As I noted a while back, I previously offered my endorsement to Pete Holmes for re-election as Seattle City Attorney. I've given a couple bucks to his campaign, as well. I've known Pete for a long time, and at the time I saw no reason to change the City Attorney.
Of course, as we have learned since, someone did believe that Holmes was not doing good enough of a job to merit re-election. Enter Scott Lindsay, former public safety adviser to the Mayor (and many other things). I don't pretend that I know Lindsay well, but I was impressed with how he stood up to folks like Harley Lever during some of the most heated interactions with the Neighborhood Safety Alliance (a/k/a Seattle's Trump Coalition. Seriously.)
Generally, an incumbent carries a burden of showing voters why they have earned re-election. This includes, of course, successes they can point to in legislation and action, as well as a clear vision of what they want to do next. A challenger's burden is arguably higher - explain why the incumbent is not good for the job, what about their experience means they have, and provide a clear vision of what they would do office.
In 2009, when Holmes was first elected, he made that case. Then-City Attorney Tom Carr was known as a "law and order" type, and was routinely prosecuting marijuana offenses, despite marijuana being the lowest priority for law enforcement in Seattle (by law). Holmes made clear that he would not prosecute marijuana offenses, and that Carr was not living by the values of our city, and successfully won. In a landslide. Four years later, nobody even thought to challenge Holmes.
This year, Holmes points to his record as City Attorney being one that lives up to the promises he has made. He has also pointed to his efforts to make the city more transparent, and noted that only he and Council Members Harrell and Bagshaw have been in office for more than four years - the continuity argument. He cites his work fighting against the Trump Administration's attack on sanctuary cities, and promises more of what he's been doing for the last eight years.
In contrast, Lindsay makes the argument that Holmes has been slacking on the job. He points to the increase in homelessness encampments, the costs of litigating and settling civil cases, the retaining of outside counsel for criminal prosecution, a decrease in domestic violence prosecutions, and a failure to offer diversion for defendants in a prostitution sting. Lindsay offers himself as an alternative that will focus on "progressive justice now" (seriously, folks - can we please retire the word "progressive" [along with "vibrant"]). This includes expansion of the LEAD program, working to increase the size of the Navigation Teams, a focus on harm reduction, and efforts to ensure successful re-entry into the community for incarcerated persons.
So let's start with Holmes' burden - has he represented that he has earned re-election? Maybe. There is no doubt that he is, generally, running a good office. It hasn't been particularly visionary over the last four years (since marijuana was legalized), but there aren't really scandals. He did what he set out to do, and he's becoming more activist in defending the people of the city in court, and that's a good thing. His vision for the future - his "why you should vote for me" - is admittedly weak. I don't buy into the "steady hand" argument, generally, because the people who actually make the city run are not our elected officials, it's the people doing the day-to-day work. And I know it's popular to bash Trumpism, but it's also lazy.
Holmes has had some missteps. As I wrote earlier, I'm not convinced that the amount spent on outside counsel is warranted. He hasn't really been leading as an attorney of the people of the city with respect to the encampment sweeps, nor did he do anything to challenge the use of prison labor to do these sweeps. Whether he could have is an open question - does the City Attorney represent the people of the city, or the city by and through its elected officials. I honestly can't speak to prosecutions for domestic violence, but if prosecutions are down and DV is up, that's a big problem. These are what I'm hearing Lindsay say are the reasons to fire Holmes.
On the prostitution sting - this is a hard one. The critique is that, by not offering diversion, some offenders who are not naturalized citizens may be exposed to deportation. The flipside - because of our dumbass laws outlawing prostitution, many women are essentially sex slaves/part of sex trafficking rings, and the proprietors of these services in this environment are essentially enabling this horrific international problem. So who do we side with: protecting women from being smuggled to basically be raped so someone else can get paid, or with people who are paying for relations, and if caught may be deported? I honestly wrestle with this.
But if we go back to the critiques offered by Lindsay, we see an interesting trend. Just recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld a fee award against the City based off of a lawsuit against Seattle Police for excessive force and unnecessary use of pepper spray. Costs of defending the city in civil actions, and settling them or paying judgments, have gone up, but that is because of city employees - notably officers - engaging in harmful and, at times, reckless actions while on the job. So if the public safety adviser to the mayor is unable to influence that change, how is being the City Attorney any different? It was, after all, the executive branch that has responded to protests in Seattle the way they have - not the City Attorney's office.
On homelessness, Scott Lindsay was the person who took on the process of how we do sweeps in Seattle. I'll give him credit that the plan is much better than what it used to be (even if the implementation remains troubled), but that was the executive branch, not the city attorney, whose actions have led to the current situation. So while I appreciate the work that Lindsay has done on the executive side to improve the situation, it remains an executive function. And it was the executive branch that brought in prison labor. Had Holmes acted on that, it would have been Lindsay on the other side.
Suffice it to say, Holmes has made a pretty milquetoast argument for himself, but at the same time, I am not convinced that Lindsay has met his burden to justify firing Holmes. So let's call this a wash, and look next to Lindsay's plans.
His campaign pitch is focused on four things, and I'm going to touch on each one:
1. Outreach. Lindsay would like to triple the size of the Navigation Team. That is a fantastic idea. However, that's not the City Attorney's job. This is entirely a budget issue that comes from the Mayor and City Council.
2. Diversion. Another phenomenal idea, and folks (myself included) have been hammering on this for years. Why this wasn't done while Lindsay was public safety adviser is beyond me, but again, this is not under the purview of the City Attorney. The diversion aspect, of course, falls into the lap of the CA for the work portion, and it's solid to know that, if elected, Lindsay will be an advocate on the CA side to support this expansion if the new Mayor (and SPOG) agree to it.
3. Smart Justice. It appears that Lindsay would like the CA office to focus its efforts on diversion rather than incarceration. Frankly, that's smart. If Holmes wins, he should really look into this. Of course, such a move would require more funding for treatment and support programs. While the long-term savings are likely to be significant, the short term funding has to come from somewhere, and that is the Mayor and Council. And this also seems to miss Lindsay's lead on the 9 1/2 Block strategy, which many agree was extremely flawed and reeked of classism and racism.
4. Re-Entry. "Provide meaningful treatment and shelter options to keep people from falling back into crime after release." Last night I met someone who is a part of the Seattle People's Party, and he's doing a lot of work on food security in Southeast Seattle. He noted that kids steal food from a grocery store because they're hungry. That we focus first on punishment as a society and less on eliminating the cause is astounding, and his point on this was simple: let's just make sure everyone has food. It'll be cheaper than incarceration, and with urban farms (like Mara and Rainier Beach), communities can work together to grow together. Instead of focusing on an idea that, somehow, crime is more of an addict or homeless root-cause-problem, I'd rather we look to learn why individuals are doing what they're doing, and get to focusing on that. I think that Lindsay's heart is in the right place, and hope that, as a society, we look at the bigger picture of how we are going to effectively change how we approach "justice" in our system.
Ultimately, we are faced with two imperfect choices. Frankly, neither one has made the "wow" statement that they should be hired by the public for this job. For Holmes, it's a high bar to earn a third term, and I'm not sure he's fully met that bar. For Lindsay, much of his platform are things he could have led on while public safety adviser - and he didn't. We have not heard how being the City Attorney suddenly changes that dynamic.
When looking at their respective histories, I see two people dedicated to public service. And for that, they should receive applause. However, when it comes down to it, we all have to make a choice of how we want our City Attorney to engage in being City Attorney. And with that, I stand by my original endorsement, and will be voting for Pete Holmes.