Jun 12, 2021
Today former Seattle mayor and Executive Director of America Walks Mike McGinn joins Crystal to dissect the most recent finance numbers in the mayor’s race and break down what they mean, and discuss how Seattle mayoral candidates are seeking to position themselves in this year’s race. Then tea is spilled about how Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes doomed the SPD consent decree from the start, how his challenger, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, looks to be qualifying for Democracy Vouchers sooner than him, and how that race might unfold.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii, and find today’s co-host, Mike McGinn, at @mayormcginn. More info is available atofficialhacksandwonks.com.
“Effort to Expand Hotel Shelters Has Broad Support, Recycled Statements Replace False Endorsement Claims on Compassion Seattle Website” from Publicola:https://publicola.com/2021/06/09/effort-to-expand-hotel-shelters-has-broad-support-recycled-statements-replace-false-endorsement-claims-on-compassion-seattle-website/
“Police Make Mass Arrests at Protest Against Oil Pipeline” by Hiroko Tabuchi, Matt Furber, and Coral Davenport: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/07/climate/line-3-pipeline-protest-native-americans.html
Campaign finance reports from the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission: http://web6.seattle.gov/ethics/elections/campaigns.aspx?cycle=2021&type=campaign&IDNum=749&leftmenu=collapsed
“Democracy vouchers play crucial role as candidates compete for cash in Seattle mayoral race” by Daniel Beekman and Jim Brunner:https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/democracy-vouchers-play-crucial-role-as-candidates-compete-for-cash-in-seattle-mayoral-race/
“Pete Holmes to seek fourth term as Seattle City Attorney” by David Kroman:https://crosscut.com/politics/2021/02/pete-holmes-seek-fourth-term-seattle-city-attorney
“Abolitionist Nicole Thomas-Kenney Announces Last-Minute Run for City Attorney” by Mark Van Streefkerk: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/06/10/abolitionist-nicole-thomas-kennedy-announces-last-minute-run-for-city-attorney/
“Seattle police funding debate turns to flawed officer behavior system” by David Kroman:https://crosscut.com/news/2021/05/seattle-police-funding-debate-turns-flawed-officer-behavior-system
“Can the Seattle Police Department Consent Decree Be Fixed?” by Paul Kiefer:https://publicola.com/2021/06/03/can-the-the-seattle-police-department-consent-decree-be-fixed/
“Court Monitor Bobb Helped Create Seattle’s Police Reform Mess” by Doug Trumm:https://www.theurbanist.org/2020/09/14/court-monitor-bobb-helped-create-seattles-police-reform-mess/
“Seattle police had a chance to prove abolitionists wrong. They didn’t.” by Shaun Scott:https://crosscut.com/opinion/2021/05/seattle-police-had-chance-prove-abolitionists-wrong-they-didnt
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with Policy Wonks and Political Hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work, with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we're continuing our Friday almost-live shows where we review the news of the week with a cohost. Welcome back to the program, friend of the show, former mayor of Seattle, and today's co-host: activist, community leader, and current Executive Director of America Walks, the excellent Mike McGinn.
Mike McGinn: [00:00:57] I always enjoy being here Crystal and I am a subscriber to Hacks & Wonks on the podcast platform of my choice. So go to the podcast platform of your choice and subscribe and support Crystal and KVRU.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:14] Well, I appreciate that. I appreciate you. And we always get a lot of comments whenever you're on the show, because you kind of bring the heat when it comes to context and history of like - okay, lots of people moved to Seattle in the past 10 years. I mean, we've had a population explosion - so a lot of people listening today and here in the City were actually not here when you were mayor, and don't have the memory of what happened, and are missing the context of a lot of what happened. How did we get into this Consent Decree situation? What initially happened back when Jenny Durkan was a federal prosecutor and Pete Holmes was running for office, and how did we get into the situation we find ourselves in today? You have a lot of that context, so we appreciate it.
Speaking of that context, we have some - a lot of news this week. Looking over - just lots of items have happened this week - Compassion Seattle having to take down its webpage listing false endorsements, we got tax documents on billionaires. Big items this week with - the Olga Park encampment sweep by the City, Durkan vs. Seattle Public Schools on the encampment in Bitter Lake, hybrid work models coming back with Amazon, the state reinstating around a 100,000 driver's license and halting the practice of revoking licenses for non-payment of traffic fines, three pipeline protests - the Line 3 pipeline protests, Keystone XL pipeline finally dead - which is great and awesome.
