2021 Olympia City Council Position 6 Candidates

Dontae Payne vs. Sarah DeStasio vs. Corey Gauny

Heard around Olympia:

“I don’t know anything about these people.”

What people? These people: The 14 who are running for five seats on the Olympia City Council. Of the five races, four have primary races involving three candidates. In each of the four, two will advance based on the August 3 primary election results.

That’s a lot of candidates, and it is unusual for five seats to be up for grabs in a single year. The races are non-partisan and despite the fact that council candidates run for a position, all are elected “at-large,” meaning city residents may vote in all five races. 

Also in the large number category, and sure to grow exponentially leading up to the November general election, is the amount of money the 14 have raised – a total of nearly $225,000. 

Ballots hit mailboxes this week, along with glossy campaign literature touting candidates’ credentials, accomplishments and endorsements.

It’s a lot to sort through and digest. So The Olympia Tribune decided to let the candidates tell you about themselves in answers to eight questions that delve into their knowledge of the council, their priorities and specific things they hope to accomplish if elected. 

Council members earn $22,000 and a $3,800 benefit stipend per year and serve four-year terms, unless they are filling the remainder of a term for a seat left vacant by a resignation, as is the case this year. The council is responsible for passing the annual city budget and appoints and directly oversees the city manager, who is in charge of day-to-day operations, including those of the Olympia Police Department. Members prepare for and attend weekly council and council committee meetings, serving on regional boards such as Intercity Transit and take constituent phone calls, among their many tasks. In all, that often amounts to more than 40 hours a week, typically on top of their full- or part-time jobs. 

In the past four years, and especially in the recent past, council members have wrestled with the incredibly thorny issues of police reform; public safety; incorporating equity and diversity and inclusion into how the city does its daily business; homelessness and housing; neighborhood zoning; property purchases and use; pandemic-related issues experienced by small businesses and their employees, workers at a high risk due to COVID 19, landlords and renters, and others; and how the city communicates what it is doing. 

These issues, and others that certainly can’t be anticipated now (who, after all, could have predicted the pandemic and its fallout), will be before the council in 2022 and beyond. Who gets elected to the council really does matter – it’s where issues vitally important to our community are debated and decided. 

Also, The Tribune encourages you to vote!

The Thurston County Auditor’s Elections Division has mailed more than 187,000 ballots for the Aug. 3 primary.  
 
If you are registered and have not received a ballot by Wednesday, July 21, please contact the Auditor’s Office at (360) 786-5408 or elections@co.thurston.wa.us.

You may vote by mail (no stamp required) or return your ballot at one of the 29 secure ballot drop boxes available throughout the county. A list of locations and addresses is included in the mailed ballot materials and online at ThurstonVotes.org.
 
Ballots must be postmarked by August 3. Please check mailboxes for pickup times to make sure your ballot will be postmarked by Election Day. If you miss your household’s mail pickup time, ballot drop boxes are open until 8 p.m. on Aug. 3. 
 
You can register to vote, get a replacement ballot and vote using an accessibility voting device at the Voting Center located at 2400 Evergreen Park Dr. SW, Olympia, WA 98502.  Drive-through voter services are available at this location. The center is open:

  • July 14 through August 2, Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • On Election Day, Tuesday, August 3, 2021, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Any voter in line at the voting center at 8 p.m. on Election Day can vote. 

The Candidates

Position 6

League of Women Voters candidate forum

Note: Campaign contributions and expenditures are the amounts reported to the state Public Disclosure Commission as of July 15.

Sarah DeStasio

Occupation: Health care

Raised: $7,026. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $4,081

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

 Why do you want to be on the Olympia City Council? 

To use my skills and experience to serve my hometown. I believe that local government has a profound role to play in ensuring the well-being of all Olympians, and I look forward to lending my strong progressive voice to City decision-making. 

What does an Olympia City Council Member do? 

City Councilmembers are responsible for the general administration of the City, including delegating to the City Manager. They are also responsible for policy setting in areas such as housing and conservation, often in collaboration with other stakeholders, as well as advocating with the state legislature around issues that impact their constituents.

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected (if you are an incumbent, why are you running again)?

I assessed all open positions and selected based on projected likelihood of winning. 

What sets you apart from your competition (if you’re running against an incumbent, why do you feel you would do a better job than them)?

I am anchored in the values of socialism & abolitionism. All over the country, socialists are winning their City Council races. Most recent and prominent is India Walton, newly-elected mayor of Buffalo – but there have been wins everywhere, in Boulder and Redwood City, Chicago and Rock Island, IL. My platform very closely aligns with that of the Olympia Democratic Socialists of America. As a Councilmember, my vote would be informed not only by my constituents, my colleagues and City staff but by OlyDSA’s platform, the platform of the local and state Democratic Party, and the Thurston County Progressives’ Principles of Unity, among others. 

My state & local policy and research background is significant, as is my experience working in large groups/small groups across political differences and through conflict – but I also differ from my opponents through a political creativity, imagination, and vision which is not solely mine but shared by hundreds of thousands of people globally. 

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible.

I would fight for a $15 or higher minimum ordinance, acknowledging that many Olympians require more than $15/hour to help them meet basic needs. 

I was the only candidate on the picket line for UFCW 21 Providence St. Peter’s tech unit workers this year – but I would want to be one of seven Councilmembers all showing up in support of picketing & striking workers. Building ever-stronger relationships with organized labor is essential for people working in local government. In that spirit, I would advocate that Council reach out to organized labor before drafting this ordinance. 

I would also advocate for creating a community input plan that captured data and reflected it back to constituents in accessible formats, like a short video or a series of social media posts. 

