Last week, after Seattle City Council Members Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson cajoled their colleagues into voting for controversial budget amendments, they turned around and voted against the very budget they helped craft. Then they denounced their colleagues’ hard work, trumpeting misinformation about public safety funding. Their performative nonsense was deceptive, divisive, and totally out of touch with what voters want.
It didn’t have to be this way.
After months of work with the Mayor’s office and a few marathon sessions, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda helped the council hammer out a hard compromise budget in the face of a challenging economic environment. I don’t mean to wax romantic about it; the final result should have been better. As an example, the progressives lost an infuriating vote against unnecessary budget cuts that had aimed to cover lost revenue by expanding the popular JumpStart fee on the city’s richest companies and salaries. (Dear “revenue stabilization work group”—fix this situation, quickly!) Still, given the constraints that the current makeup of the council imposes, a functional compromise was reached between the progressive, moderate, and conservatives wings.
But in a fit of pique, the conservatives torched their relationship with their colleagues and voted against the whole thing. After all their demands and the concessions to appease them, Pedersen and Nelson voted against funding affordable homes, road repair, bridges, buses, water, sewers, the courts–everything. And then they went out and misled the public about the budget compromise their colleagues and the Mayor’s office had worked so hard to reach.
The conservative bloc seems determined to pull from the Republican playbook to create their own little reality distortion field and convince the public that they are the one great force keeping law enforcement on life support and crime out of our living rooms.
After the vote, for instance, Alex Pedersen quickly sent out a newsletter claiming he was “standing up for public safety.” The problem is that isn't true. He and Nelson voted against a budget that actually increases police funding from $355 million to $370 million. It fully funds Mayor Bruce Harrell’s goal of hiring 120 more officers. In a wasteful concession to the conservatives, it includes $4 million for hiring bonuses, which the Human Resource Department has noted is unlikely to be effective. And it sensibly removes 80 additional vacant positions that everyone recognizes aren’t fillable this year and that as Josh Cohen notes in Crosscut, is “unlikely to have an impact on the department’s on-the-ground operations.”
Perhaps they want to distract us from the fact that they have voted against increasing progressive revenue sources that are the only realistic way to fund sensible, scientific crime-prevention efforts. Sadly, neither of them have shown any seriousness about doing the hard work of actually making Seattle safer. Nelson claims that keeping money around for jobs that SPD says it won’t fill will somehow “change the narrative,” but that only underscores the embarrassing fact that the best public safety idea she and Pedersen can muster is throwing blue emotional support glitter in the air.
Unfortunately, all this bad behavior is more than morally frustrating–it has real-world consequences for life in our actual neighborhoods. By pulling this divisive display straight out of a Fox News script, they’ve made governing this city even harder by burning bridges with their colleagues. The effect was predictable and swift. Mosqueda, the famously collaborative leader who shepherds most of the biggest compromises on the council, reacted with understandable shock. In an interview with Erica Barnett at Publicola, she called out Nelson and Pedersen’s rhetoric as, at best, incompetent or, more likely, dishonest.
Their little performance also underscored just how out of touch Pedersen and Nelson are with voters’ desire for comprehensive public safety. Seattle residents recognize that we have to take care of each other if we want to prevent crime. We also know we need to set up alternatives to policing so that accountable cops can respond to real violent crime while trained responders handle people in mental health crises.
We demonstrated that choice decisively when we elected progressives such as Darya Farivar and Noel Frame to the State Legislature. We did the same when we elected restorative-justice-focused judges such as Pooja Vaddadi and Damon Shadid to the Seattle Municipal Court. Even countywide, Leesa Manion, who this news outlet endorsed, won by 16 points over a candidate who was sold as tough on crime, though really he just doesn’t understand how crime actually works.
It’s not just progressives. Centrist King County Executive Dow Constantine strongly backs a $1.2 billion behavioral health initiative, because it’s obvious to anyone who hasn’t been radicalized by right-wing talking points that forty years of low taxes and gutted public services have actually hurt the community.
With this reckless political stunt, Pedersen and Nelson have abandoned governance for theater, burned bridges with their colleagues, and treated public safety as a weapon rather than a crisis that needs sustained, thoughtful attention. Perhaps they aren’t worried about what the public actually wants and they are just banking on the voter suppression baked into our odd-year elections. But voters should take note and show these right-wing politicians the door.
Ron Davis is an entrepreneur that has spent most of his professional life working to improve the lives of workers and seniors. He's on the boards of Futurewise, Seattle Subway, the Roosevelt Neighborhood association and the University YMCA, where he fights to make Seattle a more just, inclusive, green, walkable, city. He has a JD from Harvard Law School and lives in Northeast Seattle with his wife, a family physician, and their two boys.