But we'll start out with - we just got new fundraising numbers in the mayoral race. Well, in all of the Seattle races, but I guess we can start with the mayoral race and just for the breakdown - where we are currently at. The top six mayoral candidates right now, in terms of contributions - Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston are right neck-and-neck at $399,987 and $[399,]978 respectively. There is a $400,000 cap initially on the ability to accept Democracy Vouchers, and so they are at that cap and can't cash in anything beyond that cap. Following that, Bruce Harrell at $308,000, Lorena González at $299,000, Jessyn Farrell $134,000, and Casey Sixkiller at $43,000.
So, you know, Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Grant Houston are just - they're just getting more cash than they know what to do with. And I think both of them - certainly Andrew Grant Houston has reported a significant amount of vouchers, basically in waiting, that he has banked if and when the cap on those expenditures gets raised. So I guess, how are you looking at this? Just on that number - the contributions and what they're doing, Mike.
Mike McGinn: [00:04:15] I think it's very, it's really interesting. You know one of - there's a few things that are interesting. One, it is worth noting that there is a $400,000 cap on expenditures for those that are in the Democracy Voucher program, and if an opponent or if an independent expenditure campaign tips the balance over $400,000, then Ethics and Elections can give permission to people to do more. I think what really jumps out at me though, is that the two people in the race that are not office holders seem to have had the most success just collecting vouchers. Now Andrew Grant Houston hired people to do it, and they're out there canvassing and collecting them. And so that's one technique. I think Colleen Echohawk - they've just been coming in.
And it's kind of surprising because you'd expect that the people that had held office before - Jessyn Farrell, Bruce Harrell, Lorena González - they all have, should have substantial mailing lists. They should all have a substantial base of donors who are used to giving them money for their campaigns. They both, all three of them, have run multiple times and - but none of them have maxed out. None of them have hit the cap. Theoretically, they have a more sophisticated campaign operation, including the database and donors, to hit that first. So if these numbers are affirming what some of the polling that we've seen has shown, which is that there's a sentiment out there that the City's on the wrong track - the right track, wrong track numbers are very much leaning towards wrong track from multiple sources.
And so that's favoring outsiders. And I - in 2009 when I ran, I was an outsider and it ended up - and I was running against an incumbent, Greg Nickels. There was another outsider in the race, Joe Mallahan - he was a businessman who put in his own money. And everybody always looked at fundraising, and I didn't fundraise that much compared to the others, but I fundraised enough. But the incumbent had the most money. Another candidate in the race was a long-time City Councilmember, Jan Drago, and they both finished out of the - neither of them made the top two out of the primary. So in a lot of ways, honestly, this feels to me like 2009 in that political dynamic of the outsider is going to do better.
I had to wait for the votes to actually show that there was public sentiment for me. The use of the Democracy Vouchers is a measure of public sentiment. And it's kind of fascinating to me 'cause political types, before Democracy Vouchers, just were meticulous at looking at who donated to who, and how much money they had - and they would use that as a metric for success. Now that Democracy Vouchers are out there, they're like, "Ah, money doesn't really matter anymore." Well, hold it. The outsiders are maxing out with regular people handing over the vouchers, and the insiders with all of their political apparatus are struggling to get to the finish line. Something's going on out there - that's what this is telling me.
Crystal Fincher: [00:07:35] Yeah, it is really interesting to see this dynamic. And as you point out, it is not the people who you would think have very established mailing lists and contacts and donor bases from the campaigns that they ran to get elected in the first place. And this may be a measure of insider money versus outsider or regular people who typically aren't intimately involved, particularly early in campaigns and this process. So it is really interesting just to see the effect that Democracy Vouchers have had. And as you point out, it really is a measure of, "Hey, where are regular people at" - that you have to actually interact with the residents, in some form with your campaign, to get these Democracy Vouchers. And my goodness, they have gotten a lot more of them than their opponents at this point in time.
But also, related to this conversation, and you talk about in your campaign - you didn't raise as much money as the other candidates, but you certainly had enough to execute your plan. Yeah, and get your message out. And so having the cash-on-hand in order to do that is important. And so - one, is just looking at the contributions, but really what a lot of people are looking at in politics is, "Okay. But how much money do you have - meaning you try and keep your expenditures on other items down, because the more you can spend directly communicating with residents and voters in the City, the better you are when it comes - to be able to turn out that vote. The cash-on-hand story is actually a very different story.
