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 Natalie Barry
Mark Solomon is a crime prevention coordinator with the Seattle City Council and is running for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 position, which encompasses Southeast Seattle and the International District.
Hailing from Beacon Hill and living in the home his grandmother built, Solomon has a friendly disposition; a warm smile, a father like optimism, a can-do attitude. After graduating from Seattle University and serving 7 years on active duty in the Air Force, Solomon moved back to Seattle and began his career with the Seattle Police Department as a Crime Prevention Coordinator and in the Reserve Unit at the Lewis McChord Air Force base. Now that he has retired, he wants to hold the District 2 seat on City Council, in order to advance an agenda revolving around public safety. He also has plans for housing affordability, homelessness, and government accountability.
While he has mostly favorable views regarding council accountability, and more than just one idea for how to improve the affordable housing apparatus in Seattle, his history and connections with the SPD are increasingly apparent. Solomon bleeds blue; in that his past consists of a laundry list of training and experience with the Seattle Police Department and the Air Force. This comes across throughout the interview, but particularly when Solomon delves into his approaches to the issues facing our city. He seems to favor individually oriented strategies to “crime prevention”, and consumer – level solutions to climate change.
Natalie Barry: Introduce yourself to our readers, what is your background and why are you running?
Mark Solomon: My name is Mark Solomon. I am a Seattle native, I was born in raised in Seattle and I grew up on Beacon Hill. I actually live in the house my grandmother built, and I feel very fortunate about that. I went to Seattle Prep for high school, then graduated from Seattle U. I was part of the initial class of the Matteo Ricci program, and afterwards I enlisted in the Air Force in 1983. I got commissioned two years later as an officer, where I spent seven years on active duty.
After my time on active duty I returned to Seattle where I started working for the Seattle Police Department as a Crime Prevention Coordinator, as well as started my career with the air force reserve unit at McChord Air Force base. I retired from the Air Force in 2012 after 30 years of service, with a rank of lieutenant colonel. My specialty was intelligence analysis, which means I’m used to digging into details and sussing out the facts to figure out what it all means, and I use that methodology to determine my decision making. I want to dig into the facts and get the details before I make a judgement on something.
I’ve been a crime prevention coordinator for almost 30 years in this community. I’ve worked on public safety and quality of life issues. My entire life has been about service and about keeping people safe and I want to continue that work on another level on the city council. Councilmember Bruce Harrel retiring created an opportunity for me, and I decided to step forward and see how I can be of service.
Another reason I am running is that I want to make sure that the folks in this community are heard by the folks downtown. City Hall needs to hear Beacon Hill, Georgetown and the Beach as much as they’re listening to Queen Anne and Magnolia.
NB: What do you see as the biggest safety concern facing South Seattle at this moment?
MS: Violence. Particularly gun violence, because we’re definitely seeing a lot of that. Street robberies are something else were looking at, and we want to do what we can to combat that. Partly this happens through educating people about how they can be safe. Part of that is also eliminating the environmental conditions that allow robberies to occur. This is one of the things I’ve worked on. We went to look at where these robberies are happening, and why they are happening in these particular locations. Some of it had to do with the fact that street lights aren’t working or because it was dark or there was obstructing shrubbery. So working with city departments and neighbors we made some changes, and they worked.
The other issue in terms of safety has to do with our homelessness population, and our response to homelessness. Oftentimes it’s our unsheltered neighbors that are victims of crimes, not necessarily the ones that are perpetrating them. Granted, we do have some unsheltered folks who are committing crimes like shoplifting and theft, just to maintain and survive. While there is a tendency to want to blame other folks on our crime rates; I don’t know if we can say that in all fairness. While we do have people who are unstably housed that commit car prowls and shoplifts, we have people with permanent addresses that also commit car prowls and shoplifts and auto theft. Just because someone is homeless doesn’t mean they’re criminal.
Any solutions or ideas we come up with, needs to include community input. It needs to include the people who are going to be impacted, instead of imposing decisions on communities. For example, the center that is slated to go into Georgetown. Georgetown was told that it was coming, and completely left out of the decision process, and left with questions about logistics. The Magnolia community wanted to talk about what the city wanted to do with Fort Lawton with regards to affordable housing. Meanwhile the Georgetown community was completely ignored and told what would happen to their neighborhood. The community was right to be furious with the city with regards to how the sobering center issue was handled.
NB: It is no secret that Seattle is in the midst of a housing crisis, and that this crisis has left thousands sleeping on the streets, and rent pricing that has primarily pushed out low-income communities and communities of color. What solutions are you running on to address these issues?
MS: We need to do a better job in how we spend our resources in addressing this problem. We need investments to keep people from becoming homeless in the first place; whether its full rental assistance, giving people a break for 14 days versus three days. Whether it’s helping with utilities or helping with car payments. So let’s focus on keeping people in their homes in the first place.
For people that are out there and are homeless, that are looking for a path forward; let’s make sure we are doing the investments to make that happen. That’s where I feel we need to be investing more in intensive, wrap around services. We need to be investing in affective case management to help people who are in that situation, get out of that situation. The other questions we need to be asking, is about involving them. When I say effective, wrap around case management what I am talking about is people in crisis. Whether they have mental health issues or other narcotics issues, I mean getting them in treatment. Getting them someplace warm, safe and stable, and then talking to them. Asking them what they need and having support systems in place that will work for that person throughout, not as just a band-aid solution. Something that sticks with them.
These people need to be served. How we serve them is by providing them with services that meet their needs where they’re at. Realizing that it’s a marathon and not a sprint, and that it may take years. But we stick with them to see them through. The city and the county is making decisions about how we’re going to handle this population. But we never ask them, what do they need to move forward? We need to be engaged with them just as we need to be engaged in the community.
