District residential status raises question for homeless council candidate

A candidate for Tacoma City Council who was eliminated from the race during last month’s Primary Election is challenging whether a candidate who defeated him lives in the district for which he is running.

Tacoma attorney Donald Powell, who was one of four candidates vying for a seat to represent residents in District 3, has alleged that challenger Ronnie Allen Warren, a former boxer-turned-evangelist who received enough votes necessary to move on to the General Election, does not live in District 3, which includes the Hilltop neighborhood and a portion of South Tacoma.

According to Powell, the issue came to his attention this week when Tacoma resident Rachel Bennett told him that she has known Warren for 15 years, and alleged he did not live in the council district.

“Rachel Bennett called me out of the blue,” says Powell, who had similar doubts about Warren’s residency, but “I had no way to prove it. I wasn’t going to follow him around.”
Bennett told Powell that Warren lived in the 6300 block of South Fawcett with Tommie Frazier, a deacon at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. Frazier’s residence is located outside of District 3. According to Bennett, Warren has lived there since 2001, except for a period between August 2006 and March 2007. On the voter’s guide, Warren listed his residence as located in the 2300 block of South Ash St., which is located in District 3.

On Aug. 20, Warren responded to an e-mail from Bennett, who had requested he confirm his residency. Warren replied, “My physical address is not the one listed in the voters pamphlet. I have been given a physical address that I couldn’t remember at the time of the application. My preference was my P.O. Box, but I forgot to request it. I have been homeless at times and occasionally I have stayed with Tommie, as you know, on a day to day basis. My brother, my sister both have physical property in Upper Tacoma. I hope that this personal information is what you were looking for.”

Bennett says it wasn’t.

In an e-mail response, she told Warren that whether his brother and sister owned property in District 3 was irrelevant to the issue of whether Warren lived in the district. “[It] does not address the questions of where you live now or on the date you filed your paperwork for Tacoma City Council,” she wrote. “Nor does it answer my question about you living on the 6300 block of Fawcett.”

On Tuesday, Warren contacted the Index via telephone. He said that he has lived in the Hilltop neighborhood, but has been homeless for many years, and hasn’t had a permanent address. He has lived off and on with his sister, brother, and the deacon. Warren says it has been a challenge to run a city council campaign without a permanent physical address.

“Of course it’s going to be weird when you have someone who is homeless, and not disclosing that during the campaign,” he explained. “Because I’m homeless and don’t have a place to lay my head, people can’t rationalize that.”

He denied Bennett’s claim that he has lived with deacon Frazier for nearly six years. He said he was now living at a residence in the 800 block of South 13th Street. Still, when this reporter attempted to contact the deacon by telephone, Warren picked up the line.

“I think he’s just borrowing more trouble,” says Powell. “I don’t see how I have a choice but to contest it on the basis that Rachel Bennett says he’s living out of a residence on South Fawcett.”

Powell says Bennett’s inquiry confirmed his own suspicions, adding that throughout the Primary Election campaign, he found it odd that Warren never posted a sign outside the Ash Street residence Warren listed in the voter’s guide.

Powell believes Warren should be disqualified, and his own name should appear on the General Election ballot Nov. 6.

During the Primary Election, front-runner Lauren Walker received 1,932 votes. The race between Warren and Powell was close. Warren received 429 votes; Powell received 404 votes. A fourth challenger, Jack Pleasant, received 375 votes.

“There were over 400 people in District 3 that utilized their power to vote,” says Bennett. “They voted for Ronnie, and he does not reside in District 3. To me, the people utilized their vote and put their faith in Ronnie to represent them on Tacoma City Council. I just don’t see how he can run.”

“I’m hoping Ronnie will contact me and see there is no upside for him to fight such a thing and withdraw,” says Powell. This week, he contacted the Pierce County Auditor’s Office and an attorney at City Hall to learn more information about what action he might pursue.

The City of Tacoma’s charter states candidates running for a district position “shall be residents of their districts for one year immediately preceding the time of filing as candidate.” It also states that councilmembers who move out of the district they represent are required to forfeit their position in office.

The Index attempted to contact the Pierce County auditor’s office, and the City Attorney’s office for further explanation of the rules.

“I think you could argue that the declaration of candidacy is a sworn document,” adds Powell. “You have to swear and affirm that’s where you are living. When Mr. Warren admitted [in an e-mail to Bennett] he wasn’t living [on Ash Street], that’s potentially a felony perjury charge.

“I hope Mr. Warren would do the right thing and withdraw,” adds Powell. “He hasn’t returned my call.”