Colleen Echohawk actually has not spent much on the race - she has spent $83,000. Her cash-on-hand is $316,000 - so that's in the bank still able to be spent. Andrew Grant Houston has actually spent the most so far out of the top six candidates in the race. And so even though he's raised $400,000, his cash-on-hand $134,000, which is less than the next two people in terms of fundraising. Bruce Harrell has $220,000 in cash-on-hand. Lorena González has $149,000 in cash-on-hand, then Jessyn Farrell with $58,000, and Casey Sixkiller with $26,000 on-hand. So that's a very different story than just that top line of fundraising, and really impacts how many people you can communicate with outside of free media models like news - in the paper and online - and communicating with people that way. What do you see when you look at that?
Mike McGinn: [00:10:20] Well, you're right. Obviously cash-on-hand is the metric that matters. And the fundraising from Democracy Vouchers and from donors is some measure both of the degree to which you have support from some base of supporters, as well as the degree to which you have support from people that are used to giving money. So it's a little bit of an indicator as well.
So that's - so what's interesting to me when I look at that and you see the two bottom people - Casey Sixkiller doesn't appear to be a very serious candidate right now. Like if he was a credible challenger from - so I'll back up a little bit - we've spoken about this before. You know, there's generally a right lane and a left lane in Seattle politics. There's an assumption here that Casey is in the right lane - looking for more support from the business communities, a former - he is the deputy mayor to the incumbent. Well, whether it's the business community or the public, it doesn't appear that people think that a current deputy mayor to Jenny Durkan is a really good investment of their Democracy Voucher or their hard-earned dollars, either one. So not looking like he's getting much traction there for people who are - who might be more sophisticated about who to back. I think that Jessyn Farrell is down at this low level - kind of says the same thing. I mean, she's run multiple times in Seattle. She had a mayoral race four years ago, in which she ran a credible race, and she's just not kind of getting the support. And something else jumped out at me - and it was listening to your podcast, Crystal - is that she's a backer of the Compassion Seattle measure, which is starting to become a real indicator of what lane are you in. And when she says that she supports the Compassion Seattle - tells me that she wants to run in the right lane. And actually we spoke about this at length in a podcast a while ago. I said, she's not running in the left lane.
Crystal Fincher: [00:12:27] You called it first.
Mike McGinn: [00:12:28] I called it first - right! She's working the right lane because the Compassion Seattle is very much backed by the business community as their solution. And what we see is that Echohawk and Houston and Lorena are opposed to it and so they're over there in the left lane. And Harrell and Farrell and Sixkiller are for it, so that's the right lane. Well, it just kind of speaks a little bit to the fact that Jessyn can't quite figure out her lane. And I could talk more about this concept too, but that's just really fascinating to me. And I think there's another thing - that's if you'll permit me just to do a little bit of analysis.
Crystal Fincher: [00:13:04] Have at it!
Mike McGinn: [00:13:05] I'll just do a little more analysis here that comes to mind. You know, when I was working within the Sierra Club and endorsing candidates, what really became clear to me was that there was a - there were kind of two sources of candidates as well that don't map exactly with the left lane-right lane, but mostly. And the Chamber of Commerce and the downtown business community was one source of dollars in support for a candidate, and labor as a whole was another source. So in 2001, it was Nickels versus Sidran, and that was a classic business candidate versus a labor candidate. Every other constituency in town kind of has to decide who - where do we go with that? And social services tends to go with labor, and environmentalists go with labor, but sometimes there's a business candidate they like. The neighborhood people - where are they going to go. But all of those other constituencies or communities, and it might be immigrant and refugee communities, or the Black community - they don't necessarily run their own candidates. They tend to have to line up behind the business candidate or the labor candidate.
Now when I ran, Greg, at that point - Nickels had been in office for eight years, and he pretty much had both. That's one of the things that an incumbent can do, right? What'll happen is - everybody's getting just enough out of the incumbent that they don't want to take a risk on a challenger. So he had the Chamber of Commerce, which I think was a little shaky on Greg Nickels. He wasn't their guy from the beginning and he had a big chunk of the unions, and I was coming in without either of those. And so was Joe, but then he got business, and I got a little bit of labor in the general.
