Durkan Shuffles the Deck in Major Office Reorg

Nine months into her term, Mayor Jenny Durkan is reorganizing the top brass at her office, promoting her communications director, Stephanie Formas, to chief of staff, and making deputy mayor David Moseley the “sole lead” over homelessness and human services, duties that have been split between Moseley and deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan.

According to an email Durkan’s third deputy mayor, Mike Fong, sent to mayor’s office staff earlier today, Ranganathan will “shift her focus to advancing the Mayor’s policy agenda and major initiatives continuing to oversee the Mayor’s outreach and external relations as well as major transportation related policy.” What this means, Ranganathan says, is that she’ll be focusing on “major initiatives” like congestion pricing and a planned restructuring of the city’s youth programs while overseeing fewer departments. Those departments will still include the Seattle Department of Transportation—before her current position, Ranganathan was head of the pro-transit Transportation Choices Coalition— but will no longer include the Human Services Department, the Department of Neighborhoods, the Office of Economic Development, or the Department of Education and Early Learning, among others. Fong will now oversee those departments, along with fire, police, and emergency management.

Formas’ promotion isn’t too much of a surprise; a top aide during Durkan’s 2016 campaign and the mayor’s closest city confidante, she’s already Durkan’s right-hand woman—the person who works hard to make sure the headlines are positive and keep a lid on anything that could turn into negative news. The promotion will make Formas’ de facto role in the administration official, while keeping her in charge of communications ,along with the day to day operations of the mayor’s office. Durkan isn’t the first mayor to go for a while without a chief of staff, but she is the first to have not only a chief of staff but three deputy mayors.

Mark Prentice, who worked for Democratic groups in D.C. and Vulcan before joining Durkan’s office as a communications advisor, will take over Formas’ old role as communications director. (Most mayors end up having several communications directors over the course of their terms. For example, Durkan’s predecessor, Ed Murray, had four—and he didn’t even serve out his full term.) Current press secretary Kamaria Hightower will become deputy communications director.

Fong’s full email to the mayor’s staff is below the jump.  Continue reading

Morning Crank: Mayor Gonzalez?

1. City council president Bruce Harrell took the oath of office as Seattle’s emergency mayor yesterday (OK, real mayor, but only for another two and a half months max), promising to announce by today whether he will continue to serve as mayor until voters elect a successor to former mayor Ed Murray, who resigned this week after a fifth man accused him of sexual assault. .

The stakes for Harrell are high, although perhaps not as high as you might think: Although serving as mayor until the election results are certified at the end of November would require Harrell to give up his council seat, rumors have swirled since his most recent election in 2015 that this term, Harrell’s third, would be his last. Harrell ran for mayor and lost in the primary in 2013, so remaining as mayor would give Harrell a short-lived opportunity to serve in the position he lost to Murray four years ago.

If Harrell does stay on as mayor, Lorena Gonzalez would be next in the (informal) line of succession for council president. If he decides to return to the council, the council would choose another council member to serve as mayor. While Tim Burgess is an obvious choice—he’s stepping down this year, to be replaced in January by either Jon Grant or Teresa Mosqueda—the fact that Burgess chairs the council’s budget committee inserts a political wrinkle into the decision. If Burgess becomes mayor, the chairmanship of the budget committee would pass to council freshman Lisa Herbold—a member of the council’s left flank who might be more inclined than the centrist Burgess to tinker with Murray’s budget to reflect more left-leaning priorities (like, say, reducing the emphasis on rapid rehousing in the Human Services Department’s budget).

So who does that leave? Gonzalez, who was the first council member to call on Murray to resign, appears to be the next in line. She’s running for reelection this year, and assuming she wins, would be able to go right back to being a council member when the results are certified in November

Harrell has said he will make his decision before 5:00 this afternoon.

2. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission dismissed a complaint by one of the losing candidates in the August primary election against Seattle City Council Position 9 incumbent Lorena Gonzalez. That complaint alleged that Gonzalez had deliberately misled the commission about how many open debates she had participated in before the primary and demanded that the commission fine her and force her to  return all the money she has received from voters in the form of “democracy vouchers.”

