Process of Elimination

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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

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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.

Gender-Inclusive Restrooms Proposed as LGBT Members Depart City Council

Image via City of Seattle.

Image via City of Seattle.

Outgoing member Sally Clark, who is leaving the council this month for a fancy-ish communications gig (you and me both, sister) at UW, said last week that she hopes her successor, whoever he or she may be, will continue pursuing issues important to LGBT Seattleites, even though the council will likely no longer have a single gay or lesbian member. (Tom Rasmussen is the other LGBT council member; former Equal Rights Washington director Rod Hearne EDITED TO ADD: and Michael Maddux are the only viable gay candidates running, against popular incumbent Kshama Sawant in the new 3rd council district and Jean Godden in the new 4th, respectively.

For example, Clark says the council is currently working on a law requiring all businesses with single-stall restrooms to provide gender-neutral signage, indicating that the restrooms may be used by people of any gender. “With the growth of trans visibility and power, you get a lot of people who say, ‘Why should I be walking into a restaurant or other place of public accommodation and have them say, “Hey, that’s not your restroom!”‘”

What the council would like, Clark says, “is to say, ‘You have a certain amount of time to changes your signage'” to accommodate transgender people. (The council is deliberately not taking on the issue of gender-inclusive multi-stall restrooms, which would be much more controversial). The change would also make it easier for people with disabilities who travel with an aide of another gender to use the restroom without getting weird looks from other customers, Clark says.

The only potential problem Clark sees is that some business owners with more than one single-stall restroom may grouse that they have to install a urinal in each one. But she points out: “They manage to pee in a toilet at home, I’m sure they can manage it when they’re out” in public.

As for whether a lack of gay representation will affect the council’s focus on LGBT issues, Clark is hesitant. “I would love to think that it doesn’t matter anymore, but I think there are still issues that come up in municipal government for LGBT people,” she says—like “how do single, older LGBT people find appropriate staff and housing, how are LGBT people treated in the shelter system? It does bother me that there most likely won’t be an LGBT person serving” on the council, Clark says.

There’s still time. The filing deadline for the August 4 primary election is Friday, May 15.

No Circus In Store for This Council Appointment

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City Council member Sally Clark’s abrupt announcement this morning (as a panelist at last night’s Civic Cocktail, held at the Palace ballroom downtown, she betrayed no inkling of her planned bombshell) that she will step down from the council on April 12 set a series of events in motion that we haven’t seen since 2005, when then-council member Jim Compton resigned under the shadow of Strippergate, a scandal involving bundled contributions from strip-club impresario Frank Colucurcio.

Unlike that raucous three-ring event, the process of replacing Clark promises to be a fairly swift, streamlined affair. No more “individuals seeking congruity in the oneness of our city.” No more candidates bragging that their main qualification is that they’re totally unqualified. No more candidates endorsing other candidates. No more (I assume) Pete Holmes and Roger Valdez seeking the same elective office. 

Instead, the council—helmed by council president Tim Burgess, who’s losing a frequent ally in Clark—will publish the final list of applicants and their qualifications on April 14, when the application period closes, pick three finalists in executive session, announce them on the 20th, and hold a public hearing—at which the rejected candidates will have their only opportunity to address the council, in the one minute allotted during public comments—before picking the winner, who is supposed to pledge to serve only the remainder of Clark’s term.

Burgess has also said the candidate should “understand city government and the public policy issues associated with the Council’s Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency; demonstrate a commitment to social justice and the ability to communicate and collaborate effectively across cultures and with diverse populations; and [have a] desire to serve the people of Seattle and assume the responsibilities and accountability inherent in the work of a Councilmember.”

So many questions. Why not vet the candidates in public like the last time, and let the public in on the process of selecting one of its representatives? Why not take a little more time with the vetting process (the city charter’s “requirement” that a vacancy be filled within 20 days of a council member’s departure, by May 2 in Clark’s case, allows the council to keep deliberating as long as they do so every day, publicly, until they decide)? And why all the mandatory-seeming “qualifications,” like experience with health and human services (Clark’s committee) and the promise not to run for reelection?

Nothing in the charter says that a council appointee must take the committee of the person she’s replacing; the only possible reasons to insist on that tradition are to ensure continuity amid chaos, or to lock other council members out of the job.

The first is obvious: The last council appointment was a circus that made the council appear weak and disorganized, and still produced council member Sally Clark. Why go through all the hassle when so many more virtual eyes will be on the council (and its now-weakened president Burgess) this time around?

As for the second and third: In short, the council wants to get this done quickly and have someone who can “hit the ground running” because of the upcoming districted elections, in which five incumbents will be fighting to keep their seats; plus, a lame duck council member won’t threaten candidates like Mayor Murray’s legal counsel, Lorena Gonzalez, who have already announced for the new at-large position for which Clark had declared.

