I think the first time I had ever heard of Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was when I wrote this story more than two years ago. Here’s the gist of what happened:
A 55-year-old homeless man named Francisco Calderon punched a complete stranger in the mouth one day in November, giving him a bloody lip. The victim called 911 and Calderon was arrested and charged with assault. He pleaded guilty to the crime. That turned out to be his 72nd time being convicted of a crime, fourteen of those convictions were felonies. And yet, City Attorney Pete Holmes worked out a plea deal with Calderon’s public defender which would keep him out of jail. Instead, he would get probation and drug treatment. Enter Municipal Court Judge Ed McKenna whose job it was to sentence Calderon.
When it came time for sentencing, Calderon refused to leave his jail cell. He had to be forcibly dragged to the courtroom in handcuffs. After looking over his long history of (often random) violence, Judge McKenna said in court, “I’m not sure I have ever seen a more significant history of violent offenses.” He added, “Everything in that criminal history tells me that he’s a violent offender and is going to re-offend.” Again he’d been convicted 72 times so this really wasn’t a case of the judge going out on a limb. Instead of the plea deal worked out by City Attorney Pete Holmes, Judge McKenna gave Calderon 364 days, the maximum possible sentence for a misdemeanor.
Pete Holmes and director of the Department of Public Defense Anita Khandelwal were furious that their deal hadn’t been respected. They wrote a letter accusing the judge of violating judicial ethics. They even claimed he’d invited a local reporter to court in order to witness the spectacle of him sentencing Calderon. Then Holmes and Khandelwal went on TV attacking the judge.
Judge McKenna was eventually cleared and the people accused of coming to his court as part of some kind of stunt both denied it in detail and explained why they’d come to court that day. It was a complete face plant for City Attorney Pete Holmes all because he wanted to keep a homeless man who’d been convicted 72 times out of jail.
And the overall statistics suggest this wasn’t a one-time incident. In fact, the City Attorney failed to file charges at all in nearly half of the misdemeanor cases brought to him. And the results in the city are self-evident. Homeless people are everywhere, often tying up the time of police and firefighters and when they commit crimes they are simply passed through the system over and over again rather than being taken off the street. One report from 2019 found that the 100 most prolific offenders in the city, nearly all of them homeless, had been involved in 3,500 criminal cases.
The good news is there’s an upcoming election for City Attorney in Seattle and Pete Holmes appears to be struggling:
Three-term incumbent Pete Holmes is facing a surprisingly tough challenge as voters receive their mail-in ballots for the August 3 election.
The latest poll shows him effectively tied in a three-way race with Ann Davison and Nicole Thomas-Kennedy. He has 16% of the vote, while Davison and Thomas-Kennedy each have 14%. In all, 53% of voters aren’t sure. Also, 617 people were surveyed, and the margin of error is 4.3%. Only the top two winners of the August primary go on to the November general election.
Ann Davison is the more conservative candidate in the race and she has been endorsed by the Seattle Times:
In Pete Holmes’ three terms as city attorney, he has failed Seattle on multiple fronts. Voters should replace him with Ann Davison, the only candidate who understands that the office should take a stronger role in helping restore Seattle’s safety for all…
In an interview, she offered a clear-eyed assessment of Seattle’s current shortcomings and a need for a strong city attorney to stand up for public good. Davison’s vision is to help restore a lawful city with real compassion, not exacerbating the plights of people struggling with poverty, mental-health or substance-use disorders. Rather, she supports an approach with services and interventions that help troubled individuals but also keep the public safe. And she would not shrug off the challenge of using the city attorney’s authority to step in with sensitivity when behaviors endanger other people.
“We have to set limits,” she said, “because we have to protect everyone in the public.”
As the editorial points out, that’s how Pete Holmes used to talk when he was running for office the first time:
Asked about the city’s problems with street crime, including rashes of catalytic-converter thefts and retail shoplifting, Holmes blamed, by turns: city police for not bringing him enough cases, businesses for poor theft prevention and statutes that take many offenses out of his hands. He conceded that more cases per year were filed before he took office, but then cast rhetorical fog, questioning what an appropriate rate might be.
Candidate Holmes of 12 years ago sold a different vision:
“Pete will emphasize tough sentencing for real criminals — those who threaten our personal safety and property,” his voters pamphlet candidate statement said then.
It’s long past time for Holmes to go. And fortunately Seattle has a sensible choice to replace him. Hopefully Seattle residents still care enough about making the city livable to see that Ann Davison is the chance in leadership that is needed at this moment.
Here’s Davison’s 2-minute statement to primary voters. There’s also a good video report on the race at this link.