Ed Pottharst in Conversation with Erik Haugaard

The following interview was written and conducted by Erik Haugaard:

A couple of Fridays ago I battled the evening rush hour traffic, going over four blocks from my house to “Grumpy D’s” coffee house to meet Ed Pottharst for a sit down discussion of his candidacy. I was not terribly happy about being on the road that time of day so given my mood I think it was a good location choice. 

It occurred to me that, “Well I certainly could have walked.” Feeling a bit guilty about that I assured myself that I had already been to the gym that day and too much exercise was probably a very bad thing. 

I was a bit early so I got my coffee, sat down and then promptly received an email explaining that Ed would be just a little late, which left me time to survey the goings on in this local coffee house. There were several small groups of high school kids that were doing their homework together and a few tech-types hunched over their laptops.

 Grumpy’s is a pleasant place with good coffee, my wife and I have been there a handful of times. I noticed a sign on the wall stating “Grumpy Hour” I was curious about just what a Grumpy hour could be and was going to ask the barista when Ed walked in the door.

 I had done almost no research on Ed but when he walked in what was readily apparent is that he is quite athletic, lean and fit; clearly in good shape. Ed grabbed a bottle of water and came over and introduced himself. I noticed that he had a bit of perspiration on his face and idly wondered if the AC in his car had gone out because it was one of those warm June days. 

As it turns out the AC in Ed’s car was just fine, rather he had just ridden his bike seven miles from his job at the Parks and Recreation Department, downtown near Uwaijimaya. Ed rides his bike every day, rain or shine negotiating his way through downtown to work. For you bike enthusiasts, Ed rides a Bianchi Volpe 27-speed bike, and he recently passed the 20,000-mile mark, a feat he accomplished in just the last five years . . . . . .

I have to admit the brand of bike means very little to me as a non-bike rider but the 20,000 miles ridden was very impressive. It meant that in about another year he will have essentially circled the globe. It also means that I am officially lazy and I should have walked to Grumpy D’s. 

Bicycling aside, it turns out that Ed and I have a few things in common; he is originally from Southern California, as am I. Ed came up in 1978 to attend grad school and I came in 1985 to flee Los Angeles. We briefly compared notes about Southern California and discussed our favorite beaches. Ed is a fan of Newport while I prefer, Malibu or Zuma. Ed says he likes to swim in the ocean and likes to body surf but avoids the larger, hardcore waves like you find at Newport Wedge. 

 The discussion returned to bikes so I asked him what he thought should have been the proper path for the completion of the Burke-Gilman bike trail and he said he preferred the Shilshole route which passes the various businesses in that industrial area. I repeated one of the counter arguments I’d heard about that route, which was that it was dangerous. Ed suggested that there could be a metal barrier (rail?) which would protect the bicyclists and it was really not the concern that some people have made it out to be. 

At that point I felt like I had led the conversation a bit too much so I just asked simply “What do you consider the most important issues as a potential Seattle city council member for District 6” He replied that it was probably “Climate change, congestion vehicle charges downtown and homelessness” I honestly did not quite understand how our little district could contribute to addressing this climate issue but he assured me that “We all need to be a part of the solution.”

 On the subject of congestion fees, he said that in Stockholm they had done this, which helped reduce the congestion and pollution quite dramatically and it has had a beneficial effect on people with respiratory ailments as well. His one major concern was that he did not want this to be a “regressive” fee. I kind of jumped on that, pointing out that this not only meant that the city knows who you are (and where you are driving) but also knows enough about your finances to assign you some sort of tailor made fee based on your ability to pay. I think Ed thought that this was not a very important point and kind of brushed off the objection. 

So, what was it, I wondered that set Ed apart from the 12 other candidates running for this position? Ed stated that it had to do with his experience in city government. Ed has over 30 years in Seattle city government. Here is a quote from a follow up email question I sent Ed. 

“I was a neighborhood liaison for Queen Anne and Magnolia, North/Northeast Seattle (Lake City, Northgate, Pinehurst, Maple Leaf, Meadowbrook, Victory Heights, Cedar Park), and South Seattle (Rainier Beach, Columbia City, Othello, Hillman City, North Rainier, Beacon Hill, South Park, Georgetown, Delridge, High Point, and West Seattle). I've worked with wonderful people in each of these” 

You notice that Ed was a “Neighborhood Liaison” and this seems like an excellent position for someone with his personality. What I mean by that is that he is a very likable, well-meaning and good hearted guy, a very genuine people oriented person who has overcome many challenges in his own life. For those who don’t know Ed, he was born profoundly deaf; he originally communicated by lip reading and wore hearing aids. About 15 years ago he received a cochlear implant. Ed states that, “Cochlear implants let me hear a broader range of sound frequencies, including bird calls and songs.” Now Ed communicates with lip reading combined with the sound he is able to discern with the aid of the implants. 