“If the Commission terminates the candidate’s participation in the Program, it will invalidate the choice of the more than 2,100 residents to date who have assigned their vouchers to Councilmember González,” commission director Wayne Barnett wrote in his recommendation to the commission. “The Program exists to empower residents to participate in elections in ways they have not been involved in the past. The Commission should be cautious about exercising the ‘nuclear option’ in a way that disserves one of the primary goals of the Program.”

Although the commission ruled against Gonzalez’ erstwhile opponent, Barnett’s recommendation letter raises interesting questions about the breadth of the initiative that instituted public financing of local elections, and could have implications for what campaign forums look like in the future.

The democracy voucher program requires any council candidate seeking voucher funding to participate in at least three forums at each stage of the election (primary and general) to which all candidates have been invited to participate. The complaint argued that because the losing candidate was not invited to some of the forums Gonzalez listed as qualifying events (including a “women of color” forum), she should have to return all her vouchers. This interpretation could require candidates to figure out who was invited to every potentially qualifying event they attend. Or it could mean that every single candidate must be invited to every debate, regardless of whether they are viable. In the mayor’s race, Barnett points out, that would have meant that every debate could have included all 21 people who filed for the position, including “Nazi shitheads” screamer Alex Tsimerman—a prospect that would have rendered the debates more or less useless for people hoping to learn anything about any of the six candidates who were actually viable.

3. Some people just can’t take a joke. And some people just can’t get a joke—even when you explain it to them. Case in point: Last week, I ran an item about a going-away gift from the mayor’s staff to longtime City Hall staffer (and Murray chief of staff) Mike Fong—a giant fake check for $3.5 million made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location.” (CHEL is bureaucratic code for supervised drug consumption sites.) As I wrote at the time, “The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure.”

Too obscure, apparently, for Neighborhood Safety Alliance member Jennifer Aspelund, who filed a records request on Friday, September 8 seeking “any monies allocated for Michael Fong community health engagement location center and any discussion of such center.”

The city’s response? “This location center does not exist; therefore, the Mayor’s office or any other departments do not have any responsive records.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: I’m Sorry That Got a Little Heated

1, Jon Grant, the former Tenants Union director and a candidate for city council Position 8, recently confronted and photographed a woman who was out canvassing for his opponent, Teresa Mosqueda, in an incident Grant calls “an uncomfortable situation” and that the canvasser calls “offensive,” “infuriating,” and unprecedented in her years of working and volunteering for political campaigns.

The canvasser, Lorin Walker, is director of operations and human resources for SEIU 775; she says she was out canvassing for Mosqueda as a volunteer when a man she didn’t know came up the driveway to the doorstep she was standing on and tried to grab one one of her flyers. “He said, ‘Are you with SEIU 775?’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I am. We’re out here volunteering our time to canvass for Teresa Mosqueda,’ He said, ‘That’s against campaign finance law.”  Walker says she handed Grant one of her flyers, “and then he took his phone out and started taking my picture. I said, ‘What the hell are you doing walking up to me on someone’s doorstep and taking my picture?’ He said, ‘It’s public property,’ and perhaps I should know that he could take my picture. I said, ‘I’m on somebody’s doorstep—perhaps you should know that.” After Grant—who Walker still believed was a volunteer canvasser—walked away, Walker says she decided to chase him down. “I said, ‘What is wrong with you?’ I didn’t know he was the candidate. I said, ‘Give me one of your fliers,’ and he said, ‘No, why would I do that?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? You violated me.'”

Grant recounts the story somewhat differently. He says he saw “a paid canvasser for SEIU” and went up to ask her if she was on SEIU’s payroll. When Walker said she was, Grant says, “that was concerning to me because that would have potentially constituted a campaign finance violation. An organization can’t pay their staff members to do campaign work. I specifically asked if they were staff because if they were volunteering, there was no problem. The concern here was that there was a campaign finance violation going on.” Pointing to the Democratic Party trackers who regularly follow Republican candidates around, video camera in hand, Grant says, “It’s not irregular behavior to document another campaign.” Grant also points to the fact that SEIU filed paperwork for its pro-Mosqueda PAC, Working Families for Teresa, on July 17—two days after he said the confrontation occurred—as evidence that the union was potentially violating campaign finance law. “Just to put this in context, SEIU is under state investigation for using staff time for a campaign and not reporting it. I find it curious that it was only after we had documented a potential campaign finance violation that they filed the paperwork to get into compliance.”

