The C Is for Crank “Interviews”: Kshama Sawant

As I’ve mentioned in all 17 previous posts in this series, city council member Kshama Sawant refused to speak with me, even after I offered to send questions in advance and make other concessions in the hope that she would sit down and talk. Sawant did not give any reason for her repeated refusals, and in fact has been absolutely cordial and pleasant to me throughout this campaign (including at three candidate forums I moderated in which she was a participant).

In lieu of an interview, then, I offer you the next best thing: Some highlights of a recent candidate forum for Town Hall that I co-moderated (along with Dani A’skini of the Gender Justice League, Jazmin Williams with Rouge Lioness, and Bryan Adamson from the Seattle University School of Law), during which I got to ask Sawant (and Banks) some of the questions I would have liked to ask her during a sit-down interview. During that forum, Sawant went beyond her well-trodden rhetoric about rent control and evil “big developers” to talk about solutions beyond crowd-friendly but unworkable ideas like a “millionaire’s tax” and rent control, including transit expansion, tenant protections, and assistance for small businesses.

Makes me wish I could have gotten her to elaborate in person.

hK3R1YUJOn what she would do, in addition to rent control, to preserve and promote housing affordability:

Just last week, I was in a building owned by slumlord Carl Haglund where tenants face appalling conditions—rats, roaches, and mold infestation. We need new laws to defend tenants against slumlords and against economic evictions. Let’s begin the work and let’s build on the work that we’ve done.

The affordable housing crisis is multifaceted. You need to build more affordable housing units, but you also need strategies to make the new and existing units affordable. So in addition to rent control, we also need other tactics and other policies in order to make housing affordable. The city has bonding capacity to tune of a billion dollars. Bonding capacity is used to build stadiums and other capital projects. We could use it for building affordable housing units, and given the scale of the crisis that we face, I would say it’s high time that we deploy the city’s bonding capacity to build tens of thousand of affordable housing units every year so that the crisis stalls.

In addition to that, we need to make big developers pay. I’ve been calling for the most robust possible commercial and residential linkage fee. It’s a fee on developers. That fee, if it is robust and if it is put into place without phasing, that is, immediately, will generate a large fund that the city will have in its treasury to build affordable units. In addition to the bonding capacity, making big developers pay, and rent control, we also need to strengthen tenants’ rights in many different directions.

I want to share with you why we are arguing for rent control as part of this comprehensive policy program. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a law, and wouldn’t it be reasonable if you had a law, that said that your landlord cannot increase your rent if they have pending housing code violations? That sounds reasonable and rational. But because of the ban being so absolute, we are not allowed to do that in the city.

On how she will connect with and represent marginalized communities to which she does not personally belong:

Earlier this year, I hosted an LGBT town hall in Capitol Hill in order to address the serious rise in crime against the LGBT community, and that town hall was headed by a panel of four grassroots activists who then went on to hold a town hall that made recommendations, including recommending  an LGBT community center in Seattle. Seattle is the only metropolitan area without an LGBT community center. I’m going to be looking into that in our budget season this year.

In addition to that, our district is facing massive gentrification issues, which is primarily impacting African American people. We used to be 80 percent African American in the CD. Now they are less than 30 percent. And the primary issue that we need to be focused on in regards to gentrification is the lack of affordable housing. And that is why we’ve already begun the process of building a movement and generating agreement on the council in order to pass progressive housing policy.

Often the transgender community gets overlooked and mistreated. … The question of trans health has become really prominent on both the city and the state’s agenda. I would say we need to push for single-payer health care, both citywide and statewide, in order to make sure that the transgender community never, ever faces the discrimination when they go for health care, which is one of the main reasons they face discrimination. The issue of homelessness disproportionately impacts the transgender and the LGBT community. That is why we need full funding for all social services. That encompasses homeless services.

The problem seem to me to be not a lack of activists—what we have a lack of is revenues to fully fund social services. That is why I’m calling for a millionaires’ tax and other progressive taxation, which we urgently need to create the revenues in the city’s treasury so that we can fund fully the needs of the homeless population, especially the LGBT homeless population. We also need funding for youth jobs, but specifically jobs and apprenticeship programs that are targeted at the African American community, at the LGBT community, at the immigrant community, because these are the most marginalized communities. But again, in order to do that, we need candidates who don’t take money from big businesses and will dedicate themselves single-mindedly to all of these communities.

