Local business PAC Forward Seattle has been trying to operate under the radar, preferring to let word of mouth confirm its endorsement of Venus Velázquez


Big Money

Local business PAC Forward Seattle has been trying to operate under the radar, preferring to let word of mouth confirm its endorsement of Venus Velázquez over public statements by organizers Joe Quintana and Don Stark. That was, until Bruce Harrell started asking whether his opponent Venus Velázquez knew in advance she'd be getting their backing and expenditures from a war chest that totals more than $100,000. (PAC collusion with candidates is illegal. A complaint alleging as much was filed with the state ethics commission last week.)

Now Forward Seattle wants people to know the thinking behind their surprise pick of Velázquez. Says Quintana: "In the early stages many in the business community including myself thought we'd be supporting Bruce Harrell. We said we're finally going to get a guy who understands business on the council. ...It was Mr. Harrell's to lose. He failed the job interview."

Part of the job interview was Forward Seattle's questionnaire. And in the answers to it there were two things that gave PAC members (of which there are about 40) pause. Organizers thought Harrell was squishy on incentive zoning (the mayor's new plan for mandatory housing for lower-incomes when development potential is increased) and community benefit agreements (a way for residents to ask for extras like affordable housing and living wages as part of the city's zoning decisions). In a letter sent to members earlier this month, PAC organizers explained that Harrell's vague positions on these two issues were the eventual nail in the coffin.

Fact is both candidates were squishy.

Harrell, on incentive zoning (from his answers to FS's questionnaire): "I believe there are more productive ways to deal with affordable housing issues. One of the biggest challenges with inclusionary/incentive zoning is that it is a reactionary scheme intended to mandate the actions of  many builders inexperienced with affordable housing issues."

Velázquez, also from the questionnaire: "Incentive zoning has mixed reviews... There is much more research required."

Harrell on community benefit agreements: "While the generic concept makes sense, their application seems ineffective and frequently overreaching. ...A city ordinance (requiring CBA's) may not be an effective tool."

Velázquez on community benefit agreements: "I support a range of tools among neighborhood groups, community groups, developers and city government-- one of these tools could be a CBA."

But Quintana says it's not just that Harrell was noncommittal. It's that he flip-flopped, often saying one thing to the business community and another thing to the legislative districts. He points out that Harrell said in May to the 46th District Democrats (as evident in the meeting minutes) that "Inclusive and incentive zoning are tools to help with [affordable housing]."

Harrell's campaign, meanwhile, warns that Velázquez's campaign, which was $30,000 in the hole at the end of August, will be essentially financed by a group seeking greater influence at City Hall.

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