The sun was beating, not streaming, through the windows of the gym at the private Bush School in Madison Valley Monday evening, and the candidates were looking (and acting) wilted. The District 3 council candidates’ forum, put on jointly by the Madison Valley and Madison Park Community Councils, featured a sedate, well-behaved contingent of ladies and gentlemen of a certain age alongside a slightly-muted cadre of red-clad Sawant socialists.
Everyone on stage seemed like they could use some crackers and a nap. Former newscaster Lee Carter (who proudly isn’t raising any money) struck a grumpy note in his opening statement, saying that he was running “because of the dishonest way the incumbent has represented the people of this city by representing herself as a nonpartisan candidate.” (Sawant is an avowed, and very vocal, member of the Socialist Alternative party.) Morgan Beach was unusually muted (the women’s rights activist has been a force at previous debates), and Rod Hearne awkwardly read his answers from notes.
That left Sawant and Banks to bring the fireworks, and they didn’t disappoint. Banks started it off by pointing out that she’s one of only two candidates in the race (the other being Carter) “who can say I’ve lived in the district for 20 years” (Sawant emigrated from India in 2006). Minutes later, in a statement aimed directly at the incumbent, Banks said that council members don’t reach consensus by “berating or belittling your colleagues.” And still later, she said that rent control, Sawant’s signature post-$15 minimum wage issue, “is not the answer, because it doesn’t encourage [the development of] units and it generates false hope.” Banks said she supported using the city’s bonding capacity to build publicly funded housing.
Although Sawant didn’t respond to Banks directly, she did allude to Banks’ supposed membership in the ranks of “corporate politicians” “awash in corporate cash” in response to an unrelated question about communicating with people in the district. (Her response, when she got to it, was, “My office has provided an open door to City Hall to the many who are left out of the political process in Seattle.”)
Reading out loud from a thick sheaf of papers, Sawant returned again and again to another talking point, the need to adopt “the maximum linkage fee” (a square-footage tax on development) to ensure developers pay for affordable housing. Asked during a yes-or-no lightning around about the fee proposal, Banks said she did not. Note: A reader who was at the event corrected my original report—that Banks waffled on linkage fees—in the comments, and the video confirms that she did not.
That opened the door for Sawant to declare that candidates like Banks “who take campaign funds from real estate corporations like Vulcan show that they will not be able to build affordable housing nor represent our neighborhoods.” (As I noted in a previous post, Sawant is conflating corporations and the people who work there; while it’s certainly true that an overwhelming influx from people who work for developers could make a candidate more pro-development, Banks actually received just contributions from two high-ranking Vulcan employees, Phil Fujii and Pearl Leung).
The two women also disagreed on the idea of a local income tax (Banks: no, Sawant, enthusiastically: yes), and whether the city should limit the number of recreational pot shops in a single neighborhood, such as the Central District (Sawant said no, Banks said yes).
Banks Sawant also disagreed about the idea of a citywide income tax and, somewhat surprisingly, Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $930 million transportation levy. Although both waffled when asked if they supported the levy, called Move Seattle, Sawant actually sounded somewhat enthusiastic about some of the levy’s marquee projects, saying she supported protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. She added, however, that “corporate politicians” like Murray had historically prioritized the deep-bore tunnel over basic improvements like those in Move Seattle. Banks, in contrast, said she worried that “we are taxing ourselves out of our city. We need to look at ways to raise money without increasing property taxes.” (Council member Nick Licata, along with Sawant, has proposed amendments that would replace some of Move Seattle’s property tax funding with taxes on parking and businesses.)
Another area of contrast, if not disagreement, came when the candidates were asked how the city could grow without destroying the “character” of Seattle’s neighborhoods. Sawant used the question as an opportunity to again stump for the highest-possible development tax, stronger just-cause eviction laws, and a “Bertha-size investment in affordable housing,” while Banks said she believed the city has ignored neighborhoods that weren’t designated as urban centers or urban villages during neighborhood planning in the 1990s, and said she was disappointed that “we spent hundreds of thousands on neighborhood plans that just went on a shelf and collected dust.”
Interestingly, none of the candidates in this very urban, car-optional district had ridden the bus more than three times in the past week; Beach was the outlier on the high end with three bus trips, and Banks and Sawant were on the low end, reporting zero and one bus trip in the past seven days, respectively.