By the time we got to 2013, we saw a really interesting phenomenon, which was a traditional Democrat in Ed Murray. He had the Chamber support and he had a bunch of labor support. I had some too, but we split labor. And now we, all of a sudden, we saw this business-labor alliance in '13 anoint Ed Murray as the candidate. And this was worked out by the kingmakers and the power elites of the city, right. And I know that sounds a little exaggerated, but trust me - there are specific people who sit down and pick who their candidate is. Same thing happened with Jenny Durkan, who was the named candidate. She picked up the Labor Council endorsement, the Construction Trades - which like highways and other things, backed her. The police officer's union was part of that at the time. So for two cycles in a row, we got these coalitions of labor-business candidates.
And now in this race, all of a sudden, we have a very clear labor candidate in Lorena González and a pretty clear business candidate in Bruce Harrell. And going back to Jessyn, I think she was running as if she could be one of those business-labor hybrid candidates of the last two cycles, but that coalition has broken apart. Now it's a straight business and a straight labor. But what's fascinating is that in the years, the same forces that have now - give us two different candidates, right. But business and labor can't find common ground now - that's too much inequality, too much issues around taxes and homelessness - for them to be able to find a candidate to bridge that. And I, again, I think Jessyn was trying to run as that candidate. They can't do it, but the same forces that produce that dynamic also means that candidates that are outside of those two bases are credible.
So, if you look at the - if you look at the citywide City Council race, we kind of have the same dynamic. We have a business candidate in Sara Nelson, we have the labor candidate in Brianna Thomas, and then you have the neither-of-the-above candidate, Nikkita Oliver, who's coming with a base of support that's completely outside of those two usual centers of gravity and power in the City. So that's kind of the question in this race - is does Colleen Echohawk come from her background as a social services provider, Native American woman? Does Andrew Grant Houston somehow or another slingshot off of the urbanist base. And again, neither of them are going to get very many endorsements from labor, business or a lot of the other traditional players, because everybody's kind of used to - you got to go with one of those.
I didn't get any of those in the primary in '09 and I won, right? So it's a very interesting dynamic this year and I think Democracy Vouchers really pushes that even more. And there's no room left for somebody who's trying to be like progressive enough for progressives, but a dealmaker enough for the conservatives. There's no room for that candidate in this cycle - anybody's trying to run that way is like - there's no base for them.
Crystal Fincher: [00:18:30] Well, and as you've mentioned before and mentioned earlier today, what were you polling at before you won the primary, like six weeks out?
Mike McGinn: [00:18:38] Yeah, no, this is really important stuff - like people see the polls, and the fact that what it shows right now - and these are candidate polls, so take it with a grain of salt. But it kind of shows that Bruce and Lorena are doing better than others, but they're also better known than others. About five to six weeks out before the primary, maybe three weeks out before ballots dropped - and I was at 7% in 2009 in the primary, Greg Nickels was at 23% or something like that, Joe Mallahan was at 7%, and a former City Councilwoman Jan Drago - or current City Councilwoman at the time, Jan Drago - was like at 15% or 16% or something like that. But when Election Day came around, Mallahan and I were - I was first, he was second, and Greg was third and he hadn't moved.
And the point is that polls right now - the voters aren't paying attention yet. And all of the materials, all of that money we were talking about - hasn't been spent on campaign communications yet. The messages have not been delivered, right? Like the articles about who should I vote for, the conversations that are just going to start occurring around town of who you're for and why - none of that's really happened yet. And when that happens, that changes those numbers dramatically. And that's why, you can try to crystal ball it and say - no pun intended - but you can try and crystal ball this and say, "Well, here's what I think is going to happen." And we've been doing a little bit of that here saying, "Oh, it's an outsider year, right?" Like that's what the hints are telling us, but it's - this is really an up-in-the-air election, I would say. And having polling at 20% right now, or 15%, if you're a relatively well-known politician in town - that may be your lid. That may be as high as you can go, and your numbers might go lower once they hear about another candidate.
Crystal Fincher: [00:20:37] Yeah, and it's an interesting dynamic - you certainly raise a lot of very relevant and helpful issues for context in how to think about this race. When I look at these numbers, I think about what you mentioned earlier in terms of the right track-wrong track polling, and for me, how insufficient it is just to ask that question and make an assumption on that answer. Because right now people ask about the right track-wrong track and the media, I think, has created a popular impression that the City's actions are those of the City Council. But actually when you look at the City Council and Jenny Durkan, both of whom can be characterized as the City - those are two very different viewpoints, two very different philosophies and stances on issues. The City Council has vetoed what Durkan has done, so there's polarization there. And so when someone says things are on the right track, the thing that I see a lot of people doing is concluding - "Well, therefore it means that real people want the issues and the stances that I personally agree with, and this is the proof because people say things are wrong and bad right now."