Ed’s two children were also born deaf. I had asked Ed for some clarification about a program that he said had been beneficial for his son. (I had incorrectly assumed it was just his son) He replied, “Actually, both our son and daughter were born deaf. The program that has helped them is Listen and Talk here in Seattle (Maple Leaf). Listen and Talk is an early-development program for children who are deaf and hard of hearing.” 

I think it is fair to say that Ed is quite grateful for the programs in Seattle that have helped both him and his children, he was quite effusive about the program mentioned above. Ed’s children now also have the implants and Ed says, “Both are doing extremely well; they function much like people who are hard of hearing.” It is no wonder that Ed seems to have a deep affection for a city that has treated him and his children so well. 

Ed says that what he would like to contribute to the city council is “leadership” and by this he means that he would like to share the knowledge he has gained about city government through his many years of service. He says he would like to help some of the other members who have less experience find their way around. I think he feels like he is a kind of “navigator”, a way-shower and mentor.

 But where exactly does he stand on the issue of homelessness and drug use? Ed points out that many addicts are working and have homes, so conflating the two is inaccurate as they are not directly connected. Rather than paraphrase his words I’m just going to quote what he wrote me in an email. I had asked what he thought about the KOMO special “Seattle is Dying”

 “I think that the video has a few kernels of truth with a lopsided amount of negativity and gloom” 

“The video conflates homelessness with drug use, mental illness, and crime. It portrays a few individuals as representative of the entire homeless population. Seattle Police Department numbers show that people who are homeless are disproportionately arrested and booked: one in five jail bookings are of people experiencing homelessness.” 

“We have a terrible lack of mental health services. Drug addiction is a nationwide epidemic, not just a problem in Seattle. It affects people with homes, too. The vast majority of people with drug addiction are people who are housed. Homelessness is actually decreasing nationwide, but it is increasing in cities where rents are so high, like Seattle.”

 “While it can be frustrating for some to hear this, the real solution to homelessness is to develop more housing, more permanent supportive housing. In recent years, housing costs have increased many more times than wages have. People who are disabled, on fixed incomes, or making the minimum wage cannot afford to live in Seattle. We are seeing more homeless seniors and young adults, especially those who are leaving foster care or have experienced domestic violence.”

 “We can address and solve homelessness when business, service providers, the faith community, funders, community members, law enforcement, EMS, hospitals, schools, government, and many more come together. There are many amazing people who really want to make the world a better place.” 

I asked Ed about safe injection sites, here is part of his response. “ I favor safe consumption sites with health care, housing, and other social service providers on site to work with users.”

 We talked about his work as a neighborhood liaison and Ed passed on some information about neighborhood grants which I thought was interesting and worth sharing. 

“The City's Neighborhood Matching Fund program is a great funding resource for community groups, businesses, and people who want to come together to do a project in their neighborhood. NMF has two funds: Small Sparks (up to $5,000) and Community Partnerships (up to $25,000). Small Sparks is great for block parties and small projects. I helped group of neighbors in Ballard use a Small Sparks grant to have children build, paint, and hang small birdhouses in a tree in a traffic circle in their neighborhood. I also helped a group of neighbors in Broadview use several grants to build a pedestrian path along their street which has no sidewalks and install landscaping alongside the path”.

 I really enjoyed my time talking with Ed, as I said before he is a very genuine and good hearted guy. I have no doubt that he has been a great neighborhood liaison. Should Ed Pottharst be the next District 6 councilman? I don’t know but what I’m quite sure of is that Seattle has benefited greatly from his service for all of these years and I suspect he loves and knows the city on a level which, I doubt any of the other candidates could come close to. He is a pretty inspiring guy, a real testament to overcoming personal obstacles, not to mention, riding around the world in six years! 

Ironically, the very policies that the city has been pushing, the ones related to increased density /affordable housing spell the end of Grumpy D’s coffee shop. It will be torn down when the lease expires soon and a 5 or 6 (can’t remember which) story apartment building will take its place. So head over there and grab some coffee soon, you might just run into Ed Pottharst, he just lives a few blocks away!

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