Welcome to The Seattle Star‘s endorsements for the August 4 Seattle City Council primary elections. Ballots for the primary will arrive in your mailboxes this week, signaling this year’s local election season.
Never mind the bureaucratic absurdity of scheduling an election day during the dog days of summer. Given the advent of districting, the 2015 Seattle City Council elections will be the most crucial in many, many years — and thus it’s well worth your time to start researching the candidates now.
Seattle’s current housing affordability crisis looms large indeed over these elections — and thus our endorsements have been largely determined by the candidates’ positions on that critical civic issue. Among the hot local topics this year related to that crisis are linkage fees, which are intended to make real estate developers provide affordable housing by requiring them to either designate a portion of new units as affordable or contribute to the city’s affordable housing fund. Some current council candidates support linkage fees, while others don’t — and there lies a world of civic difference among this year’s candidates.
Most importantly, with several outstanding candidates, this year’s elections promise to finally bring what Seattle’s been absurdly lacking for several election cycles now: a progressive council for a progressive city.
On to our endorsements. Remember: these endorsements are inevitably subjective. Do your own research, make up your own mind, cast your own ballot.
District 1 (West Seattle, Delridge, South Park): Lisa Herbold
This race presents the most obvious choice for progressive Seattle voters this year. Lisa Herbold is the legislative aide to departing council member Nick Licata, and she has held that position since 1998. Suffice to say she knows a thing or two about how Seattle’s city government actually works — and her politics are as solidly progressive as those of her longtime boss and mentor. According to Licata, “Lisa Herbold is the most qualified candidate that I could imagine — few know how important she has been to Seattle and its residents since 1998.”
Along with Herbold’s peerless legislative experience in Seattle City Hall, she’s been a resident of Highland Park for 15 years, and therefore knows District 1 as well as she knows Seattle city politics and government. Yes, affordable housing will be among her top priorities as a council member, and yes, she strongly deserves your vote.
District 2 (Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Rainier Valley): Tammy Morales
District 2 is Seattle’s only majority-minority district, which means that 70 percent of its residents are non-white — and many are also members of Seattle’s underclass, since many of them earn less than $25,000 a year. While incumbent Bruce Harrell has done well representing people of color on the council, he needs a genuine challenge in the primary. Tammy Morales, a Latina, is a longtime District 2 resident and community activist who’s now ready for the big-city demands of Seattle City Hall.
Among her priorities on the council will be increasing community policing and police accountability, a profoundly volatile topic for District 4, where people of color have long borne the brunt of the Seattle Police Department’s infamous dysfunctionality. Morales is also a sustainable food activist, which bodes well for Beacon Hill’s potential to become a national neighborhood leader in the urban farming movement, given the recent establishment of the Beacon Hill Food Forest.
Another clearly obvious choice for progressive Seattle voters this year. Incumbent Kshama Sawant is the best thing to happen to Seattle’s city government in several election cycles, and she overwhelmingly deserves re-election. (Obviously, we also don’t take corporate cash.) During her first term, among her other accomplishments, Sawant was a key leader in the successful grassroots campaign to raise Seattle’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. She currently supports the maximum linkage fee, and when re-elected, she’ll focus on achieving rent control, municipal broadband, and a city income tax in Seattle, among other genuinely progressive goals.
Certain local wealthy donors in District 3 are actively organizing to unseat Sawant. Those donors overwhelmingly support her main challenger, Pamela Banks, the current president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. While both Banks and Sawant are women of color, among the key differences between the two candidates, Banks has fewer total donors contributing to her campaign than Sawant, while raising nearly the same amount of money — much of it from real-estate and finance moguls. Also, Banks has publicly opposed the $15 minimum wage, rent control, and linkage fees. Essentially, Sawant is grassroots while Banks is Big Bank. Caveat emptor, indeed.
As for the absurd allegation by rabid Kshama-bashers that Sawant is “divisive”: oh, bish-bosh. Sawant’s not the one who created the current gaping divide between Seattle’s haves and our have-nots — she’s among the ones currently trying to solve that problem. Vote Sawant.