But looking at - if we're using these fundraising numbers and others, especially with Democracy Vouchers from real people as a - some kind of indicator as to where people are really at. The people, as you talked about, if we're using Compassion Seattle as kind of the most visible proxy for which lanes people are in, those that are not supporting are just dominating in terms of fundraising and Democracy Vouchers. So in terms of the wrong track that the City is taking - is it that some of the inaction and opposition to being able to execute the direction that the City Council has given - is that the frustration? Like, "Hey, at least do something instead of just vetoing stuff and saying stuff is unacceptable, but not doing that much about it." Or is it that people are unhappy with the direction of the Council - looking at the available polling, and to be clear - undecided is the top vote-getter right now in every single poll that's been written, internal and otherwise. So to your point, lots of movement yet to come. But with that, it would suggest that people aren't that unhappy with the Council, as some media narratives suggest, with Lorena making it into the top two, but also not being tied to an insider or wanting to go further to the left if you look at Andrew Grant Houston, or even some of Colleen Echohawk, stances. So it's to be determined where people are at in ultimately deciding what they prefer the direction of the City to be. But I don't think it can be gleaned from a right track-wrong track number. I think that's probably a poor indicator.
Mike McGinn: [00:23:40] Yeah.I think that there's a few things in there. One is the - I think for people that are more involved in politics, there's very definitely a Council-versus-the-mayor dynamic that's been going on for the last number of years. And for people who side with the Council in that fight, and for the most part - for the most part, almost everything - I do. That matters in the race. But there's a lot of other people who can't parse that, who don't really feel like they're in a position to figure out who's really right or wrong in that discussion. And I think that's one of the challenges then if you are a current City Councilmember, or even a former one in Bruce's case, right? He was in office in the years in which homelessness went up - and to say, "I'm the person who can come in and fix it." - that's going to be a challenge.
And Lorena will have the same challenge. Having said that, she's probably and is drawing support in particular from labor - unions - for the things that she has delivered for them. Like she has stood up on issues that have led for labor to support her. So it is a mixed bag. I guess I would - speaking from personal experience, I wish that the public had taken a closer look at what was the underlying issues between the City Council and me at the time I was mayor, but I have to say, I know a lot of voters didn't. And a lot of those were just like, "You know what. It seems like the mayor and the Council aren't getting along. We need to get someone new in there." And not only did they - not only did I lose a close race to somebody who said, "I'm going to do everything McGinn did, except I'll do it better." Both of them were false - you'll grant me the opportunity to say that opinion. But, uh - but that was -
Crystal Fincher: [00:25:35] I agree.
Mike McGinn: [00:25:35] - that was his pitch - no ideological issues. "I'm just gonna, I'll just be better at doing it." But they also delivered districts - elections - which was a repudiation of the City Council in the same election. So when the mayor and the Council are fighting, the pox on both your houses thing is real and strong.
And so the last point I'll make is - these right track-wrong numbers I've been seeing are really high. They were far higher than they were in 2009 when I ran. And again, an incumbent lost then - and right then the right track-wrong track weren't that far apart then. So these are very - these are historically high right track-wrong track if these polls are accurate. And I think we'll see more polls that will show it to be that. Which is why I think it's an outsider election, but I also know it's also wide open. And I think the candidates know that too, right now. If you're a mayor watcher, everybody's going to be trying to figure out how do I grab my votes out of that pool of undecided voters? What do I have to do to get some votes? And I think you're going to see candidates working harder to stand out in the next few weeks.
Crystal Fincher: [00:26:47] All right. So we have covered the conversation about the mayor's race in more detail than we thought we were going to get into, but I definitely also want to make sure to talk about the City Attorney race. And so how are you looking at this - with Pete Holmes currently there, but with his challenger, Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, at this point actually qualifying for Democracy Vouchers. Even though she entered the race much later than he did, she's qualifying for Democracy Vouchers before Pete Holmes. Why do you think that is?
Mike McGinn: [00:27:22] Well, I think this is really fascinating. I mean, it's pretty clear from her own words that Nicole Thomas-Kennedy got into the race pretty much at the last minute, because she thought it was really important to raise issues, about police reform in particular. And like candidates have discovered before - they get into the race just because they feel they need to carry a conversation, then all of a sudden they discover that maybe there's some momentum behind that. I think that was true with Kshama Sawant against Richard Conlin - I think she got into that race the first time she was elected to the City Council to make sure there was a debate and discovered she had momentum. I think that happened to Bernie Sanders when he entered the race against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary and all of a sudden he discovered he had momentum. And I think the same thing has happened to Nicole Thomas-Kennedy.
