Friday, September 21, 2007

Thoughts on the City Council Race

This seems like as good a time as any to reiterate that Apesma's Lament is my personal writer's blog, and that I reserve the right to maintain an identity of my own, independent of the guy that works at Real Change. More importantly, this blog is maintained with my own funds on my own time, so I can say whatever the fuck I want. So there.

Which brings us to this morning's City Council Candidates Forum, sponsored by the Seattle King County Coalition on Homelessness, featuring Jean Godden, Venus Velasquez, Bruce Harrell, Tom Rasmussen, Dave Della, Tim Burgess, Sally Clark, and Judy Fenton. The SKCCH website will soon have full questionnaire results from these and other candidates, including those running for office in King County outside of Seattle.

First, who is running against who? Godden, sadly, may now be running unopposed. Joe Szwaja was expected but didn't show and didn't phone in. (This turns out to be untrue. Joe is still in the race, and the no show was due to a communications error with campaign staff). The rumor is that a recent meeting with community supporters to parse the ramifications of Susan Paynter's "When Did Joe Stop Beating His Wife" column didn't go so well. That's too bad. Szwaja is someone who progressives recruited to run based on a long track record of proven values and service. Apparently, some have changed their minds. It's an old saying, but it's true. When the left holds a firing squad, they stand in a circle.

Venus and Bruce are squaring off over human services champion Peter Steinbrueck's seat. Human Services Chair Tom Rasmussen is running unopposed. Burgess is taking on Della, and the sadly clueless Fenton says she's running because Clark needs an opponent. Whatever.

So, what was new and surprising or at least entertaining about this morning? Let's start with Godden. She's charming and somewhat beloved. You hate to beat up on her because it never feels like a fair fight. She graciously recognized me as I stood in the back as Real Change, which caused our real reporter, Cydney Gillis, who was covering the event from the second row on Jean's side, to turn in my direction and snarl.

Godden's best line was that we should "reuse, recycle, and refit available buildings" to create affordable housing. But, seeing as how she doesn't really do anything, those words don't mean all that much. She'll likely coast to victory, and will continue to be a mostly reliable ally of the downtown interests while trying to also do right by the poor and homeless. Things could be worse.

The Harrell/Velasquez showdown was much more interesting. Ironically, Harrell, as an attorney, is a much stronger communicator than Velasquez is as a communications consultant. My sense is that she has the better politics, while he is probably the stronger candidate. He was Obamaesque. In comparison, she seemed almost sullen. Maybe she's just not a morning person.

But, you know? I don't give a crap. She says that she'll continue Peter's legacy of being a human services champion and I believe her. She said when the B&O tax revenue downturn hits and things get tight, she's in our corner, and that she favors dedicated funding for human services so we're not dependent upon the vagaries of the general fund. And she referred to Seattle's "class war" four times in her closing statement, which kind of cinched it for me. Harrell makes a better impression, and uses lines like, "I believe power has to be kept in check," but there's nothing in his background to make me believe that, once in office, he'll be a reliable ally of the poor. And we've seen plenty of that.

Speaking of unreliable allies, David Della seemed kind of dazed and kept talking about how very, very complicated homelessness is. It must be hard to come before a room of human service advocates knowing that you're widely resented for having turned your back on the people who got you elected. That must suck. Della talked incessantly about the multi-family tax credit, as if this idea were somehow adequate to the tidal wave of inequality that now engulfs our city. He did, however, say he'd vote to protect core services, whatever that means. Burgess didn't seem so bad, but all of his statements were careful and hedged, as were Della's. I don't get the sense that either of them deserve our support, but these are the choices we have.

I have to say that both Rassmussen and Clark are growing on me. When Fenton said she'd prioritize mentally ill homeless people over alcoholics, Tom drew himself up to deliver an indignant little speech about the difficulties of people's lives. While going after Fenton was a little like kicking a retarded puppy, it was still very endearing. He also acknowledged the dark side of the ten year pan to end homelessness with a pledge to sustain emergency service levels until it is clear that the need has decreased as well. This, to me, was unexpected and welcome news. When Tom first became the Human Services chair, lots of people found the rigidity of his instant expertise more than a little annoying, but he seems to have grown into it and to have real passion for the issues. He seems more solid, and it's nice to see.