District 4 (U District, Eastlake, Wallingford, Ravenna): Michael Maddux
This is a swing district, and a very polarized one: an odd-duck mix of urban and suburban voters from economically diverse nighborhoods, all within a rapidly growing city. Much of the future growth (and, yes, gentrification) expected in District 4 will be due to the three Link light rail stations scheduled to open within the next six years in the U District and in Roosevelt. Since the youthful UW student population will be mostly absent for the summertime primary (clever move, King County Elections), District 4’s weathered and wealthy voters will most likely determine this race — all the more reason for staycationing progressives to balance out that demographic on August 4.
Michael Maddux is the best candidate in this race. A paralegal and parks activist, he’s well informed about his home district and the challenges that face District 4 as it anticipates rapid urban growth in the coming decade, with specific policy proposals for how to manage and guide that growth intelligently and sustainably.
We originally chose a dual endorsement of Maddux and Rob Johnson. However, we’ve since learned that Johnson has taken significant financial contributions from two independent expenditure groups: $44,000 from the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce-funded People for Rob, and $20,000 from the Washington Restaurant Association PAC. He’s also pulled in money from real-estate developers. While Johnson is otherwise a strong candidate, Big Money donations such as these are troubling, and thus we’ve now dropped our endorsement of Johnson. Vote Maddux.
District 5 is the only district where no current city council incumbent resides. Thus, all the candidates in this race are local political unknowns. Mercedes Elizalde is an employee of the nonprofit Low Income Housing Institute, where she recruits and trains volunteers. She also serves on the board of the Tenants Union of Washington State and as co-chair of the Seattle Women’s Commission. In her official campaign statement she speaks of systemic solutions to systemic problems such as poverty, homelessness, and social disorder, which demonstrates her qualification to govern a city profoundly challenged by these problems.
Another obvious progressive choice, and yet another incumbent who has clearly earned re-election. With Nick Licata departing, Mike O’Brien will be the senior progressive on the council if re-elected. He now seeks another full term with a strong track record on environmental and social justice issues. He’s also currently leading the drive to make linkage fees a reality, which may happen before the November general election.
Most recently, O’Brien has called for an audit of the city’s planning department after the revelation that the department undercharged the mega-developer R.C. Hedreen Company in affordable housing fees, which shows his willingness to challenge greedy interests such as Hedreen who show no respect for either Seattle’s history or our longtime progressive political culture. Vote O’Brien and let his outstanding work continue.
Establishment incumbent Sally Bagshaw is essentially an unopposed candidate this year. Like Bruce Harrell, she also needs a primary challenge. Google engineer Gus Hartmann has conceded that he has no chance of beating Bagshaw. “I’m going to lose and I’m comfortable with that,” he told Seattle Weekly in June. Nevertheless, he’s no Goodspaceguy: as a tech sector transplant lacking the apathy of the stereotypical Amazombie, he shows in his official campaign statement a clear understanding of the city’s current problems, despite his lack of specific solutions. You already know Bagshaw will soar to re-election on wings made of money. Vote Hartmann.
Jon Grant is the former executive director of the Tenants Union of Washington State and would obviously be an avid champion for affordable housing on the council, with very specific policy proposals informed by his experience as an organizer. Along with affordable housing, Grant plans to focus on police accountability, a vitally important priority for the council’s at-large representatives. If elected, he would insist that Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability add more civilian personnel in order to investigate police misconduct with greater impartiality.
Bill Bradburd is chair of the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition and is widely respected within Seattle’s progressive activist community. As someone who’s worked closely with neighborhood activists citywide for more than a decade, he’s uniquely qualified among this year’s council candidates to serve as an at-large council member. And his progressive credentials are unquestionable: as a leader in Seattle Districts Now, he helped bring districted city council elections to Seattle, and he supports the creation of a municipal public bank here.
Regarding Seattle’s current growth surge, Bradburd says: “Growth and change is something we should plan and shape together, not something that simply happens to us.” We strongly agree. Vote Bradburd.