We were talking about insider or outsider - Pete's been in office for 12 years. And, you know, he, he came in as a progressive reformer on a variety of issues, very much supported by the nightclub industry at the time, because of the way the Nickel's administration was harsh to nightclub establishments. But he came into office - it's been 12 years and it looks like the public is ready for someone different, if the voucher numbers are to be believed. Now I'm not saying that that's how this race is going to turn out, but that there was more support for a challenger than probably Pete anticipated or Nicole Thomas-Kennedy anticipated.
Crystal Fincher: [00:28:54] And a lot of people in the public anticipated. Why do you think there is seemingly this much of an appetite, even an early appetite - looking at early endorsements and meetings and how those are going among insiders. Even those are turning out to be tougher for Pete Holmes than I think a lot of people anticipated. What's going on?
Mike McGinn: [00:29:16] Well, you know, I think Pete's found himself in a - well, if you want to try to pin it down - he's been in office 12 years. And I was thinking about this the other day - I think since I signed the Consent Decree in 2012, that there've been 5 mayors, if you count a couple of interims. I think there've been 5 police chiefs, counting interims. Several City Council presidents, we've even had two Monitors - but during that entire 12 years, we've only had one City Attorney and that's Pete Holmes. And he positions himself as a reformer, and essential to reform. In fact, I've heard him say, "You can't ask me to leave now because we have to finish the job of reform." Well, we've been told - we were being told for years by the Monitor and mayors - that reform was on track and Pete was joining that chorus. And what we saw with the protests, and the police behavior, and tear-gassing the public - leading to a federal court order against it. What we see is that reform failed.
And Pete says he was at the helm of that, but now he has to be there to help fix it. And I think that from the progressive side, they see that he's not really solving the problems that he says he's for. And I had my own experiences with Pete, obviously, but he has been throughout this entire process, a big supporter - he basically chose the Monitor we ended up with. I wanted a different Monitor. He got 5 members of the City Council to vote for Merrick Bobb - this is the Monitor who brought us this software system, which everybody says costs millions of dollars, and it's completely ineffective, but we have to keep using it - it's useless. In fact, when he proposed that and I objected to it - and Pete supported it in front of the judge. And helped bring it - that was in the monitoring plan. That software - people don't know this - that software was not in the Consent Decree. That software was brought up by the Monitor, put into a monitoring plan, objected to, but Pete said, "No, that's my monitor, and that's his plan and we have to support it." So Pete needs to take responsibility for that waste of money too.
He delayed, for years, the adoption of the accountability legislation, because he had to put his hand in to deal with the Community Police Commission's recommendations. And he never had good relationships with the Community Police Commission.
And here - I'll share news with you that probably no one knows 'cause I don't know that I've ever shared it before. Breaking news. When we mediated - when I mediated the Consent Decree with the Office of Civil Rights, the mediator kept two people out of the mediation. Nobody had to ask her, she just chose to do it. There were two people not allowed in that mediation. One was Jenny Durkan. The other was Pete Holmes.
Crystal Fincher: [00:32:26] Oh what! Okay -
Mike McGinn: [00:32:28] Yes. Yes! He signed the agreement, but he did not negotiate the agreement. And it was really interesting because the mediator - I had visited in DC, I'd met with the head of the Office of Civil Rights, Tom Perez. I had to go to DC and meet with him to try to get the negotiations on track because at that time, Jenny Durkan was refusing to negotiate with us. Well -
Crystal Fincher: [00:32:55] As the US attorney at the time.
Mike McGinn: [00:32:56] As the US attorney at the time, while simultaneously sending letters saying that we weren't agreeing to things fast enough. But there wasn't a real give and take. There wasn't a real dialogue about how to settle the case and how to come up with a good productive Consent Decree.
So I went to DC, met with Tom Perez, we agreed to re-open negotiations with their office taking more leadership in it. And we ended up with a mediator. The mediator came and visited me and said, "Look, here's the problem. We need the principals in the room. We're going to get the chief litigator from the Office of Civil Rights and you - both need to be in the mediation so that we have the people with the authority to make a deal."
And I said, "Okay, that makes sense. I understand that." I was a lawyer in private practice. And then I said, "What about - hold it, what about Pete Holmes?"
