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Seattle City Attorney's race is a tale of two extremes

Seattle voters will decide between Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davison to replace Pete Holmes in the race for city attorney.

SEATTLE — The views held by the candidates for Seattle city attorney are polarizing.

On Nov. 2, Seattle voters will decide between Nicole Thomas-Kennedy and Ann Davison to replace Pete Holmes, who has been in office for 12 years.

How we got here

Holmes took office in 2010 when he dismissed all pending marijuana possession cases and declined to file subsequent charges. He was also a primary sponsor of I-502, which led to the legalization of marijuana for adult use. In 2018, he moved to vacate the records of people convicted for simple marijuana possession. 

Holmes worked to reduce prosecutions of people caught while driving with a suspended license and pushed the state Legislature to limit the maximum jail sentence for misdemeanors.

He also helped guide the city as its police department worked on reform under a federal consent decree following an investigation into excessive force. After protests over the police killing of George Floyd, Holmes withdrew a motion that would have removed parts of the decree after a weekend of protests brought more than 14,000 police use of force complaints.

Leading up to the 2021 primary election, however, Holmes found himself in charge of a law department in a city the Department of Justice – under the Trump administration – deemed at one point an "anarchist jurisdiction." Peaceful protests in the city became overshadowed with destruction, which were a gut punch to Seattle's businesses already reeling from the pandemic. Over a year's time, police arrested hundreds of people during protests, many of whom were not prosecuted.

The handling of the sometimes violent public demonstrations drew questions from both sides, with some saying the city wasn't doing enough and others saying it was going too far.

What is the Office of the Seattle City Attorney?

The candidate voted into office will lead the Office of the Seattle City Attorney, also known as the Law Department, for a four-year term. The department operates with more than 100 attorneys. It is the third largest public law office in the state and one of the largest in the city.

The department is divided into three divisions: Criminal, civil and administration. 

The criminal division prosecutes misdemeanors, gross misdemeanors and traffic infractions. Cases prosecuted include DUIs, misdemeanor assault and domestic violence, misdemeanor theft and trespassing.

The civil division represents the city of Seattle in lawsuits as well as advising officials in program development, projects, policies and legislation. 

The administration division provides services for the office, including budgeting and human resources.

Candidate Ann Davison

Davison, who previously worked for the Sonics, said in her campaign statement she wants to be "proactive not reactive" when it comes to crime and pledged to work collaboratively regionally to "restore public safety."

"By fixing this critical link of public health and safety, we begin to see improvement in the livability of our city," Davison said.

Davison also ran for Seattle City Council in 2019, saying she was fed up with how city hall was handling crime and homelessness.

On her candidate website, Davison points to returning a "sense of safety" in order to "bring about the healing our city needs." Seattle, she says, continues to struggle with a growing unsheltered population, enterprise crime and violent crime. 

Davison says she will bring "quality management and leadership" to the department.

Though she believes in offering alternative solutions to people who commit low-level crime, she says there "must be accountability for actions that hurt other people."

"Removing that accountability is simply ushering in more chaos and harm," she states.

As of Oct. 17, Davison has raised $317,646.

Her endorsements, according to her website, include former governors Christine Gregoire, Gary Locke and Dan Evans.

Candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy

Thomas-Kennedy argues the city should stop overspending on policing, prosecuting and jailing low-level offenses that disproportionately impact low-income people and people of color. 

Thomas-Kennedy is running as an abolitionist who essentially wants to change how the city prosecutes crimes while developing programs and systems to decrease the need for police and prisons.

On her candidate website, she argues that policing and prison "do not meet their alleged goals ... while effectively accomplishing what they were actually designed to do: control and disappear people with low income, have disabilities, or who are BIPOC."

"Abolition," she continues, "acknowledges the obvious fact that incremental changes to this system, via futile reforms, will never lead us to justice and safety." 

Thomas-Kennedy wants to refocus the civil division of the office to "go after large-scale harms: wage theft, corporate landlords, and oil companies that destroy the environment."

As of Oct. 17, Thomas-Kennedy raised $336,598.

Her endorsements include Seattle City councilmembers Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda, along with former Councilmember Mike O'Brien and former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.