NB: What sort of policy will you advocate for on the city council that will attempt to address the root causes of the housing crisis?
Looking at the MHA that just passed, my concern is that there may be some unintended consequences with that. Specifically with the upzones, and how that impacts property zones around them. For example, my house. If I am in an upzoned area, my property taxes will go up not because of what I have done to the property but because what I could potentially do to the property. We need to examine that and make sure that any unintended consequences on single family homes can be mitigated.
One possibility is a District 2 MHA Evaluation Committee. We would comprise it of residents in District 2, whose sole purpose is to look at how MHA has impacted our neighborhoods, and develop a list of suggestion to take to the city council. We can look at how to minimize displacement of our neighbors.
Something else I want to look at, is as developers are building, looking at the mandatory inclusion zones, where developers need to set aside a certain percentage of their units aside to multi family or mixed used or they can pay fees into the fund. I want those fees paid to the fund by that developer to go back to district in which they’re building. If they are building in District 2, I want the funds that they put in that pot to go back to affordable housing in District 2.
NB: By what other mechanisms do you intend to improve educational equity for people of the south end? How will you address the underlying causes of the school to prison pipeline?
MS: We need better quality teachers that care about their kids. Our schools are under resourced, and even students in under resources schools can thrive when they have teachers that care.
At the same time, there are programs out there, community-based efforts too, that are working with our young people, especially young people of color to show them that there are pathways and there are ways to get where you want to go. Mentorship is a big part, and I am involved with the Breakfast Group, and I think that’s a big part of what we want to do.
But again, when it comes to conditions in the classroom; teachers that care and making sure they have the resources they need to get the job done.
NB: On your information page you mention that you support the human services department, how do you feel about Jenny Durkan’s appointment of Jason Johnson as head of the department?
MS: I wish the process would have looked a little bit different, but I don’t know the gentlemen directly so I can’t comment on that. It gets back to what I was saying before, that I want to look at all the facts and the totality of the situation before I make a judgement. The question is; is he the right person for the job?
What I know is that you have a remarkable cadre of people in HSD that are doing a tremendous amount of work, and they need to be supported in what they’re doing. In fact, some of the things about the special navigation team, they don’t have the capacity to fill the need so I would want to increase their capacity so that they can be more effective.
NB: What does your plan to address the immediate impacts of climate change look like? Especially as it relates to the health implications existent in the south end and how pollution affects communities of color?
MS: There’s a lot of stuff with regards to the Duwamish valley cleanup. They’ve been looking at impacts along the Duwamish because of Boeing Field. There’s definitely health implications depending on where you live.
What we can do about climate change locally, for one, let’s look at the fleet of vehicles the city uses. How many of those can we convert to full electric or hybrid? We could do it. Yes it’s going to be costly, but we only have one planet. It’s worth it to reduce our carbon output. We have a lot of electric trolley, and metro buses could be more clean. Personally, I want to install solar panels on my roof, and get some rain barrels going. It doesn’t make sense to use potable water to keep the lawn green.
There’s things that we can do individually, it may not be the grand green new deal, but individual Seattleites and individual municipalities can do something one bite at a time.
NB: You mention that accountability is important to you, and that the Seattle city council has failed to remain accountable. How do you intend to remain accountable to your constituents, and which groups are you making sure you are being held accountable to? Are you running with a party?
I am a democrat, and I am proud to say that I am a democrat. I’ve been a lifelong democrat. This is a nonpartisan position, so I will be representing everyone who lives in this community, regardless of what alphabet soup is behind their name. My primary concern is listening to people in the community and hearing what their concerns are. That’s what I’ve been doing, going to house meetings, or community council meetings just to listen; what are folks concerned about. Going to Georgetown, I sat threw their meeting and heard about the center and why they were concerned.
One of the things that I want to implement and instruct my staff, is when someone calls or emails, we will get back to them that same day. Also, if you call, don’t be surprised if I pick up the phone because I want to hear from folks. The phone number that’s on my campaign literature, that’s my cell. I want to be assessable, I want to be accountable, and I want to be responsible. I’ve heard too many people say that they tried to get an answer from the city and cant. They’ve tried to call a certain department and they won’t get any kind of response. We work for you, we should be responding to you. That’s the way I look at it, the city has to be responsible. The city has to be inclusive. We need to hear the voices of folks in the community and their concerns.
NB: What issues are most important to you?
MS: Public safety, violence among members of our community members. It’s disheartening to see. There are many things that when I look at what’s happening between individuals makes me think that we have to find a better way to resolve our issues, and to resolve conflict.
When I say public safety, I mean not only our first responders, I mean community engagement. Neighbors watching out for neighbors and taking an interest in each other. Making sure neighbors feel safe, whether in their homes or at their jobs, they’re going to act as such. A community that feels safe thrives.
A part of that is making sure that we have well maintained infrastructure. If street lights are out or vegetation is blocking the sidewalk; thats a safety issue as well. I want to make sure our infrastructure is well maintained and I want trash picked up, graffiti up and out, I want neighborhoods to be livable to show that it cares.
I also mentioned homelessness response, and being smarter about how we spend our dollars. We do need to invest in keeping people housed in the first place.
NB: What is something you want community members and voters to know?
MS: This is my community, this is my home, this is where I grew up. I have seen the changes and I’ve experiences challenges. I have been doing this work for 30 years as a community member, as someone who is involved in the community. My focus has been getting things done for our community, and that is what my focus is on council; getting things done. I am not going to be there to debate, not going to be there to engage the normal Seattle process of commission a study, ignore the study… I will get stuff done. I have built the relationships and the connections to get stuff done.
Featured photo courtesy Mark Solomon.