And she said, "Nope, Pete Holmes is not invited. And by the way, neither is Jenny Durkan." So the mediator, from her own decision-making, had already decided how it was going to run.
And we had someone from the City Attorney's office there. The mediator would talk to Pete periodically to keep him updated, but the very clear intent was that we needed to keep them - both of them - a little bit away from the negotiation so it could have a chance of success. The two of them were, just honestly, just politicizing the hell out of it at the time. My opinion. And so -
Crystal Fincher: [00:34:21] I agree.
Mike McGinn: [00:34:22] Yeah, no - it was a really challenging environment and we managed to hold a mediation without the leaks to the press about what was being discussed on a daily basis. I'm sure the press would have loved more information about what was going on on a daily basis, but it provided the type of environment in which we could come up with an agreement that everyone could sign. As soon as the agreement was signed, next step was the discussion about who the Monitor would be - critically important decision. And that was the point at which Pete insisted on Merrick Bobb, and did everything in his power to block the people I would have supported, and to get the Council to line up behind Merrick Bobb. I ultimately would have to give way, and we ended up with Merrick Bobb - and Merrick Bobb didn't get along with the Police Commission, wasted money on the software, said everything was going great and it wasn't. And Pete was backing him the whole time. So Pete - you had 12 years to do police reform, maybe it's time to give somebody else a shot.
Crystal Fincher: [00:35:22] Well, I think a lot of certainly insiders, at this point as it looks, and the regular public is going to have an opportunity to hear the conversation and to hear that maybe it's time for another choice. So I certainly appreciate all of the background. See, the wonderful thing about having you on is that you come with receipts from way back when, and there certainly is a lot that I remember from, certainly, working with you at the time. But you just have all of the detail and all of the intricacies from what happened.
Mike McGinn: [00:35:57] A lot of years ago, now. The years are adding up, Crystal.
Crystal Fincher: [00:36:00] Well, the years are definitely adding up, but I appreciate the context, and the time, and just being able to go back. Because also - it is so - like now, having a progressive Council to people is normal. It so was not this. It so was - Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell and Richard Conlin and it was a conservative Council who was mad - who was salty on a daily basis, with the support of the Seattle Times on a daily basis - at this outsider, loony, progressive, McSchwinn mayor. Was coming in and trying to do all these crazy things like trying to do Road Diets, and things that now have been - that are viewed as normal and not controversial. But at the time, when I tell you that, like the whole War on Cars discourse that started for you and during you, that was - it was hyperbolic. It was just - it was extreme. So we're at a very different place today than we were then, but we still have people who were intimately involved and aligned with that conservative Council, like Jenny Durkan, who were very instrumental in setting things up to land exactly where they are right now - which is frustrating for some of us looking at like - this was predictable, that this wasn't the progressive champion that a lot of people thought when they were running. But of course we have the benefit of doing stuff like this for a living and having the time to know when to dive into this. And a lot of people just don't have access to that information.
Mike McGinn: [00:37:43] Well, it's really, and this is a really a good example of that. Like the way in which police reform can be politicized and was politicized. I mentioned the selection of the Monitor. I remember Bruce Harrell like, "Mayor McGinn is anti-police reform because he won't support Merrick Bobb." We had three candidates we supported, that we submitted to the judge, for a monitor. We - I signed a - negotiated a Consent Decree that called for a Monitor, but we were in this place where it was very easy to say who was for and against reform at the time.
And that process of reform - it's so fascinating to watch now a decade later, right? Almost 10 years later - to see that we now have this bizarre situation really where the Council doesn't have authority to change the police budget because the judge wants something different. They don't have the authority to get rid of a software program that doesn't work. Where the Community Police Commission - they warned the Council not to vote for the police contract, and they did vote for the police contract that wiped out the accountability procedures. And all of that was being overseen by the judge. Like the judge is saying, "Who gets to decide what the accountability procedures are? It's me, I'm the judge."
So what started as an attempt to engage the community in a dialogue with the City and the police department about what reform looks like - with the belief that it should be homegrown because it's more likely - let's listen to community - has now turned into this very, very top-down thing, being run by a judge, in which so much of the local control has disappeared. And who's the one person who could go into court on behalf of the City and say to the judge, "No, the Consent Decree called for the Community Police Commission to have power. Not for the judge to have all the power, right? It called for the City Council to be able to pass accountability reforms without having to check with the judge." That is what the - that is basically what the decree provided. But you need a City Attorney who would have the guts to actually go into a federal judge and say, "You don't have all the authority in this instance."