Clark seemed smart, well-informed, and very genuine, and offered a variety of thoughtful strategies for moving things forward. She was honest about her support for workforce housing as well as low-income housing, and put her concerns with the potential for a divisive fight right out on the table. She even showed flashes of humility and humor. Clark definitely seems like someone we should work more with.

Conventional wisdom is that this election is unlikely to shake up the balance of power in the Council, and that there aren't any big changes on the horizon. That seems about right to me, although I found myself feeling more hopeful after the forum than before. When a cynical guy like me sees reason to hope, that's probably a good sign.


Anonymous said...

Shrewd assessment. And doesn't a little cynicism temper pathological idealism for some effective action? Shucks, ya had me at "retarded puppy".

Sarajane46th said...

As a human services advocate, I have questioned Tim Burgess closely on his commitment to housing the homeless. I am convinced of his sincerity. You don't spend seven years working as an international aide worker without a fundamental commitment to helping the poor. Burgess has been a community cop and has headed the Queen Anne Community Council. His resume couldn't be stronger. Della has accepted campaign donations from the rental housing owners, as well as the payday lending industry. My standard for dirty money is Moneytree. They are the worst sort of predators, and Della should refuse their funds. I value Tim's voice for the homeless. He should dig deeper to find the differences between Burgess and Della in commitment to human services and fighting homelessness. Burgess gets my vote, hands down.

Tim Harris said...

I agree with SaraJane. I talking with people the clear trend I'm hearing is whatever reservations people have about Burgess as an unknown quantity are more than trumped by Della having had four years to prove his uselessness. Give the new guy a chance.

Pastor Rick said...

Please. "Differently Abled" puppy, much preferred.

I think Venus was rattled from her late arrival "She's the only candidate with kids in Seattle Public Schools."

Thank you Sarajane46th for the input on Burgess.

There's a problem with our system -- to be a good candidate, and to be an effective counselperson are probably two different skills. I'm a better interview than I am an employee. Same thing, right?

Rick Reynolds

Alex's mom said...

I have to say -- having "worked with" Ms. Valezquez -- that she may be a champion of human services -- but she is a difficult person -- and I think would be marginalized immediately on the Council -- and in the larger community because of her demeanor and general bitchiness (just my opinion). On the other hand -- I completely agree with your opinion of CMs Rasmussen and Clark -- they are both savvy and knowledgeable of the issues, the trade-offs and how the political system works. I do believe they genuinely care about the issues affecting low-income and working class residents of Seattle. But they understand how to bring those issues and build support for legislation and funding via the middle and upper class voters who have to approve levies, etc.

Ms. Godden I also to believe to be a sincere advocate -- when push comes to shove -- will do the right thing in taking votes that support progressive positions.

Talking housing, human services and other interests of "the little people" is complicated in the larger regional context of Seattle and King County. We can't afford to have CMs who posture and alienate people (my fear about Venus) nor have politicians who turn a blind eye to very real problems in our community.

I think Tim's assessment of the candidates was dead on. Advocates -- go work with Rasmussen and Clark more . . . . . but don't vilify them the moment they take one vote you don't like (my recollection of how progressives treated Steinbrueck). Behind the scenes they are probably doing more "heavy-lifting" than you realize!

Bill said...

interesting comments, Tim, and you seem to have caught the moment properly. I am curious how you managed to catch Judy Fenton standing up in your picture, she spoke so briefly. Poor lady, ought to go do something more genuine to her gifts. More passion from Rasmussen, yes, and warily we have been on these paths before. Odd (and hopeful) to hear his words re: no cuts to shelter when it was meeting-after-meeting in his office where he quoted "empty shelter beds" as the reason to cut shelter a few years back, whereupon many of us went to the Mayor's lobby and sat in. Clark, yes, appearing to be savvy, curious to learn, and willing to bridge the whole into some action. Della and Godden, sorry, neither able to either recall some things the Council did and/or to speak with any hope that they'd do anything but lag and maybe follow. yadayadayada. I too have worked with Venus, and yes, she consulted with human services a lot. While she may have been tired/stressed coming in late, what Venus has not done for awhile is be out front with something other than "the message." The message isn't enough (see Godden and Della), and her words indicated she knows the way to talk about it. She'll need help in how it actually is going to happen in space and time, past the messaging. I'd vote for her if I lived in Seattle and encourage those that do to elect her,... she'll listen,a dn yes, she actually has a pretty good sense of humor

John said...

Gosh thanks. Made filling out my absentee ballot today so much easier! Enjoyed reading the rest of your blog page as well.