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News / Northwest

Seattle rapper Macklemore supports crisis care levy

King County ballot measure would fund 5 walk-in centers

By David Gutman, The Seattle Times
Published: April 9, 2023, 6:05am

Early last month, Jamell Webb called his friend Ben to ask for help.

Webb had left a drug rehab program early, relapsed and wasn’t doing well.

“He texted me again and was like, ‘Dude I’m not, I’m not good right now,’ ” Ben recalled.

Ben said he should get back into treatment. He wasn’t sure where he should go, but he said they’d figure it out. This was a Sunday.

“I had to think of a plan,” Ben recalled. “I’m like, OK, I’ll get to this Monday, we’re going to figure it out Monday.”

On Monday, Ben got a call. Early that morning, Webb had been shot and killed at a Belltown bus stop. He was 37.

“The devastation that I felt then has not left,” Ben, better known as Macklemore, said last week. And ever since, he’s been asking himself: What if things had been different? What if he didn’t have to work out a plan to get his friend help?

“Would he still be alive?” Macklemore asked a crowd of more than 800 at the Seattle Convention Center. “When I didn’t know where to send him, when I was like, ‘You know what, I don’t know what to do right now, let me think about it.’ I shouldn’t have to think about it. I’m in active recovery, I shouldn’t have to think about where to tell someone to get help. I shouldn’t have to figure it out.”

It’s why Macklemore, the Seattle-born and -based platinum-selling rapper, has become a pitchman of sorts for the local property tax levy that will appear on voters’ ballots this month.

King County Proposition No. 1, with an Election Day of April 25, asks voters to approve a property tax hike of $1.25 billion over nine years to fund five walk-in crisis care centers throughout the county. The centers would be open 24/7 for people dealing with urgent mental health or substance abuse issues. The property tax levy, 14.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, would cost the owner of a $694,000 median-priced home about $121 next year.

The Metropolitan King County Council voted unanimously to send the proposal to voters.

Each center would include a unit offering behavioral health treatment for up to 14 days. The levy also aims to increase the number of longer-term residential treatment beds in the county.

Today, people experiencing an urgent mental health crisis have few options in King County, and often end up in hospital emergency rooms or, if a crime has been alleged, in jail.

“I should be able to say, you go here, this is the address, this is where you go, there’s five of them,” Macklemore said.

Macklemore was speaking at the request of County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, one of the leaders behind the proposal. They’d become online friends, messaging through Instagram, and Macklemore showed up to Zahilay’s reelection kickoff event in January.

Zahilay asked him to speak at his fundraiser. Macklemore asked what he should talk about. In early March, Zahilay saw Macklemore on “The Tonight Show,” talking about how the pandemic had disrupted the in-person 12-step meetings that he’d relied on through 14 years of recovery from alcohol and opioid addiction.

“I was alone and the disease of addiction was like ‘Yoooooo, this is crazy, the world is stopped, you can get high,’ ” Macklemore said on the late-night show.

He relapsed, and decided to talk about that.

“This decade in King County is going to be known as the decade of the behavioral health crisis,” Zahilay said. “It’s our shadow pandemic. It’s the topic that I hear about most from all of my constituents; people reach out to me saying their loved one is having a psychiatric episode and has nowhere to go.”

A committee supporting the ballot measure has raised more than $385,000 and is planning a get-out-the-vote campaign with phone banks, flyers and door knocking. The campaign is bankrolled almost exclusively by large donors, with the biggest donations coming from Microsoft, the Ballmer Group, Amazon and local health care workers unions.

There is no organized opposition to the measure. The opposition statement in the county voters guide was written by anti-tax activist Tim Eyman, Fremont property owner Suzie Burke and Jim Coombes.

They argue the levy is unnecessary and if county officials really thought the crisis care centers were essential they’d find the money within existing funds.

“Government spends existing taxes on pet projects and then forces us to vote for essential services,” they write. “It’s a trick. And when we fall for it, politicians just do it again.”

Burke noted that county officials have not named specific sites for the five crisis care centers, just saying they would be spread around the county, and that the measure calls for an implementation plan to be created only after it passes.

“The county doesn’t actually have a plan,” she said. “They’re just going to raise the money, then they’re going to make a plan.”

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