And so since there was never any pushback on the judge - now the ability of the community as a whole to influence police reform has been taken away and resides in the judge. And there's really only one place that - there's only one person under the City Charter who had the authority to go in on behalf of the City and say, "Do something different." And that was Pete Holmes. And he never was willing to challenge the Monitor, never willing to challenge the judge, never willing to stand up for the community in that way. So Pete, you've been at this - I go back to - been in there 12 years, said he's necessary to police reform. He has to take some accountability for how he's not gotten it done overall.
Crystal Fincher: [00:40:49] And the point that you're making now is a point that he couldn't make enough, 10 years ago, while challenging you with his authority that he was claiming under the Charter - for the Monitor, for taking a different stance than you were in the negotiation. And at that time saying, "Well, you know, it is my duty and responsibility. I have this ability, I'm an independently elected official. I am not just simply operating at the will of the mayor. I am my own entity, and I can and should." So he is claiming this authority, and at that time to challenge you with the support of the conservative Council, and that's why it was so striking to me and I commented a number of times during this past year. During the protests, seeing everything that SPD was doing, all of these challenges that we're having with the judge, all of the challenges that we're having in who can order what between Durkan and the police chief and that, the subpoena-ing of media records and video on behalf of the police. I am just sitting here going - how is Pete Holmes standing silent? This is consent to this - because he made a point of telling everyone he had the power to challenge things like that a decade ago. And now he's just quiet as a little mouse and escaping the accountability that is - that Jenny Durkan was encountering, that the Council, that the police chief - everyone was under the microscope, except Pete Holmes, just quiet in the corner over here. And it's like, if there was one person who could change this, it is Pete Holmes. Just a little frustrating. But, you know, we've talked about that before.
Mike McGinn: [00:42:37] Well, and it is - we have talked about that before - and yeah, something like subpoena-ing records of the media. Like how did that become City policy and how could Pete go and defend that as an action, as if SPD was not a part of the City? And so -
Crystal Fincher: [00:42:53] Yeah. As if the media is just an investigative arm of SPD that they can use at their will - it doesn't work. Democracy doesn't work that way, the City Charter doesn't work that - like, that's not how things work.
Mike McGinn: [00:43:07] And, you know, I think the same issue, honestly, can be raised with respect to homelessness. Now, I'm not saying a City Attorney can solve homelessness alone. It's something that will take the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judicial branch - a lot of the issues for homeless people have to do with dealing with compliance with the laws about being outside, and people ending up being prosecuted, and ending up in Municipal Court. So I don't want to say that Pete can solve homelessness, but a City Attorney is at a really unique and central position on the homelessness issue, because they are standing - 'cause they are in relationship to the City Council, the mayor, the judicial system, and the police department, specifically in a very unique way. And interacting also with the County Prosecutor as well. And to me, it's just noticeable that in 12 years of being at that central point, we really haven't seen - what's the leadership to solving homelessness. He has certainly leaned in on specific things - like I will not prosecute this, or I'll change the penalty for that - and those are oftentimes the right direction to go. But in terms of demonstrating some type of leadership in that space and helping us solve the problems, it's just like you were saying with the other issues - he doesn't want to put himself into that position of being associated with the homeless response. And it's just really hard to do that if you're not going to - it's really hard to have a homelessness response when somebody in that position isn't going to be a really strong collaborator in the solutions.
Crystal Fincher: [00:45:03] Yeah, I agree. I appreciate the time that you've spent with us today. This is probably the longest episode that we've ever had. But like this is - just for people listening - a lot of times there's a conversation before the show, there's a conversation after the show. So this just captures more of some of the types of conversations we have on the sides. And we just decided to keep, to keep rolling.
Mike McGinn: [00:45:28] Just kept rolling, we just kept going. We couldn't help ourselves, Crystal.
Crystal Fincher: [00:45:31] Couldn't help it. And you provide just so much valuable insight and context, so I appreciate it. Well, thanks for taking this time with us today.
Mike McGinn: [00:45:41] Anytime.
Crystal Fincher: [00:45:41] So I appreciate and thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks on KVRU 105.7 FM this Friday, June 11th, 2021. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl Stadler. And our insightful co-host today was activist, former Seattle mayor Mike McGinn. You can find Mike on Twitter - it's a fire Twitter feed, by the way - @MayorMcGinn. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts, just type "Hacks & Wonks" into the search bar, be sure to subscribe to get full versions of our Friday almost-live shows and our midweek show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes.
Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.