Charlene Strong: City Council candidate believes Seattle needs to address growth, learn to make due with existing revenue

Charlene Strong: City Council candidate believes Seattle needs to address growth, learn to make due with existing revenue

Charlene Strong: City Council candidate believes Seattle needs to address growth, learn to make due with existing revenue

Seattle City Council candidate Charlene Strong describes herself as a pragmatic progressive, as someone who wants to capitalize on what the city does well and dispense with the things it doesn’t.

“When I get in there, I want to find out what agencies aren’t hitting the mark and how we can get them where they need to be,” Strong said, “and if we can’t, then maybe they need to go.”

Strong is chair of the Washington State Human Rights Commission. She began fighting for equal rights for LGBT couples after her first wife, Kate Fleming, was killed in a 2006 flood event. Fleming had been in the basement of their Madison Valley home when it began to take on water. At the time, the law didn’t recognize their relationship. So Strong spent every one of her last moments with her wife -- from Fleming’s last days in the hospital to the subsequent funeral arrangements -- fighting through a web of bureaucracy.

Following her wife’s death, Strong began work on the domestic partnership registry.

“What I realized is that when people are most frustrated, that’s when you must listen most closely,” Strong said of her work on the HRC, “because that’s how you can affect people’s lives.”

When not working on the commission or speaking about LGBT rights around the country, Strong and her wife, Courteney Bealko, own a physical therapy practice in Interbay. They live in Magnolia with their two children, Etta and Anders.

Strong said she understands the challenges of running a small business in Seattle, but those like her don’t have a strong voice or receive enough attention from the City Council.

“There’s no consideration for what small businesses bring to communities,” she said.

Strong believes employees deserve a fair wage, she said, but she doesn’t think the city is listening to concerns from small businesses when it suggests raising prices to control their costs. Rising sales taxes add to the problem, she said.

Mayor Ed Murray has proposed a sugary drink tax, which has grown since its first proposal to include diet drinks.

“Those taxes, where do you stop?” Strong said. “First it’s soda, and then what?”

The at-large council candidate said the state needs to assess its tax system from the top down, and then work on a restructure. Meanwhile, Seattle needs to find ways to do more with the revenue it has, especially considering that a budget shortfall is expected in 2018, Strong said.

“I want to see about the fiscal responsibility we have,” she said. “If there’s a way we can look at waste, let’s talk about that.”

Seattle was a “ghost town” when Strong moved here in 1979, and she said people liked it that way.

That attitude continues to inform policy in the city. Public transit struggles to catch up with growth in the city, and Strong said that’s because of the attitude residents had more than 30 years ago, when they rejected funding for it.

“This is a city of no,” Strong said. “Back then, it was, ‘No, we don’t want to do that,’ and it continues to this day. … We didn’t want to change. We didn’t see the growth coming the way it did.”

Strong said big businesses are the reason for Seattle’s “growing pains,” but she doesn’t see that growth stopping anytime soon. She said she wants to promote corporate responsibility on the council. She cited Amazon’s commitment to provide permanent shelter space for nonprofit Mary’s Place as an example.

“Corporations are going to be part of our landscape,” Strong said. “They are what they are.”

Addressing the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which the city expects will create and preserve 20,000 affordable homes over the next decade, Strong said a 28-member committee spent a lot of time and money, held a lot of hearings, and came up with something not everyone is happy with.

“Is it perfect? I don’t think it is,” she said, adding it did create a starting place for more discussion.

A Seattle Renters’ Commission was recently created by the City Council. Strong said small property owners should have a seat at the table.

If elected, Strong said her overall goal on the council will be making sure Seattle becomes more affordable for families, so they are not pushed outside the city. She said that means more listening in city hall, and more inclusion of community voices.

“I think that’s what we’re lacking, is that connection, that sense of justice and compassion,” Strong said, “because we’re all so busy trying to be heard.”

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