By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog Editor
The fourth candidate to formally announce a campaign for Seattle City Council District 1 seat makes its third attempt.
Days after Phil Tavel declared his candidacy for the post of Lisa Herbold departs after two terms, we sat down with him for this week’s early “getting to know you” candidate chat video footage. Our chat with him took a slightly different turn than our previous interviews with first-time candidates – more “getting to know you again.” Tavel is an Arbor Heights resident and full-time administrative law judge who spoke with us Thursday. Here is our unedited half-hour conversation:
If you can’t or don’t want to spend half an hour watching/listening, here’s our summary:
Why does he still want the job? “Because Seattle is still not keeping its promises,” even though he believes the city has “incredible potential.” He says he’s been thinking about this since 2010 and just hasn’t seen things improve, but he believes it’s not too late to “start fixing things.” He acknowledges that a lot has changed since his loss to Herbold in the 2019 general election — the pandemic, the closing of the West Seattle Bridge, people working remotely instead of commuting daily to offices. Even his legal work, he says, is done from home via video conferencing.
And that work, says Tavel, has given him a unique perspective on the struggles many people face, as he hears appeals in unemployment cases, for example. “We’ve gone through a difficult time (but this is a) wonderful, resilient city.”
Tavel says he has worked hard to be part of that resilience in recent years. Courthouse closures when the COVID attack reduced the work he was doing at the time, so he began working as a driver for West Seattle Food Bank. He also mentions helping to coordinate West Seattle supports, to “connect people with what they needed” during the difficult times at the heart of the pandemic. He also got involved in the legal group West Seattle Bridge NOW, who agitated for “a seat at the table” on bridge-related issues. He says the bridge closure gave him “incredible insight” into the issues facing local businesses, and general insight into “specific, ground-level things to make (this) a healthy, prosperous city. He wasn’t sure if he would run again until there was an open seat, and he realized, “I still want to do it.” He believes he has “learned a lot” that he can bring to “help people on a bigger level.”
What issues does he think he can make a difference on? His vision is that instead of “focusing on big legislative ideas,” he wants to focus on a few details, like police staffing, which he believes will be affected by the fact that SPD officers still don’t have a contract. He believes it must be a priority – if the city council is to show that they support the police department, says Tavel, the contract is where to start. (He also mentions that the city has “three different agencies” that “spend a lot of money coming up with ideas to (improve policing).”
On homelessness, he favors permanent supportive housing, noting that people working on homelessness need to be given a chance to do their jobs, rather than having new “big ideas” thrown into the mix on a regular basis, stop the work in progress and forcing people to start over. He also mentions the situation where the municipality has allocated money for a mobile home park that has not yet been set up. The regional homeless agency has equipped itself, and the next council must be ready to work closely with it, he believes.
He also wants to see that the council, mayor and city attorney work together. And he wants to see more efficiency, and remembers hearing about a case where there was a grant “to study whether an intersection could be studied.” He believes that a closer look at departments such as SDOT and SPU can also identify efficiency gains. He also wants to see more of a laser focus on specific city issues, rather than the council spending time on resolutions related to non-Seattle global issues. Usually worthy issues, he says, but just drafting and discussing a resolution costs the employees money and time.
Specific District 1 issues he would focus on? Sound transport light rail is a big one. But he is also interested in other aspects of transport – such as potholes and pedestrian crossings. Overall, he promises to be accessible to voters — even if they choose to catch up with him in his longtime role as Wednesday night trivia host at Talaricos.
So all in all, if someone didn’t vote for him before, why would they change their mind now? “If the last four years haven’t gone the way you wanted,” a councilor with the kind of life experience he’s had might be able to change that. “I’ve continued to be involved (in the community), I took action when things changed … I’m in a position to help people understand … there’s no time for activism (on the council) anymore.” (And for those who were alienated by the 2019 political action committee support funded by Amazon and other big businesses, Tavel emphasizes that he didn’t ask for that support and wasn’t helped by it: “I’m not in anybody’s back pocket.” All in all, he feels that “just being here is what I think I’m doing really well … I really care. Come and talk to me.”
Our previous candidate chats were included Rob Saka and Maren Costa. You will hear from us next Sunday evening Preston Anderson. These are all early conversations, and we plan to talk to the candidates again, several times, before the August 1 primary. The field of candidates for the primary will not be final until after King County election “submission week” in mid-May.