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.