It’s been a little quiet around here at C is for Crank HQ the last couple weeks, but for good reason: I’ve been sitting down with all the city council candidates* who made it through this month’s primary election to talk about what they’ve learned from their campaigns so far, what their plans are for the November general election, their (sometimes evolving) views on issues like density, transportation, crime, and diversity. I’ll start rolling those interviews out next week..
In the meantime, here’s a belated wrap-up of the (underwhelming) First Forum of the General Election Season, held by the Metropolitan Democratic Club in the Bertha Knight Landes room at City Hall last week in front of a crowd of several dozen MDC members, some city staffers, and me.
Despite the fact that fully a third of the candidates declined to attend a forum that was, in some cases, literally downstairs from their offices, the MDC forum did give a glimpse into what the nine council races could look like in a field just culled from 47 candidates to 18.
Of the nine races, four are basically noncompetitive. Of those four, two–Deborah Zech-Artis vs. incumbent council member Sally Bagshaw in the 7th and Catherine Weatbrook vs. incumbent council member Mike O’Brien in the 6th–have been that way from the start. Zech-Artis, who garnered 13 percent of the vote in a race where no credible candidate emerged to take on Bagshaw, betrayed how ill-suited she is for the job of candidate by calling Seattle’s transportation planning “lazy and retarded,” then backpedaling (at embarrassing length) by explaining, over polite shouts of “stop talking!”), “Sorry, I’m getting tired.” Later, Zech-Artis said she couldn’t “tell you all the times I’ve been hit by bikes” and said she opposed upzones because they were bad for the elderly, like “a lot of people here who probably are on Social Security.” (In fairness, the crowd was overwhelmingly gray-haired.) Bagshaw, not surprisingly, did not attend.
Weatbrook, a neighborhood activist running on an anti-development platform, railed against Move Seattle and the HALA plan, respectively, because the former did not “force developers to pay linkage fees to help maintain our roads” and the latter “completely dismissed the value of open space in single-family zones,” which she sees as the best way to combat global warming.
O’Brien used his one-minute intro to talk up Initiative 122, the public campaign finance measure, and also defended his controversial proposal to impose a linkage fee on all new residential development. However, he added, “It’s because I believe that we have a better program that I’m willing to hold back on the linkage fee and move forward with” the HALA recommendations.
The other two essentially noncompetitive races, in District 2 and Position 9, will still showcase plenty of contrasts between the frontrunners and the also-rans, if almost-certain losers Tammy Morales and Bill Bradburd choose to run spirited campaigns despite their quixotic status.
Bradburd, running against Lorena Gonzalez for Position 9, had the stage at the MDC forum, since frontrunner Gonzalez was a no-show. He used his time to decry the “gentrification” of the city’s single-family areas and call for major new taxes on development, plus anti-displacement laws that would preserve old rental units that serve as de facto affordable housing. His issue with HALA, Bradburd said, is that it centered “largely around market solutions. The problem is that the market will never produce affordable housing for us. We need alternative funding mechanisms, [like using] the city’s bonding capacity.” Bradburd, like many others who adamantly oppose even modest “upzones” that would allow duplexes and triplexes in single-family areas, touted mother-in-law apartments and backyard cottages as an acceptable way for single-family areas to “accommodate” more density. Mother-in-laws and cottages, of course, are already allowed, but the HALA changes would make them somewhat easier to build.
Morales was the no-show in her race, giving Harrell the opportunity to vamp, perhaps his favorite campaign activity. Here’s how Harrell introduced himself: “I have an empty chair on my right, so I can say whatever I want with impunity.” According to my notes, though, he didn’t say much, and spent much of his time cracking jokes to District 1 candidate Lisa Herbold, who was seated to his left. (He did say he thought Amazon should be more accountable for its impacts on the city, and that Move Seattle could have included more progressive taxes so a person who drives a Yugo wouldn’t have to pay as much as a guy who drives a Maserati).
The five remaining races, in increasing order of competitiveness based on primary-election results, are: District 1, where Nick Licata aide Lisa Herbold and King County Council member Joe McDermott chief of staff Shannon Braddock are vying to represent West Seattle; District 4, where 43rd District Democrat and parks activist Michael Maddux and Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson collectively ousted longtime incumbent council member Jean Godden; Position 8, where scrappy ex-Tenants Union director Jon Grant is giving incumbent council member Tim Burgess a run; District 3, where Urban League president Pamela Banks is taking on popular incumbent council member Kshama Sawant; and District 5, where former Church Council leader Sandy Brown finished surprisingly far behind attorney Deborah Juarez in North Seattle.
