South Seattle Emerald contributors met with candidates running for Seattle City Council’s District 2 seat. Incumbent Bruce Harrell announced in January he would not run, and seven candidates filed to take over his vacant seat. This week the Emerald will publish interviews the candidates talking about their campaigns in their own words. Today, Emerald contributor Carolyn Bick speaks with Christopher Peguero. Click here to read all of the candidate interviews published so far.
by Carolyn Bick
Christopher Peguero is a 12-year public employee at Seattle City Light and is running for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 position, which encompasses Southeast Seattle and the International District. Peguero is a union member of Strategic Advisors of City Light, which is part of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and has a background in environmental education space. He lives on Beacon Hill with his husband and their two children.
Carolyn Bick: So, tell me who you are. What’s your background, and why are you running?
Christopher Peguero: I’ve been at the city for 12 years … and primarily, my focus has been on three main areas. Race and social justice — I’ve been part of the city’s race and social justice core team for about 10 years now. And then about 7 years ago, I started the city’s LGBTQ affinity group looking at disparities that our LGBTQ employees face in their employment and other areas, and then also as a resource group for professional development.
Four years ago, I started Seattle City Light’s environmental justice program, really focusing on implementing the city’s equity and environment agenda, and looking at how, as Black and Brown folks, as we are on the front lines of the climate and environmental crisis, how can we set up a spot for ourselves to be at the table of policy development, so that we all benefit from the benefits of our environmental movement, but also so that we build green job pathways for our youth. So, really, similar framework to the Green New Deal that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is looking at at the larger federal level. That is a lot of the focus I have been doing, much more at a grassroots level at City Light and at the city. And a lot of the gains and the wins that I have had at my professional career at the city, those are really centering in race and social justice and moving towards action, not just saying we are committed, but we are actually going to do something for — all communities have the ability to thrive in place, that that really was the launching point for me to run for City Council.
CB: Over the past decade, we’ve seen skyrocketing rents and housing prices lead to displacement of many people, and homelessness, particularly here in the South End. What solutions are you running on to address this issue?
CP: Homelessness, right now, the narrative is really being written by folks like myself. I am a homeowner, and I have a full-time job. I have been close to experiencing housing insecurity myself, when I first move to the northwest, but I am far from that place. So, I think, really, the narrative needs to be changed so that folks that are potentially impacted by homelessness, and gentrification, and displacement, are at the table, really helping us create policies to find solutions to homelessness, and gentrification, and displacement.
So, there are a few specific things that we’ve committed to in our campaign platform. One is the development of an anti-displacement, culturally significant business fund that — the community would determine what businesses in southeast Seattle are those really important ethnically and racially businesses that we need to remain in place, and through a community-identified process, make sure that we shore up those businesses that they are not pushed out. So, that’s one thing we want to do with our campaign.
I carry my own lens of my own agenda and the way that I look at the world, and that is really incomplete, especially for an elected position. I think feedback from communities is incredibly important, especially those folks that are experiencing gentrification and displacement. So, we want to create a committee of folks that we need in community, that make sense for them, not based on the timeline of the city, that they are paid for their time to meet with us, that [provides] childcare and that their feedback is really centered in our development of new policies and programs that are going to uplift everybody in our district. So, we want to focus primarily on women, women of color, people of color, folks that have been historically marginalized, and uplifting their voices to really help us drive our policy development.
The other thing, in regards to how focus have access to myself and the office, we, for the first year, want to have an office that’s open seven days a week, and meeting in places that make sense for community, not just downtown, because, oftentimes, getting downtown can be a real hassle. So, we want to make sure folks have access to myself, to make sure that they are being heard, and that we are being responsive and we are bold, in regards to what those pressures are in our district.
So, there’s a few ideas. As we look at homelessness, we feel our campaign focuses on homelessness, homes as being a human right — that everyone should have access to a home. We are anti-sweep. We don’t want to sweep encampments, but we want to make sure that folks have access to a home, and we can increase the number of sanctioned encampments by the city, to address our garbage and pollution by unsanctioned encampments, but also for that to be a nexus point for those facing — our neighbors, families, and friends experiencing homelessness should have access to a counselor for drug and alcohol, job placement, and also that we can get then in a stable place, before we start dealing with the other issues around addiction. We also recognize that not every homeless person has a problem with addiction or alcohol, that that’s a minority of folks that are experiencing that. So, our focus is really on rehumanizing and distinguishing that challenge.
CB: How do you plan to improve educational equity and access for people in the South End?
