Homelessness, addiction taking center stage in race for Everett mayor

EVERETT, Wash. -- This year's race for mayor in Everett is historic. For the first time, there are only two women on the ballot.

And in a last-minute twist, a write-in candidate crashes the race.

All three want the title of mayor of Everett and all three agree on one thing:

“The crisis we are facing is housing, homelessness and addiction,” mayoral candidate Cassie Franklin said.

Between August 2016 to August 2017, the city of Everett counted 71 homeless encampments where drug use is common.

“For the most part, people are feeling uncomfortable going to the stores, parks, libraries -- a lot of that is stemming from what's happening on our streets,” fellow candidate Judy Tuohy said.

Tuohy and Franklin are not new to politics -- both are members of the Everett City Council.

“Far too often we work in our silo bubbles and we are not working across systems and across jurisdictions so it's pushing the problem around and not getting to the root cause,” Franklin said.

Franklin also runs Cocoon House, a nonprofit that helps homeless youths, so she says she understands the complex crisis Everett is facing.

“You offer services as many times as you possibly can, give them every opportunity to be successful,” Franklin said.

Franklin added that she is not in favor of city-run homeless encampments but she is in favor of repeated outreach.

“If this is how much support exists in your community and this problem is getting bigger, obviously the support has to grow,” Franklin said.

Tuohy says one thing she will immediately do as mayor is open a big day shelter.

“What I want to do is establish a temporary day shelter; we don't have any. We have some small ones for women and things,” Tuohy said.

She also wants to centralize where homeless people can come for food.

“Consolidate the feeding programs, come to one or two places so we are not forcing the homeless to go throughout town looking for handouts,” Tuohy said.

Tuohy also wants to hire retired police officers to handle the administrative side of things so more officers can patrol the streets.

Like Franklin, Tuohy runs a nonprofit; she is the director of the Schack Art Center.

Tuohy helped raise nearly $7 million to get the center built, which, she says, shows leadership.

Tuohy and Franklin were neck-and-neck in the primaries, with Franklin slightly ahead with just 275 votes.

But after the primaries came an unexpected twist -- businessman Gary Watts emerged as a write-in candidate determined to steal the show.

“I am a little guy with a squeaky voice that has always been underestimated,” Watts said.

He hasn’t done a single door knock or planted a single campaign sign. Instead, he is relying on tens of thousands of TV ads.

What sets him apart is that he is unapologetically tough when it comes to tackling the homeless crisis.

“The folks who are homeless ... because they want to be homeless and they are in Everett because it's the best place to be homeless; not on your life, I will not support them,” Watts said.

Before Watts threw in his name for mayor, he garnered national attention for placing a sign outside his business nicknaming Everett "Tweakerville."

“Tweakerville was the last resort, it wasn`t something that just happened,” Watts said.

Watts set up a surveillance camera at his business, Z Sport Automotive, livestreaming the activities across the street. He said he's seen drug use and property crime in that area for years.

“This area is now clean, Smith Street is clean. I want to do that for the rest of Everett and that's why I am running for mayor,” Watts said.

Watts says he only wants to help homeless people who are not on drugs and those who are mentally ill.

Tough love is what he calls it. When asked if it shows a lack of compassion, he said, “They don't understand the problem and don't want to understand what I want to do. I want to help those people who want to be helped,” Watts said.

Tuohy and Franklin say the nickname Tweakerville and the cameras need to go.

“It's not something I would condone or do. I think there are some privacy issues of people on the streets,” Tuohy said.

“It`s not unique to Everett, so it's pretty frustrating that he chose that platform to promote whatever it is he's trying to promote,” Franklin said.