On how she will work to protect small businesses:

The city council uses small business rhetoric as a shield while giving away sweetheart deals to big business. So what does a small business policy program look like? The city should support longer term leases for small businesses that want a real future. We need policies that allow for longer notices for large rent increases, and as a matter of fact, small businesses need rent control too. We also need to set up a municipal bank in order to make sure that small businesses and aspiring small business owners have access to low-interest capital so that they can begin their journey in representing Seattle. We also need excise taxes on big businesses to create a fund to help small businesses, especially in the immigrant- and minority-owned business community so that we have small businesses encouraged in the most marginalized communities.

I’ve been talking to many small business owners in the Pike-Pine corridor and it seems that many of them favor the Pike-Pine program, and what they’re saying is that it has helped not only in public safety, but it has also helped the smallest businesses because it will bring more foot traffic. There’s another really good point that’s being made by the business owners, which is to look at Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market is a thriving community of small businesses, but [the group helped by street closures] is the really small businesses where some of the most marginalized people, artists, are in Pike Place Market. It would be great if we could have that kind of facility created in the heart of Capitol Hill, because it is already the most commercially thriving district. Artists made Capitol Hill what it is. From what we hear, this would be a good idea.

But I think that the end of the day, we need our leaders to pay attention to which candidates are taking the most money from big businesses. If you have money from the CEOs of big businesses, you’re not going to be an advocate for small businesses.

On how the city should approach the problem of gang violence in District 3:

First of all, remember that the police force  accounts for about half of the city’s budget already, so we should ask where are those funds going so we can get some clarity. As far as the gun violence and shootings are concerned, it’s absolutely tragic. What these communities deserve are answers as to why this is happening. Ultimately, we know that the real issue is inequality that impacts young people of color from birth onwards. We as a society have failed these young people, and the question should be what can we do to make it better. The experience of young black people and young people of color in the neighborhoods is that they feel that the police are an occupying force, and instead we need the police to spend their time and resources dealing with the communities. We are open to the question of a reasonable police force, but we cannot answer that question in a fair manner, in a reasonable manner, unless we deal with this as a larger question of inequity and persistent racial inequality in our city.

When inequality goes up, so does crime and violence. So as we deal with crime, we need to have policies across the board that are [promoting] affordable housing and new jobs, and that’s why I’m recommending that we double the funding for Career Bridge and Youth Build, two really successful programs, and also increase funding for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, and also massively increasing funding for apprenticeship and reapprenticeship programs.

We also need to make sure that we have an elected civilian oversight committee that can hold police accountable, with real subpoena power, so that we can have a real transformation of the police force.

Tenants rights [includes] specifically eliminating barriers to those who were incarcerated, barriers to their ability to rent homes. That is what we are working on next year. I was the only council member on both the city council and the county council to vote ‘no’ on a new youth jail, and what I said was if the county has $200 million to fund a new youth jail to lock up our kids, then the county has $200 million to fund youth jobs.

On the Move Seattle levy, which would increase property taxes to raise $930 million for transportation over nine years:

I support the Move Seattle levy, and I think that we should pass it this year and not wait for a future occasion. There is also concern about if Move Seattle primarily is going to fund the structural needs of our transportation system in our city, and that’s absolutely necessary, but we need to go much farther than that. The people of Seattle need improved road infrastructure, but we also need increased transit options in the city itself, which means that we need a full expansion of Metro bus service. And what is why I am calling for a tax on millionaires in the city next year, so that we can commit the funds to generate a real world-class mass transportation system which will include feeder routes and 24 hour bus service. But to do all of this, we need, once again, leadership on the council to push for these initiatives, because these initiatives primarily help working people. They don’t help big developers. They don’t help big businesses. Which is why we need real leadership who will fight for working people.

