Andrew Ashiofu is running for the Seattle City Council is District 3. The winner of the race is set to replace socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant, who is leaving city council to form a new political party. Ashiofu pledges to be firm progressive, but also a “pragmatic uniter” who leads with his unique lived experience, including experiencing homelessness and many overlapping prejudices firsthand, as he told me during a recent interview.
“Growing up as an immigrant and as a black queer kid in the US, I never saw people like me in power,” Ashiofu said. “I never saw people making decisions that would affect them, but they always promised that they would make the decision just because they thought they knew what to do. I think one of the most important things about running for office is I am coming from lived experience. I know the solutions that are most needed. I think we need to have representation, because if you don’t have the right representation in the room when decisions are being made, then there’s always a hole for policy to fill. And if unfilled, it doesn’t really affect those in the room who are not impacted by the failure of such policies.”
Last year, Ashiofu ran for the state legislature in the 37th Legislative District and didn’t make it through the top-two primary. Still, he said he considered the experience a success thanks to lessons learned and issues he brought to the forefront.
“I knocked on some doors and some people were crying because they lost family members to the AIDS crisis,” Ashiofu said, who is HIV+. “Even after the campaign, people came up to me and were like… ‘I’m HIV positive and you inspired me.’ I run a campaign bringing a different perspective to what it means to run for campaign to what it means to run for office.”
Ashiofu continued to apply himself as an advocate for queer rights and immigrant rights. He has served in a number of leadership positions, such as co-chair of the Seattle LGBTQ Commission, co-chair of Washington State Coalition of African Community Leaders, chair of Washington State Stonewall Democrats, as well as serving on several boards. He has helped Africans seek asylum in the US and navigate the challenging immigration process.
While serving on King County HIV Planning Council and an advisory board for Harborview Medical Center, Ashiofu helped overhaul the food program at an HIV clinic to make the offerings less “White-centric” and meet the varied religious and cultural dietary needs of its diverse client population. Such a change had never really been on the program’s radar prior to Ashiofu’s service.
Social housing and the 3 A’s affordability, accessibility, and availability
Ashiofu identifies as an urbanist, and his platform focuses on housing and three A’s of affordability, accessibility, and availability. He’s pro Capitol Hill pedestrian superblock, pro social housing, and pro streetcar. He wants to increase frequency on the First Hill Streetcar and complete the Center City Streetcar, which is in limbo. He not only supported, but also helped campaign for Initiative 135, the social housing measure which appears set to pass after it was up five points in election night returns yesterday.
“I talk about my example when I was unhoused; it was just somebody that gave me a room that I was able to start processing, getting myself out of that funk,” Ashiofu said. “And that’s why I’m a big supporter of social housing especially. I’ve seen immigrants go through the red tape of trying to get housing. With Central District gentrification, they’ve kicked us out of our areas, you know. To give us an opportunity to return back to those spaces and especially the trans community, which have one of the highest on homeless statistics in the whole of the United States. It’s beneficial for my community.”
Ashiofu said he will work with the public developer sets up by I-135 in order to help them get funding and off the ground and running.
SPD: A broken chair will embarrass you
In his website’s priorities page and during our interview, housing was his top priority, followed by public safety and police accountability.
“I am going to stand my ground when it comes to public safety. As a Black queer person and immigrant, I think we need to restructure the police,” Ashiofu said. “I am African, so we always talk in parables. There’s a parable that a broken chair will definitely embarrass you. So the police is a broken chair. We cannot trust a broken chair to carry you comfortably because you would fall down. So we need to either reinforce the structure or we need to get a new system or a new kind of chair place. So that’s one of the things I’m trying to push for is the restructuring of the police system.”
When it comes to the labor contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) — which is overdue for renewal with no agreement currently in sight — Ashiofu said he would not vote for a contract unless it’s “filled with police accountability.” The last SPOG contract passed in 2018 stripped out accountability measures that had just been passed the previous year, jeopardizing fledgling progress on meeting the federal consent decree intended to decrease police brutality. Councilmember Sawant had been the sole vote against that contract, which was negotiated by the Durkan administration. Following a summer of protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, the SPOG contract fell under added scrutiny for making it harder to remove officers for misconduct.
Safe streets in a 15-minute city
Updating Seattle’s transportation and zoning plans as part of the Comprehensive Plan update due in 2024 will be a huge task for city council next year and Ashiofu wants safety upgrades and the 15-minute neighborhood concept to take center stage.
“I tell people this: you think globally, but act locally,” Ashiofu said. “We look at the urbanism in Europe. Can we create a plan that creates a blueprint so that we could have that modernized urbanism here? When we talk about 15-minute walkability, we’re also talking about promoting small businesses to create services in the area so people don’t have to drive all the way to go to see a lawyer, to go to seek services, to buy groceries.”
He rattled off a number of interventions that could jumpstart progress on Seattle’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2030.
“So my comp plan is one that promotes real urbanism, but also we talk about things like Vision Zero. That’s something that for me is very dear because I think we need a very intense review on how we look at street safety and traffic. We don’t have speed bumps where we’re supposed to have speed bumps. We don’t have stop signs where we are supposed to have stop signs. We make it difficult for people with disabilities to access public transit. We see how our train stations, the escalators or the elevators are constantly broken. We see how we don’t have adequate bus shelters from the elements.”
A similarly progressive platform on transportation and housing helped him earn the Seattle Transit Riders Union’s endorsement in his state house run last year.
The D3 field
The race in Council District 3 is shaping up to be a heated and crowded one. The Urbanist interviewed Alex Hudson, the Transportation Choices Coalition executive director who announced her bid last month. Central District-based food security activist and legal cannabis farmer Joy Hollingsworth has the backing of Mayor Bruce Harrell and her campaign claimed to be the first to qualify for Democracy Vouchers. Ry Armstrong, who Capitol Hill Seattle Blog described as “a first time candidate with connections to the arts and LGBTQ communities,” is also in the race. Expect more campaign announcements soon. We’re still two months from the candidate filing deadline.
Doug Trumm is the executive director of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.