Herbold (who, full disclosure, is a close friend) went deep on both Move Seattle and HALA, noting her support for Licata’s unsuccessful alternative to the transportation levy, which would have offset some of the $930 million proposal’s property taxes with a tax on commercial parking and an employee hours tax on businesses. “One thing people don’t understand is why we’re doing this again. They thought the  Bridging the Gap Levy was supposed to fix everything,” Herbold said. “We need to start educating our voters about the fact that we don’t get to end these levies unless we deal with the regressive tax structure that’s simply unsustainable to meet our needs for city services.” Herbold also supported a proposal by Position 8 candidate Grant to scrap the HALA deal and replace it with a plan that would include an immediate maximum linkage fee on residential development and the option of rent control.
Herbold’s opponent, second-place finisher Shannon Braddock, was a no-show.
In District 4, so far one of the most collegial competitive council races in recent memory, the main difference between the candidates this forum drew out was their approach to taxing Seattle residents for housing and transportation. (Well, that and the fact that Maddux is, as he put it, “the last gay candidate standing in the Hunger Games that has been this election,” after District 3 candidate Rod Hearne got knocked out in the primary.) Both say they support HALA, although Maddux, like Herbold, signed on to the Grant alternative, and both like Move Seattle, although Maddux thinks the Licata alternative would have been more progressive. It’ll be interesting to see whether these two turn on each other as election day draws closer; so far, they’ve acted like BFFs, texting each other and sharing meals and rides between events.
You won’t see that happen in Position 8, where Grant has already shown that he’ll do whatever it takes to take down his opponent Burgess. In the primary, Grant’s mission was to take down John Roderick, who succumbed to Grant’s relentless attacks in editorial board meetings and public forums and came in third. Now Tim Burgess is the only thing that stands between Grant and a seat on the council dais, and Grant is taking him on with charges of ignoring police misconduct, being “too comfortable with developers,” and opposing progressive taxation to pay for city services.
“My opponent repealed the employee hours tax, which was a progressive taxation source that we tried to reinstate to actually bring down the property tax ,” Grant said. “My opponent led the charge to repeal that progressive tax.” Grant also decried HALA, of which he was a member, for “representing the interests of private developers. … We left hundreds of millions on the table because our city council is just too comfortable with developers, including Mr. Burgess.” In response, as he has throughout the campaign so far, Burgess adopted the role of seasoned elder statesman, touting accomplishments such as universal preschool and mostly ignoring Grant’s charges. Sample stump speech line: “This campaign is about experience, leadership, and the ability to get things done.” If Grant has its way, it’ll be about much more than that.
In District 3, both Banks and Sawant were no-shows.
Finally, in District 5, where Brown (widely considered a frontrunner in the early days of the campaign) finished 20 points behind Juarez, the candidates offered a preview of what their campaign will look like going forward. Although (unlike the Grant-Burgess matchup) neither candidate has an unkind word to say publicly about the other, it’s clear there’s no love lost between the two. In general, Juarez is more of a fan of HALA and Move Seattle than Brown, who expressed skepticism during the forum about the housing recommendations and said he would vote for Move Seattle, but only reluctantly.
“There are some things missing from HALA that should be added, [such as] rent stabilization,” Brown said. “Another big problem is that we … still don’t really have a plan for people making between zero and 30 percent of [area median income],” AKA the poorest of the poor. As for Move Seattle, Brown said, he would vote for it because “I’m from Seattle and I always vote for whatever levy there is,” but that “I grieved about it. I looked to see what’s going to be done in District 5 and nothing’s going to be done on Aurora, nothing’s going to be done on Lake City Way.” And, he said, the city has been promising North Seattle sidewalks since it was annexed in the 1950s. “We’ve got huge needs in North Seattle. We should have provided in this levy for sidewalks along all arterials in Seattle. We have waited many, many years in North Seattle, since annexation, for the city to provide this infrastructure.”
Juarez, a member of the Blackfeet Nation (her Indian name, she said, means Holy Mountain Woman and is “a true Indian name; it didn’t come off the Internet”), emphasized her experience as a tribal attorney helping to build “golf courses, hotels, houses, community centers, elder centers, bridges, and roads” and praised the HALA committee for a “consensus based” set of recommendations. “That made me proud of the city,” Juarez said.
Keep an eye out this week for the launch of my council interview series.
* One, and only one, council candidate refused to meet with me. Can you guess which one?