Shannon Braddock, District 1 

Lisa Herbold, District 1

Bruce Harrell, District 2

Tammy Morales, District 2

Michael Maddux, District 4

Rob Johnson, District 4

Mike O’Brien, District 6

Catherine Weatbrook, District 6

Deborah Zech-Artis, District 7

Sally Bagshaw, District 7

Tim Burgess, Position 8

Jon Grant, Position 8

Lorena Gonzalez, Position 9

Bill Bradburd, Position 9

Bruce Harrell, District 2

Tammy Morales, District 2

Pamela Banks , District 3

Michael Maddux, District 4

Rob Johnson, District 4

Mike O’Brien, District 6

Catherine Weatbrook, District 6

Deborah Zech-Artis, District 7

Sally Bagshaw, District 7

Tim Burgess, Position 8

Jon Grant, Position 8

Lorena Gonzalez, Position 9

Bill Bradburd, Position 9

9 thoughts on “The C Is for Crank “Interviews”: Kshama Sawant

  1. Imagine you wanted to help small businesses, but there was an ordinance prohibiting them from having shops or offices in vast swathes of the city. You’d probably want to overturn that. Now imagine you want to help renters but there’s zoning that prohibits small apartment buildings in large parts of the city. One would think you’d want to end that, too…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. She can’t seriously think a massive upgrade/expansion of transit in the city wouldn’t help “big developers and big business”, can she? Of course it would, by making the apartments they build more desirable. I’ve consciously chosen to pay more for housing because of access to good bus lines before. For businesses, if more of their employees and customers can take the bus, they’ll need to provide less parking.

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  3. What’s the substance around the proposal to use city bonding to build gousing, Erica? Is that a good idea that can work?

    On a related note, we should continue to point out to the Sawant Army that single family neighborhoods are not pulling their fair share of affordable housing. There’s no single family linkage fee, and according to KUOW, there is no affordable units in any of our 54% of single family neighborhoods. Why don’t they go after the people who don’t want to help the less fortunate?

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    • Zach, I believe you will find that a substantial majority of people in single-family neighborhoods, people you want to “go after”, regularly vote YES for Seattle’s housing levies. I know they regularly pay for those levies on their property tax bill. You are quite wrong to condemn us as people “who don’t want to help the less fortunate”.

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      • Will you and your compatriots accept government-subsidized housing to house the less fortunate in your amber-frozen single family zones? Currently, exactly 0 unit exist there. Currently, there is a building across the street from my apartment that house 81 Extremely Low Income people, so why don’t you pick up your fair share?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Last I heard, Zach, there were lots of families living in SF zoning, funded by Sec. 8 vouchers. I haven’t heard of any problems with that concept. Your “fair share” comment is bothersome. It sounds like you believe low-income people are burdens that should be doled out in some Fair Share basis. Please let us know when you are ready for a thoughtful discussion on housing and zoning, after you’ve set aside such silly “amber-frozen” hyperbole.

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      • We need to remember of course that so called single family home OWNERS in District 3 are more often than not VERY WEALTHY individuals compared to renters and low income folks. WEALTHY homeowners are going to not side with FAIRNESS, because GREED and BIAS is part of how the very wealthy live. Do we want Seattle to become like San Francisco, where only couples each with 6 figure incomes can afford to even LIVE there? NO. We want Seattle to be affordable for ALL people, not push working class and poor people out of the city, which is what is happening with all the INSANE rent increases, and absolutely no mechanism to put ANY constraints on market rents or even make just cause evictions necessary before pushing vulnerable renters out onto the STREETS. WAKE UP PEOPLE. And And yes, as far as property taxes and levies go, rich people need to pay MORE, not less. 🙂

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      • Justin, if you did the research, I believe you would find that most of those “wealthy” homeowners in Dist. 3 bought their homes years ago when they were affordable. Today many of them are just hanging on, and if they are truly self-serving as you suggest, they will demand to be upzoned — higher density zoning drives up real estate prices. Those “land rich, cash poor” homeowners can then sell out to developers and you will get your MF development in those terrible SF neighborhoods. The problem is, many if not most of those homeowners don’t know what’s good for them, and they resist the upzones. Self-interest is a hard concept for some, I guess.

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  4. Thank you Erica for posting this. It’s obviously important, as you obviously agree, that all candidates’ approaches to our common problems and issued be heard, seen, read, and talked about. I’m not sure why Kshama refuses to talk with you one on one, but if I had to guess it may be because she feels she’s had biased coverage by you in the past. I hope you and Kshama, even if you may have opposing views, will at least agree to be cordial toward one another. As Voltaire himself is attributed to saying: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Open discourse and debate is at the very core of democracy. Let’s embrace it and participate in it! 🙂

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