After Grant and Walker parted ways, Walker called SEIU secretary-treasurer Adam Glickman to let him know what had happened. Glickman called Grant’s consultant, John Wyble, and Wyble encouraged Grant to apologize to Walker, which she says he did, a few minutes after he confronted her. “He came up to me and he said, ‘I just want to apologize for that interaction we had. I’m sorry that got a little heated.’ And I said, ‘I’m sure you are,'” Walker says.

Wyble, Grant’s consultant, says Grant was “making  choices in a situation where he thought there were hundreds of canvassers out there not getting disclosed.” Once Glickman had assured Wyble that SEIU’s canvassers were volunteering their time, he says, “everybody went on with their lives.”

I asked Wyble whether he or Grant had considered that confronting a woman out canvassing on her own might be seen as aggressive or creepy. He paused, and said, “I’m not saying it was a perfect interaction,  by any means. It was the last week of campaign, and things were heated.

Walker, who says she has “campaigned a lot over many years,” disputes that her interaction with Grant was the kind of thing that happens in the heat of a pitched campaign. “I’ve never had somebody walk up to me on a doorstep, I’ve never had someone take my picture, and I’ve certainly never had a candidate running for office to come up like that on a doorstep and take my picture.

“That just never happens.”

2. The side bar at Fado Lounge was jam-packed with city hall habitues dating from 2001 to the present day this past Tuesday night, as friends and former coworkers and bosses—former council members Tom Rasmussen and Jan Drago made appearances, as did former deputy mayor Tim Ceis and current mayor Ed Murray, who stayed until the end—gathered to fete Murray’s chief of staff, Mike Fong, who’s leaving to join the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine as his chief operating officer.

Mayor Ed Murray and budget office director Ben Noble had a parting gift for Fong, whose last day is today: A giant check in the amount of $3.5 million, made out to the “Michael Fong Community Health Engagement Location” and payable “upon 2018 opening.” The joke, concocted by Murray’s comms director Benton Strong, is a little obscure, so bear with me: The city of Seattle has promised to help King County fund a supervised consumption site in the city, but the county pressed pause on the sites in mid-July; the check is a symbolic challenge from the mayor’s office to Constantine to challenge the council to stop dragging their feet and fund the site by 2018 (and name the new site after Fong while they’re at it). Rachel Smith, Constantine’s chief of staff and Fong’s new boss, watched from the sidelines as Murray presented the check (and the challenge.):

3. Just ahead of Labor Day, both candidates for mayor released their proposals for a Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights on Thursday—Jenny Durkan at 4:23 in the afternoon, and Cary Moon two hours later at 6:21. Their wording, like their timing, is so similar that if the two women weren’t running against each other, you might suspect they’d coordinated their efforts.

Moon’s proposal appears to apply primarily to live-in domestic workers, and would: Extend Seattle’s $15 minimum wage to live-in workers; mandate meal and rest breaks and a day off every seven days; and extend overtime to live-in workers. Moon also says she would ensure domestic workers are fully protected by laws against sexual harassment and discrimination, and “encourage and support efforts” by domestic workers to collectively bargain with their employers.  In a statement, Moon said the proposal was only “a starting place,” and promised to “invite people working as, and employing, household helpers, nannies, au pairs, housekeepers, and others to give their feedback and offer their expertise.”

Durkan’s bill of rights, like Moon’s, would guarantee that domestic workers receive overtime pay, breaks, tax withholding, and rest periods.) Also like Moon’s proposal, Durkan’s plan would “bring stakeholders…together to establish a permanent mechanism for setting minimum standards of pay and benefits in the domestic work industry … establish a mechanism for providing employment benefits, such as workers compensation and health insurance … and suppor[t] efforts by domestic workers to collectively bargain with their employers.”

