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These food entrepreneurs want your vote for Seattle City Council

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Flickr Photo/Daniel X. O'Neil (CC-BY-NC-ND)/

Public safety is one of the top issues of the 2023 primary election. It’s one of the issues that prompted several candidates who built their careers in the food business to enter the city council race.

Stephen Brown founded Eltana Bagels on Capitol Hill. Now he’s running for the City Council seat in District 1. He says Seattle is facing a fork on the road as it emerges from the pandemic. He says his experience as an entrepreneur and his values would be helpful.

“I’m both Jewish and Canadian,” Brown said. “In the Jewish aspect, we’re put on this earth to repair the world. Canadians have a kind of a communal orientation; we believe that community comes first.”

In downtown Seattle, Olga Sagan owns Piroshky Piroshky bakery. Like many small businesses, it took a hit during the pandemic. One of her stores closed for three years. Her other store has been struggling from the effects of criminal activity. She reached out to city hall for help but didn’t hear back. So she decided to take her message to the public, on video.

“I said, 'Look what is happening in Seattle,” she recalled. “This is not Covid, this is mental illness, drug addiction, and homelessness.”

Sagan says the video led to some action, but only for a short term. That’s when she decided to run for District 7. She wants to create a downtown for residents and not just for tourists.

Up in north Seattle, Pete Hanning is running for District 6. He currently heads the Fremont Chamber of Commerce. For more than three decades, he owned the Red Door in Fremont, one of Seattle’s early brewpubs until it closed in 2020.

Working in Seattle’s nightlife he learned how to deal with customers who were out of line. He’d like to bring that experience to what he sees as a passive-aggressive culture in the city.

“I knew how to kick you out tell you, "Hey, not tonight. That’s not acceptable," Hanning said. "I think we need to get back to a little bit of that.”

These kinds of life experiences could provide fresh ideas on the council, says political consultant Cathy Allen.

“These are different times," Allen said. "Post pandemic has thrown us some loops we hadn’t expected and there isn’t a book on how you handle those problems.”

Allen thinks in this time of change, voters are looking for candidates whose experiences can respond to these challenges.

“People at our restaurants have a direct correlation and responsibility to the people that are their clients,” Allen said. “That’s what people want in their government now. They want that sense of, ‘Are you listening to me?’”

All three candidates say they’re concerned with similar issues: crime, homelessness, and lack of support for small business.

Pete Hanning says Seattle’s issues could be improved if the council were more collaborative and focused on the priorities listed in the city’s charter.

“And those are public safety, that is open space and parks, that is our infrastructure and our utilities, some services and some form of schools," Hanning said.

Like Hanning, Stephen Brown wants to focus on the basics like fixing potholes or keeping parks clean and welcoming.

“It’s not sexy, but it’s vital,” he said.

All three candidates say the hospitality business is about service. And so is politics.

Olga Sagan says she considered leaving Seattle, but decided against it.

“I realized I cannot do that yet. This city made me who I am. It made my business what it is," she said, "and I have to stay in and do a little bit more.”

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