CP: I think the HBO special was really revealing — I forget the name of the special — that showed the difference of funding that our [parent-teacher associations] are able to build, as part of the budget for our schooling system. So, for example, Rainier Beach has $2,500 in their budget from the PTA, yet, if we look north to I think it’s Roosevelt High School in the North End has a $3.5 million budget, you really need to look at how we equalize the distribution of funding from the North End and South End to make it more equitable, so that our kids in the South End have access to enrichment programs, as well. We see the highest disparity in outcomes with our Black and Brown youth, and our school system needs to address that uneven distribution. Funding from property taxes really exacerbates that problem, especially since homes in the North End, their property values tend to be higher. That’s a regressive, upside-down system, and we need to fix that. And I don’t have all the answers, but we would lobby for equity within funding, for one, and our enrichment programs for all of our students to thrive.
But another aspect I’m curious about is going to our large tech companies that we have here in the Seattle area. Rather than having gentrification and displacement be a symptom of your presence in the region, why don’t you reinvest into our districts, and help us form STEM and science-based programs, so that we, too, can come work for Amazon, and Microsoft, and benefit from your presence. I think there needs to be a real, hard look to build programs like that, and some of the experience I’ve had at City Light, I think that the government can be a part of the solution and build a framework around equity, but it’s not the only place we are going to find a solution. It’s going to have to be in partnership with nonprofits that are doing that work, and supporting that work, but also looking towards our large corporations and industry to be part of that solution.
I think most organizations that I have seen and the equity work I have built in City Light, they are interested in equity and science and technology, but you can do internal programs at corporations that build that intersection in the hiring process but we still need to invest in our communities to make sure that, as kids are being brought up through our public school system, they are benefitting as well, and not just private or charter schools, but our public schools are also getting that investment.
CB: Following on that, what’s your take on the school-to-prison pipeline?
CP: Well, the school-to-prison pipeline exists. We know that there is a higher incidence of Black and Brown kids being expelled and receiving punishment, or even the bias in education, whether it’s through teachers or our public educators. I think there has been a great movement around addressing racial equity within our school systems, but we need to see that that is continued, that that deep understanding of institutional bias against Black and Brown kids’ outcomes is addressed immediately and head-on, but also seeing that we have more opportunities for our kids in the summertime, and, again, these summer programs, these enrichment programs I mentioned — these are available to all kids, especially kids that might have a potential to get into that system of school-to-prison pipeline.
I, myself, as a Native American-Mexican kid growing up in the public schools in Green Bay, [Wisconsin], experienced a lot of racism, perceived biases on how I should perform and what I should get for grades, and that was a very unfair experience that I had. My brother had been in the cycle of recidivism, and other issues, and a lot of it stemmed from his experience in expulsion from the public school system. So, we really need to address what are the outcomes and what our perceived biases for performance are based on race, and how do we address those issues.
Bring back affirmative action at the state level, and more of a commitment to addressing disparate outcomes based on race, I think that’s a great step, and we need to continue that here in Seattle in the public schools
CB: Are you running with a party? What groups are you making sure you’re accountable to?
CP: I am not running with a party.
We are using the Democracy Voucher program, and the way we’re looking at that program is, we are beholden to constituents of the district, so that is most important. But in the past I supported especially very left-leaning Democratic positions and initiatives. My house and I supported DSA [Democratic Socialists of America], especially after the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and also the People’s Party. I voted for Nikkita Oliver, and I really wanted to see her as our mayor. I think if the Democracy Voucher program had existed during the last mayoral election, we would have a different outcome, with potentially Nikkita Oliver as our mayor, and that is central to my belief system.
When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected, I gave to the Democratic Socialists of America, because of who she was, and her stance as a Latina, and really driving our conversation of policy further left, and also for the introduction of the the Green New Deal.
CB: What is something you want community members and voters to know about you or your platform that isn’t readily apparent?
CP: I think one thing that, the three things that I am most interested in bringing to the table are a race-equity perspective, so, making sure that our homelessness crisis is addressed, and that we are building low-income and affordable housing, number one. Number two, that we are really looking at strategies for combating gentrification, displacement, and looking at strategies to really thrive in place, so that all folks can afford to live in Seattle, so affordability. And the third part is, my career has been based in the environmental sector, and as we move forward into July and August, I am hoping we don’t see a third year of smoke in the Seattle area, but that climate change is really critical, and I believe that we really need to get clear on the climate crisis, and adopt a Green New Deal here in Seattle to build the framework on how we address those issues, and environmental injustice barriers that our communities have faced. So, those three areas: homelessness equity, and race and social justice, and environment, are the three platforms that I am going to bring to the table.
Feature photo courtesy Christopher Peguero.