Both Durkan and Moon also say they’ll announce proposals to protect freelance and “gig economy” workers in the coming days. (Maybe they could hold a joint press conference!)

Durkan and Moon have each been endorsed by different Service Employees International Union locals representing low-wage workers—Moon by SEIU 925 and 6, and Durkan by 775.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Maybe He Meant Because No One Can Afford To Live There

1. I’ve known Mike Fong, Mayor Ed Murray’s chief of staff, since he worked as an aide to city council member Heidi Wills. In fact, he started at the city right around the same time I started covering city hall, in the late spring of 2001.

Back then, he looked like this:

After 16 years working for the city—as a council staffer and, for the past two years, the mayor’s chief of staff—Fong is leaving city hall behind. (Other mayoral staffers surely won’t be far behind him, as the seventh floor of City Hall empties out in anticipation of current Mayor Ed Murray’s departure in December). He isn’t going far, though—just across the street to the office of King County Executive Dow Constantine, where he’ll be chief operating officer, overseeing Constantine’s cabinet.

Fong has been at city hall (and not just THIS city hall—the old one, too) through some of the biggest stories (and transformations) in the city’s history—from Strippergate to the ouster of former City Light director Gary Zarker to the council’s review of then-mayor Greg Nickels’ response to the 2009 snow storm, which ultimately contributed to Nickels’ loss (to Mike McGinn) that year. During that time, the old City Hall itself was razed, Seattle’spopulation grew from around half a million people to more than 700,000, and Amazon’s value rose from $3.6 billion to more than $500 billion. But as far as I can tell, Mike hasn’t changed all that much. He’s the kind of easygoing, no-bullshit staffer journalists love—he doesn’t spin or offer bland talking points, and his grasp on policy is peerless—and the kind of guy I’d want on my side if I was an elected official with aspirations for higher office. I know I don’t speak just for myself when I say he’ll be missed at city hall.

2. Constantine’s office has seen quite a few shakeups recently, including the departure of his longtime chief of staff (and onetime aide to former mayor Greg Nickels) Sung Yang last month. Yang, who also moved to Constantine’s office after a long  career at the city, left to join Pacific Public Affairs, the consulting firm owned by Constantine’s former deputy chief of staff, Joe Woods. Rachel Smith, the county’s government relations director (and another former Nickels staffer), is Constantine’s new chief of staff. Constantine’s campaign manager, Mina Hashemi Mercer, is also reportedly leaving to become the next Director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, where she previously worked for two and a half years.

Constantine is eternally rumored to be considering a run for governor.

3. The city council’s housing and human services committee discussed legislation that would protect some people living in their vehicles from ticketing or towing for certain parking violations and provide them with access to services; in exchange, vehicle residents would register with the city and agree to abide by certain rules. The recommendations are designed to get people into permanent housing faster while recognizing the reality that homeless people don’t have the money to pay fines or get their vehicle out of impoundment. Another reality: Homeless people who lose their vehicles don’t just disappear; usually, they become homeless people living on the street, destabilized and in even more desperate straits.

North end neighborhood activists, including members of the so-called Neighborhood Safety Alliance, made familiar arguments yesterday against people living in RVs, claiming that they were responsible for an E. coli spike in Thornton Creek, accusing them of leaving literal “tons of garbage and human waste” all over neighborhoods, and suggesting that they, the north Seattle homeowners, might just decide to buy an RV and live in it so they, too, could enjoy the good life, exempt from rules and “homeowner taxes.”

One speaker, Phil Cochran, used his public comment time to demand that Mike O’Brien answer a “simple question.” Actually, he had two: “Do you believe that this ordinance will result in more RVs and more homeless junkies in the city of Seattle, yes or no?” and “What happens when some of these rolling meth labs—which we know they are—catch fire? Who should we sue?” Because public comment is not Adults Play High-School Debate time, O’Brien did not respond, except to say that he’d be happy to discuss the issue at literally any other time. And a member of the Interbay Neighborhood Association said the area around W Thorndyke Drive—at the base of Magnolia, near Dravus—was so totally taken over by RVs that that part of Magnolia is now “unlivable.”

Huh.

Maybe he meant “because no one who isn’t wealthy can afford to live there.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.