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Women in Beer | Fremont Brewing’s Sara Nelson Runs for Seattle City Council

Women in Beer | Fremont Brewing’s Sara Nelson Runs for Seattle City Council
Hannah Carlson

Fremont Brewing’s Sara Nelson is accomplished, to say the least.

Want to talk culture? With a PhD in Anthropology, she’s your gal. Have some questions about policy? After over a decade serving as the Chief of Staff for Richard Conlin, former Seattle City Council member, she’s likely to have some answers. Are you a beer drinker? Well you’re in luck! Nelson is the co-owner of Seattle’s celebrated Fremont Brewing.

But Nelson has recently embarked on a journey to make her resume even more robust: She’s running for Seattle City Council. On the heels of Tim Burgess’ announcement that he’ll be retiring from the council, Nelson recently announced her intent to run for the Position 8 seat. 

“I’m basically a do-gooder,” Nelson says, as she begins to tell me about her race. She elaborates that she is always trying to live by one, imperative rule. “Do the right thing.”

And there’s no doubt that Nelson has been doing the right thing since the start. Under Conlin, Nelson concentrated her energy on everything from environment and sustainability – launching Seattle as one of the United States’ green leaders – to transportation to economic development. At Fremont Brewing, Nelson and her husband and fellow co-owner Matt Lincecum set sustainability practices in place that landed them King County’s Small Business of the Year award in 2014. They’ve also been providing all 55 workers a living wage, healthcare, retirement benefits, and paid family leave before it was required by law to do so. As a policy geek, you can often find her in Washington D.C., or the capitol of Washington, Olympia, trying to influence law.

“I consider myself a policy person before a beer person,” Nelson explains. “A brewery is good because I get to use it as a soapbox to advance policies that I think are important, be it community engagement or sustainability, or to defend the [craft] industry in Olympia and Washington.”

So why is Nelson attempting to leave that soapbox for City Council? Nelson’s decision to run had been brewing – pun intended – for some time. But encouragement from an unlikely source pushed Nelson into the race.

“My oldest son, he says, ‘Mom, you’re complaining about what’s going on on council, why don’t you be on council?’ and I thought, ‘You’re right.’ When it comes from your son, I know it sounds cheesy, but if I don’t show leadership to him, as a feminist I’m not doing my job,” Nelson says.

From there, Nelson was recruited by friends who made her a convincing case. “They somehow got some information that would suggest that my profile had a path to win,” she says. Their data pointed to Nelson, the environmentalist, a seasoned policymaker and the small business owner having an edge.

“I’m unique in this field. It’s one thing to talk about workers rights, it’s another thing to provide them. I have credibility in the community not just because I’ve given beer or cash to social justice and environment in the region, but we are leaders in the industry of being good corporate citizens,” she says.

And that’s how we find Nelson where she is today – meeting me at a coffee shop for a quick interview, sandwiched between campaign events where she shares her vision for the city: A Seattle that addresses looming housing and homelessness crises, protects the environment, and advances small businesses. And that vision? It’s infectious. Everyone from the Seattle Times to former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels to fellow Washington brewers are on board.

So what’s next? Well, Nelson is keeping up the momentum, and reminding herself that no matter the outcome, she’s already changed minds of Seattleites. That’s a victory in and of itself.

“Even if I don’t win – but I intend to win – I’m changing the conversation by just being on the campaign trail. I’m talking about business in a positive light, I’m showing that small business can be a force for good,” she says.

And, of course, despite the final tally, a good drink is also in her future.

“It’s going to be a bottle of bourbon,” she laughs, when we ask her what beer she’ll reach for at the end of the race. But when it comes to beer, “it would be something light. Maybe a good old Summer Ale.”

You, too, can get involved. To look at volunteering opportunities on Nelson’s campaign, check out her website. And, of course, fill out your ballot. They must be postmarked by Tuesday, August 1. We suggest filling it out over your favorite Fremont brew.

Photo courtesy of Sara Nelson

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