Sawant Loses the Plot

Screen shot 2015-04-27 at 10.47.00 PM

Leave aside whatever feelings you might have about the closed-door process that led to the selection of Seattle’s newest city council member, John Okamoto. Leave aside whatever you think of Okamoto himself, whether it’s that he’s a competent seat-warmer, a corrupt tool of big business, or the mayor’s embed on the council. Leave aside, if you can, even who your own ideal pick for council would have been, whether that’s a righteous activist with a big personality like Sharon Lee or an experienced known quantity like Jan Drago.

Whatever your thoughts on those things, today’s story was that Kshama Sawant lost the plot.

In trashing Okamoto, the foregone pick, in front of a crowd packed with cheering-then-booing supporters, Sawant made it clear that she has no intention of working with people who disagree with her orthodoxy. In calling her colleagues’ votes for Okamoto, most recently head of the city’s Human Services Department and chief administrative officer at the Port of Seattle before that, “scandalous,” she left no room for legitimate debate (debate that should have happened, in public) about Okamoto’s qualifications or demerits. In calling the Port of Seattle under Okamoto a “cesspool of corruption,” she drew her line in the sand and declared that she has no intention of working with this person whom the majority of her colleagues saw fit to support. And in accusing Okamoto of “lying” when he said he did not apply for the position with any personal agenda, she made the political far too personal.

Even if Sawant walks back her rhetoric now that Okamoto has been chosen, it’s hard to take back accusations that prompt your colleagues to go off-script by calling your claims “divisive,” “false,” and “odious.”

That kind of rhetoric keeps the hard core loyal, and makes the divisions between socialist Sawant and the rest of the essentially Democratic council clear. But it doesn’t produce results (in the form of legislation that passes and is signed by the mayor) so much as it fuels whatever Sawant’s next campaign will be. After giving her own ghostwritten memoir the grandiose title “The Most Dangerous Woman In America,” it’s hard to imagine that Sawant will be content for long to sit in her council office with the door closed. She’ll win reelection, handily—her fan base on Capitol Hill, which she now represents under district elections, will see to that—but can she serve effectively after showing such utter contempt for the majority of her colleagues, including Okamoto? Or will she move on to the next thing, propelled by her absolutist fanbase to the a higher high-profile position?

Some folks on Twitter accused me of being unfair, being mean, or exaggerating what Sawant said (or, if you’re the type who likes to prove you know the difference between “imply” and “infer,” of “implying what [I] inferred” from Sawant’s comments). Fair enough. Here’s the transcript. Decide for yourself. Continue reading

Process of Elimination

lee

After a weekend of behind-closed-doors deliberations, the council has announced the eight–not five, as originally suggested–finalists for the city council seat recently vacated by Sally Clark. Eight, incidentally, is also the number of council members putting forward nominations, which could be the only sign of disagreement among council members that the public will ever see.

Let’s hope not, though, because the candidates give the public and the council plenty to talk about.

They are: Former city council member and interim King County Council member Jan Drago; Progressive Majority Washington director and onetime Gael Tarleton opponent Noel Frame; Low-Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee; interim Human Services Department director John Okamoto; former NAACP chapter president and recent state senate candidate Sheley Secrest; former Washington State Ferries director David Moseley; and Democratic Party activist and former Sound Transit diversity advisor Alex Stephens.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make some predictions here, with the caveat that my record at making correct predictions is atrocious. With that said, let’s take a look at this appointment as a process of elimination.

Secrest, the longtime head of the local NAACP and a bulldog on police accountability, is probably too politically polarizing and outspoken about police brutality to make the cut. (She’s also clashed with the council in the past.) Lee faces a similar challenge–she’s a single-issue (affordable housing) candidate with a big political agenda, who went so far as to trash one of the other candidates, interim HSD head Okamoto, for refusing to give $100 in HSD funds to a homeless family for a night in a hotel. Frame isn’t well-known outside state politics, and hasn’t been active on the local level. And Stephens, an attorney and South End resident who’s active in the 37th District Democrats, is virtually unknown. (I’m guessing, based on neighborhood and occupation, that Stephens was a Harrell pick).

That leaves us with our top three contenders: Maeda, Drago, and Okamoto. Here’s why I’m going to go out on a (very precarious) limb and predict the council goes with Maeda: Drago would be an odd choice. She’s served in a similar capacity before, when the King County Council picked her as a caretaker to temporarily replace Dow Constantine when he was elected King County Executive. That does give her experience (and demonstrates that she’s true to her word–she did not run for reelection to the county council), but it also makes her an odd choice. Plus she’s already been on the council in recent years–will council members elected since her departure in 2008 welcome her back with open arms?

Okamoto could get the nod, but one note of caution: As Lee’s application suggests, his tenure has been somewhat controversial. Lee’s application also notes that HSD has so far failed to release funds allocated for tent encampments, and charges that the department “decided not to use” $40,000 in unspent shelter funds in 2014. That same year, a state audit slammed the department for failing to document payments it made to service providers, a charge that didn’t directly attach to Okamoto (the charges were from 2013, before he was appointed), but which did happen during his time at the top. He’s also a Mayor Ed Murray appointee, which could make some council members view him with suspicion.

