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.