What is one thing the existing council has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

I am impressed with the work of the Regional Housing Council – but displacement has already started, and I believe the current focus on “camp sweeps with a focus on reducing retraumatization” is not the way to support the regional housing council or to find housing for Olympians who need it. I would steer away from sweeps as a rule. 

What is one thing the existing council has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

I am impressed with the work of the Regional Housing Council and content of One Community Plan but “camp sweeps with a focus on reducing retraumatization,” included in the plan, does not mitigate homelessness without transitional or permanent stable housing already in place. No sweeps without solutions.

On a scale of 1-10, how important is the diversity and equity work the city now is engaged in? Please explain why you feel that way.

I value the work of the Social Justice and Equity Commission. As a private citizen, I participated in a conversation around disability/neurodivergence that was in one of a series of race/equity conversations hosted by the Commission. I would like this and similar Commissions to have enforceability mechanisms – make recommendations that change votes on City Council. I rate this work a 10.

Say three nice things about downtown Olympia

 Street trees and plentiful natural areas

 Sense of community

 Visiting my favorite local businesses

Corey Gauny

Occupation: Management Analyst for the Washington State Department of Licensing

Raised: $16,912. Find a full list of contributors here.

Spent: $11,580

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

Response to The Tribune’s questionnaire:

After research on your publication I have found a few things that make it a little difficult for me to have faith that journalistic impartiality for a non-partisan race are what you are striving for. First, one of my opponents is affiliated with your publication and everyone affiliated with your publication is openly associated with a political party.

I am going to respectfully decline the opportunity to answer your questions.

Dontae Payne

Occupation: Deputy District Director to Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland

Raised: $20,001. Find a full list of contributors here

Spent: $8,138

Campaign information: WebsiteFacebook

Why do you want to be on the Olympia City Council?

I want to do all that I can to improve the lives of our city’s residents. I was able to create a life here for my family and I want the same for everyone in Olympia.  

What does an Olympia City Council Member do?

An Olympia city councilmember works with city staff and a variety of stakeholders to establish policy by passing ordinances and resolutions and adopts the city’s budget. They also make decisions based on professional expertise and their constituents’ desires.

Why did you choose to run for the position you selected (if you are an incumbent, why are you running again)? I was the first candidate to announce for position 6 and I chose to run for the open seat because I agree with most of the decisions the council has made to move our city forward. I see my own candidacy as an opportunity to offer a new perspective, new representation, and to build on the work many community leaders have done so far. I believe that we face many challenges and the city needs a councilmember who doesn’t only have professional expertise, but lived experience that can prove useful when considering policies that impact Olympia’s residents. I will use my local, state, and federal experience to move our city forward.

What sets you apart from your competition (if you’re running against an incumbent, why do you feel you would do a better job than them)? I have experience working at each level of government and I also have the lived experience of growing up in an urban area where most people experienced poverty and relied on government programs to help sustain themselves and their families. I also have a very personal experience with harmful policies and how they impact BIPOC, sexual, and religious minorities. 

What is the ONE issue you are most passionate about? What are three action items you would push for on that issue, if elected? Be as specific as possible. 

Affordable Housing. We are experiencing a housing crisis. Many people are having a difficult time finding housing that is affordable, which means spending 30% or less of their income on rent or mortgage. We need to continue to work with developers and encourage them to build more affordable units in addition to market rate development to accommodate the residents we have now and those who will eventually settle in Olympia and surrounding Thurston County areas. I’m open to the idea of an affordable housing mandate so developers are required to build a certain number of units that are affordable and must remain so for every market-rate project. Affordable Housing must be part of our strategy to address homelessness and to create a path for people to move out of transitional supportive shelter into a stable home that is attainable and meets basic needs for people to live a decent life after experiencing hardship. I support amending or removing existing barriers within zoning ordinances to build a variety of housing options in the community to expand development such as permitting Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) and tiny homes. The current council has taken these steps, but we need to continue reviewing restrictions to see where there is room for opportunity to build more housing. Additionally, we need to work to fill the gaps identified in the County’s Housing Gap Analysis and the Regional Housing Needs Assessment. I support Olympia’s Housing Action Plan to increase our housing supply and develop various types of housing, especially for seniors having difficulty finding an affordable home. 

What is one thing the existing council has done really well, and one thing you’d do differently?

The Council has done a great job with limited resources to provide safe and managed mitigation sites for homeless individuals, despite the fact that these sites haven’t been able to accommodate all of our homeless population. These mitigation sites provide temporary support and are a much safer alternative than unmanaged encampments. One thing I’d do differently is after a brief trial of the first mitigation site, additional sites outside of downtown on accessible routes should have been instituted, but I know that the City Council recently agreed to purchase the property on the eastside for a similar purpose. In addition to our business sector, I’d also consult first responders since they often respond to situations in encampments for their insight. 

On a scale of 1-10, how important is the diversity and equity work the city now is engaged in? Please explain why you feel that way.

10 (assuming it’s most important). As a veteran and racial, sexual, and religious minority, I understand the nuance and complexities of intersectionality and the important role it should have in public policy. Equity is about doing what is fair and just. As a nation, we have had centuries of harmful and inconsiderate policies, which often leads to damage to people’s lives and later has to be addressed by government and non-governmental entities. We must have diversity in a myriad of ways to ensure we are producing the best possible outcomes for as many people as possible no matter their background or how they identify. 

Say three nice things about downtown Olympia. 

Downtown has a small town vibe that is walkable and has great restaurants and bars such as Cascadia, Well 80, Rumors and Swing Wine Bars. I enjoy the beautiful displays of art and murals such as the Rebecca Howard and Arc of the Aging murals and the Artesian Well mosaic. Downtown serves as the epi-center for community gathering.

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By Mindy Chambers

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