Anyone who’s been closely following Seattle city politics for some time surely knows by now that this year’s Seattle City Council elections will truly be a civic game-changer.
The switch to district-based council elections mandated by Seattle voters in 2013 has now already prompted the resignations of certain infamous council incumbents who have declined to run for re-election in the new system. Along with that very welcome news comes the emergence of certain key candidates who could bring the true progressive majority the council has desperately needed for many, many years.
As of March 13, thirty-nine council candidates have already filed for the nine open positions, incumbents included. This comes two full months before the official May 15 candidate filing deadline. Standout candidates currently include Lisa Herbold in District 1, Jonathan Grant in the at-large Position 8, and Bill Bradburd in the at-large Position 9.
Herbold is the legislative aide to departing council member Nick Licata, and has held that position since 1998. Suffice to say she knows a thing or two about how Seattle’s city government actually works. Grant is executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State and would obviously be an avid champion for affordable housing on the council. Bradburd is chair of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition and is widely respected within Seattle’s progressive activist community.
Among possible other candidates who might soon file is James Keblas, Vera Project co-founder, former director of Seattle’s Office of Film + Music, and a widely respected figure within Seattle’s arts and music community. Keblas, who is considering running for Position 9, could bring a much-needed creative community perspective to a council that has long been dominated by the city’s business community and its pervasive economic fundamentalism.
Among council incumbents, stalwart progressives Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant are both running for re-election, which clearly furthers the prospects for a progressive council majority beginning in January 2016.
Why the incumbent resignations? Consider the Bertha fiasco. While neither Sally Clark nor Tom Rasmussen has yet admitted so, their resignations were likely due to their respective roles in setting the stage for the Bertha fiasco as staunch supporters of the deep-bore tunnel option prior to its official approval in 2011. Recent local events have obviously made erstwhile tunnel supporters politically toxic.
(Progressive incumbent Nick Licata did not support the tunnel until it was politically inevitable, and he most likely resigned because the new district system would have forced him to run against fellow progressive incumbent Mike O’Brien, since both Licata and O’Brien reside in the new District 6. Licata, 67, has served since 1998 as one of the council’s most consistent progressive voices, and has already announced ambitions beyond elected public office.)
What’s been the fundamental problem with the Seattle City Council for the past 25 years — i.e., since the crucial 1989 municipal elections that ushered Seattle into Sidrantime? Too many doormats.
Seattle today is a city whose long-vaunted liberalism has long stopped short of addressing economic injustice, and whose city council has long harbored too many doormats for unchecked economic development at the expense of economic equity. Too many elected public officials in Seattle City Hall have given lip service to affordable housing and social services for homeless people while ultimately laying down and playing doormat for greedy property developers and their attendant gentrification and displacement.
Seattle is now having yet another critical historical moment. Gentrification is now achieving hyperdrive in certain key neighborhoods, including and especially Capitol Hill, our city’s ultimate civic bellwether. What has already happened to San Francisco — the replacement of rich, gritty history with bland, affluent monoculture — may now also be happening to Seattle. Who in City Hall will stop this?
What’s the recipe for a Seattle City Council that will finally be as genuinely liberal on economic justice issues as it has been on social justice issues? Here’s the crucial ingredient: omit the spineless gentrification apologists.
No more Sally Clarks. No more Richard Conlins. No more Jean Goddens.