Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Seattle City Council should stay strong on building back public safety




It’s déjà vu all over again at Seattle City Hall as council members wrestle with the police budget.

At issue is how much to fund the Seattle Police Department even though it may not be able to hire enough officers to spend all the money next year. The same debate took place during last year’s budget negotiations.

Council members should once again stay strong on public safety.

Last year, outgoing council President M. Lorena González proposed a last-minute amendment that would have cut SPD staffing by 101 positions. Gonzalez had just lost her mayoral bid to Bruce Harrell, who took a different tack on public safety and other issues as he rolled up 58% of the vote.

In the end, the council voted against González’s amendment 5-4, with Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Andrew Lewis, Alex Pedersen and Dan Strauss forming the majority.

Now, Budget Chair Teresa Mosqueda is trying basically the same thing by proposing to lop off 80 sworn officer positions. Again, this move would make it tougher to hire police in subsequent years. Council has a history of spending all the money it takes in. It would make increasing funding for cops politically dicey as cuts would have to come from somewhere else in the budget.

In 2021, the political currents favored public safety. Today, council members are trying to gauge which way the wind is blowing.

Case in point is the recent defeat of incumbent Seattle Municipal Court Judge Adam Eisenberg, who lost to Pooja Vaddadi, an adjunct professor at Seattle University School of Law and a former public defender.

Selected by his peers to serve as Presiding Judge, Eisenberg was rated “Exceptionally Well Qualified” by the King County Bar Association. He raised $66,000. Vaddadi “did not request to be evaluated,” according to the Bar Association. She pulled in $77,000.

During an endorsement interview, Vaddadi told the editorial board Seattle Municipal Court judges handed down rulings that were “nakedly biased in favor of the prosecution.” She added: “Nobody is getting a fair shake in that court.”

Noting that Vaddadi would likely seek to remedy that perception by bringing her own strong opinions to the bench, The Times went with Eisenberg. By last count, Vaddadi was winning with more than 60% of the vote.

Eisenberg’s ouster scrambled the city’s political calculus. After all, it was only last year that Republican Ann Davison won her race as Seattle City Attorney against a candidate who used Twitter to cheer violence against police.

The same five council members who rejected González’s action on the police budget last year should remain consistent and reject Mosqueda’s amendment. They should also ensure SPD has the officer recruitment resources to replenish the department.

SPD is expected to have 962 in-service officers at the end of the year, compared to 1,290 at the start of 2020.

Despite the election result in a low-profile judicial race, public safety remains one of Seattle’s top concerns. The council should recognize this reality in their final budget deliberations.

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