Maeda, in contrast, is an elder stateswoman in the world of racial and social justice advocacy. She’s retired, after a 40-year career working, among many other positions, as a union activist, a Clinton appointee working in the office of the U.S. secretary of housing, a public-radio CEO, and a women’s studies professor. She’s passionate about grassroots organizing but gimlet-eyed about political realities. And she managed to win the support of eight council members at a crucial point during the last appointment process, eventually losing to Sally Clark in a convoluted, multiple-vote process. That was a different council, but her across-the-spectrum support could translate to today’s council, which ranges from Socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant to hard-nosed “conservative” Tim Burgess.

I’m not counting Okamoto or, especially, Drago out, but if I was a betting woman (and–see above–I am), I’d pick unobjectionable Maeda over the contentious department head or the been-there-done-that-twice ex-council member.

The Eight Least Likely To

Screen shot 2015-04-19 at 9.52.16 AM

Image via Seattle.gov.

 

Now that council president Tim Burgess has ruined everyone’s fun by shutting the public out of the process to appoint a new council member to replace Sally Clark (after discussing the matter in closed session Friday, Burgess and Co. are meeting by phone privately all weekend to narrow the list down to five by Monday), all that’s really left is to wait and see what amendments his colleagues offer, if any, to surface the names of favored candidates who didn’t make the top five. After that, each candidate gets his or her three minutes on Friday (the public, including unsuccessful applicants, will be relegated to one-minute public comments), and the council will make its choice over the next weekend, followed by a pro forma vote the following Monday.

Rather than speculate on who might make the cut, then (although, fine: The likely finalists include former council member Jan Drago, former interim human services director John Okamoto, former state ferries chief and mayor’s housing affordability committee member David Moseley, longtime community activist and two-time council appointment candidate Sharon Maeda, and Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee, whose application letter swings at Okamoto), here’s a look at some of the candidates least likely to make the cut.

None of them are raving public-comment staples like Alex “you fucking Nazis” Tsimerman; hell, some of them (hi, Dick Falkenbury!) might be viable candidates for a district council seat. What unites most of them is a failure to (in some cases, even nominally) meet the main criteria for the appointment, as decided by the council: An ability to “hit the ground running” (which implies a working knowledge of how the city’s legislative branch works in relation to the other branches, familiarity with the issues that will be on the docket between now and November, and a resume that suggests they have some experience relevant to the job.)

While I admire the pluck it takes to apply for a position in public service, I also think opportunities like this one draw in people who know they aren’t qualified, and who may be in it for the exposure. Others may be utterly sincere, but not self-aware enough to know that an application for a job like city council member should at least look professional, and include some information about why the person wants the job and thinks he or she can handle it.

With that said, here are the eight candidates least likely to make the council’s cut:

• Dick Falkenbury. Actually, I think onetime monorail visionary Dick Falkenbury is probably qualified for the council; hell, I was about ready to die on that hill during his first run back in 2003—but this time around, Falkenbury’s phoning it in. His application consists of a one-line cover letter and a half-page, slapped-together resume that ends in 2002. All this “application” does is get Falkenbury’s name back in the news. And see? It’s working. Falkenbury Falkenbury Falkenbury.

• Self-described male model David Caseletto, whose current job title is “True Boss” at True Boss Promotions, which “focuses on monetizing the outsourcing of services for small businesses,” and manager at a bar on Beacon Hill. On his application, he notes that “it was always my dream to be a bartender,” but adds that “we all have to have hobbies, I like public policy.”

• Kyle Bowman, a sheet metal worker who didn’t submit a resumé but “graduated from Snohomish High School with a reasonably good gpa.”

• Timothy Janof, an electrical engineer who points out that although “I am not a policy wonk” and has no relevant experience, his principal in junior high was former council member Cheryl Chow, and he graduated from Garfield High. “Although born in Paris, France, I consider myself about as ‘Seattle’ as you can get,” Janof writes.

• Giovanni Rosellini (not, as far as I can tell, related to those Rosellinis), a legal assistant who lists among his qualifications the ability to “interview witnesses,” “photograph the crime scene,” and “testify in court to impeach a witness in pre-trial criminal defense investigation.” His qualifications are less specific: They include being a U.S. citizen and being registered to vote.

• Earl Sedlik, who actually seems reasonably qualified (his current positions include head of the Mount Baker Club, and he ran four council twice before, in the ’90s), but whom I’m including on this list because his application is one of the longest of the bunch, because his subject line is written like a press release (“Re: EARL SEDLIK APPLIES FOR THE OPEN CITY COUNCIL POSITION – CONTACT INFORMATION”), and because his cover letter includes decades-old commendations from two late former city council members, George Benson and Charlie Chong, and former council member Margaret Pageler… ‘s son.

David Toledo, who is also running quite enthusiastically for the four-year District 5 council seat, putting his commitment to serving only as a short-term “caretaker” (one of the criteria the council has specified for the seat) very much in doubt.

• And finally, Karen Studders, if only because the experienced attorney’s four-page, single-spaced resumé is an example of what job coaches mean when they tell you less is more.