter posts last year, she celebrated those who set fires in a juvenile detention center, called the destruction of property “a moral obligation” and praised the one who apparently activated an explosive device in a police station as a “hero”.
During that same period, her opponent, Ann Davison, was moving in the opposite direction. A former Democrat, she declared herself a Republican, appalled at what she saw as a lack of order in Seattle. In a city where Republicans have long been banned from city politics, Ms. Davison filmed a why-I’m not Democrat video for a Donald Trump supporter who later stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.
Initially viewed as longshots who joined the campaign just hours before a filing deadline, Ms. Thomas-Kennedy and Ms. Davison have emerged as the two finalists to become city attorneys, representing the city in legal matters and leading to prosecutions. of low crimes. The extreme dispersion in their political views has left some residents feeling uneasy in the run-up to Tuesday’s election. They said they were concerned about worsening polarization around the pressing issues facing the city: homelessness, housing affordability, crime, mental health and police reform.
“I think many of us are disappointed with the choices that lie ahead of us,” said Senator David Frockt, a Democrat who represents Seattle. “I’m wary of both.”
The campaign has sparked a conversation about what it means to be a Democrat in a city where eight out of nine councilors are Democrats – the only point of departure being a socialist.
Gary Locke, a former Democratic governor who served as President Obama’s ambassador to China, said he did not view the race through a partisan lens.
“Sometimes you have to look at the candidates and their positions, not just the party label,” Locke said.
Mr Locke rejected Ms Thomas-Kennedy’s previous statements, saying her call for fewer prosecutions would exacerbate the city’s problems. He has joined another former Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, to support Mrs. Davison.
But other Democratic Party groups and leaders have gathered around Ms. Thomas-Kennedy, with each of the Democratic parties representing the city’s seven legislative districts backing her.
Shasti Conrad, the chairman of the King County Democrats, who has done advisory work for the Thomas-Kennedy campaign, said she was shocked and discouraged to see Mr Locke and Mrs Gregoire back a candidate like Mrs Davison. People can’t call themselves Democrats and support a Republican for the job, she said, adding that the former governors simply had no contact with the people living in Seattle.
While she understands that some people may be concerned about Ms. Thomas-Kennedy’s past comments, she said that when people think about the vision and experience Ms. Thomas-Kennedy would bring to the office, there was no question who would be the better would be choice. .
“Things feel so broken that we need someone who is visionary and someone who is going to address racial equality and steer this office in a direction that will deliver better results,” she said.
Many Tuesday local elections across the country were shaped by debates about crime and how to overhaul the criminal justice system. In Seattle’s mayoral election, one candidate, Lorena González, who last year championed a 50 percent cut in the police budget, will face Bruce Harrell, who has campaigned for more police.
Seattle recorded more homicides last year than any year in the past quarter-century, though property crimes to be dealt with by the city attorney have not followed a comparable rise. In a city that has become one of the country’s most expensive places to live, there has been a surge in apparent homelessness, with researchers counting a 50 percent increase in tents in the urban core since the start of the pandemic.
Ms. Thomas-Kennedy was a public defender who said she was appalled to see how the city dealt with crimes and prosecuted people for things that were essentially crimes of poverty. She entered the race but did not expect to compete against three-year-old incumbent Pete Holmes.
“I thought I’d have a blurb in the voter pamphlet about what’s happening at the Seattle City Council and how we could do things better, but I expected to be more or less ignored,” said Ms. Thomas-Kennedy. She said she was surprised to come in first in the primaries, with 36 percent of the vote, but she said it was a testament to how much people are eager for substantial change.
Ms Thomas-Kennedy said the tweets she sent last year, before she even considered running for office, came at a time when she was angry after police fired tear gas at her neighborhood and forced her to buy a gas mask for her child. . But she said the comments were inappropriate for someone who was running.
“A lot of those things are just hyperbolic,” she said. “They were very skeptical. And I will say that I think they were mostly childish. And do I think that is appropriate for someone who is running? No. Would I tweet more? No.”
While campaigning for a platform to eventually abolish the criminal justice system as we know it, she said she knows the process of achieving her goals will not happen overnight. She envisions that the city must first have systems in place to support health care, education, vocational training and treatment services.
Before the city attorney, she said she sees an opportunity to use the office’s civil division to go after companies that commit wage theft and protect tenant rights. She expects she would still be prosecuting cases like aggravated assault or repeated DUIs, as there are no alternative systems in place yet to tackle those crimes.
Ms. Davison came to the election from an opposing point of view: that in too many cases the city has already let the prosecution be postponed.
Ms Davison said in recent years the agency has focused so much on helping people accused of crimes and not enough on representing the interests of crime victims. She argues that the lack of consequences for those who commit crimes makes the city less safe. She also said the city’s residents want to see both police reforms and enforcement.
Although she is a lawyer, she mainly focuses on civil contract law and arbitration. She said in an interview that she hadn’t heard a case in court since leaving a downtown law firm more than a decade ago. But she claimed that such experience is not necessary for the job.
“The role is to be a leader and you hire subject matter experts,” said Ms. Davison.
A year ago, Mrs. Davison ran for the position of Lieutenant Governor of the state as a Republican and recorded a video explaining why she was a former Democrat as part of a ‘WalkAway’ campaign – a pro-Trump effort . WalkAway campaign founder Brandon Straka pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct this year during the January 6 riots in the US Capitol.
As part of the video, Ms. Davison denounced what she said was Democratic leadership in Seattle was moving too far to the left.
“I just can’t be a part of that anymore,” she said. On Twitter, she criticized that the far left was pulling the city toward “Marxism.” She joined conservative efforts to repeal a sex education law.
But even though she ran as a Republican and sought Republican support, Ms. Davison has tried to distance herself from the statement. She notes that the office she works for is technically impartial. She said she had actually voted for Joe Biden and voted for the Democratic candidate in the three previous presidential races.
Republicans still support Ms. Davison, hoping she will have a chance to turn the unstoppable tide in Seattle. Cynthia Cole, the chairman of the King County Republican Party, laughed when asked when the last Republican was elected to the city.
After some research, she found a Republican who was mayor in the 1960s. But one of them more recently served as a city attorney, leaving the office 32 years ago.