Another wrinkle: The “qualifications”—housing and human-services expertise—presume that whoever takes Clark’s seat will also take over her committee, which is telling in itself. Other incumbents, including Kshama Sawant (currently making socialist pronouncements from the dais as City Light committee chair) might want that relatively high-profile assignment. Nothing in the charter says that a council appointee must take the committee of the person she’s replacing; the only possible reasons to insist on that tradition are to ensure continuity amid chaos, or to lock other council members out of the job.

Say what you will about the sometimes anarchic character of the 2006 process, it was one of the first times we’ve ever seen the council really process in public, and it may well be one of the last. When the council appointed Clark, Twitter hadn’t even been founded, and blogs like the one I was writing for (where Josh Feit and I foreshadowed Twitter by liveblogging the nearly five-hour-long public vetting) were just getting their sea legs. The council wasn’t quite as media-savvy and insistent on controlling the message (plus, there weren’t as many web sites covering city politics and policy, and meetings weren’t yet broadcast online), which left some breathing room for interesting, unpredictable things to happen. Yes, we would have probably gotten Sally Clark with or without the parade of weirdos. But it wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun.

What Do Seattle’s Gay Council Members Think of Murray’s Indiana Boycott?

As readers of this blog or my Twitter feed are no doubt aware, I feel strongly that “boycotts” on, or exhortations to “flee” from, “backward” states like Indiana hurt more than they “help” and display a basic, inexcusable ignorance of red states.

More specifically, I think saying “screw them, they’re getting what they deserve” (or even, “this boycott will teach other states that discrimination is bad for business”) fundamentally erases progressives in those states, and elides the fact that even “red states” have progressives that live there, work there, and will be hurt by any boycott of their state or the business that they own or that employ them.

Finally, I think the most effective thing politicians can do to “send a message” to states like Indiana that pass discriminatory laws is to support the organizations fighting back against those laws, especially in states, like Indiana, where rampant gerrymandering makes it all the more difficult to elect progressive officials who’ll pass good laws.

Which brings us to Mayor Ed Murray’s executive order banning all city-funded travel to Indiana. (Murray’s announcement was followed by a similar, state-level ban by Governor Jay Inslee.) Murray, obviously, supports the ban; in his announcement, he said that his executive order “sends a strong signal Seattle does not support Indiana’s discriminatory law” (the “send a message and other states will hesitate to pass anti-LGBT laws” argument).

I wondered, though, what the two LGBT members of the city council thought of the mayor’s ban. Do they think “sending a message” is enough? What about the other counterarguments — that allies in other states should help progressives in Indiana, not tell them to give up, or that blue states aren’t helping by suggesting red states like Indiana are corn-pone backwaters full of ignoramus bigots?

Sigh. Neither council member took my bait. Instead, they argued that a ban on travel sent a symbolic message, which is really the best a government can do, and that it isn’t the city’s responsibility to support specific groups in other states.

First, here’s what Rasmussen, after a long pause, had to say:

First of all, I’m just really appalled by the statements coming from the governor of Indiana, and what I would describe as pathetic ignorance of basic constitutional and legal rights. To argue, in this day and age, that because of your religion it’s OK to discriminate against people in very basic accommodations—that is disgusting.

I support clear and strong action on the part of the city. Spending any of our public dollars or time in a state that blatantly says, “Go ahead and discriminate, just say it’s against your religious views to provide your services or accommodations to people,” those kinds of justifications have been thrown out time and time and time again by the courts. Strong statements are important. Boycotts tend to be broad-brushed, there’s no question about that. But sometimes a boycott is the strongest statement you can make.

I lived in in for three years. That’s where I went to law school. It’s a pretty tough state, in the sense that they’re extremely conservative. Indiana does not have a good reputation with civil rights. I have no problem criticizing them when they make these incredibly hostile decisions with regard to discrimination. This is part of their history and legacy, and they’re continuing to do it today in the LGBT community.

Is it harming folks that would not be harmed? It is, undoubtedly. There are good people, of course, who I’m sure are very embarrassed and appalled by what the legislature and the governor of this state have done, and we should support them.

I guess I would like to hear from LGBT individuals from Indiana about what they think about the reaction.

Rasmussen’s colleague Clark, meanwhile, acknowledged the “tinge about the middle states vs. the coasts, the elitist east and west vs. ‘those simple people in the middle,” but said she ultimately supported the mayor’s decision.

If you’re a private company, like an Angie’s List (which put an Indiana expansion on hold) or an Apple or a Costco, you have a little bit more freedom to decide to use your philanthropic arm to do that kind of work. If you’re the government, if you’re the gay mayor of a major city, you don’t have a philanthropic arm to say, “I’m going to use my city resources to bolster equality in Indiana.” What I can control is whether the budget of the city supports state-sponsored discrimination.

I think the point is to try to continue to focus attention. There’s no great big travel budget for city employees rushing from Seattle to Indiana, but by doing it and trying to focus attention, he’s contributing to people who oppose discrimination in Indiana.