Friday, December 14, 2007

Peter the Uncommonly Good

I went to Peter Steinbrueck's City Hall going away party tonight. After ten years on the Council, he's called it quits. His announcement last summer prompted one of the most memorable passages I've ever read in The Stranger, this from Councilmember Licata:
When I was living in the commune, one day we all decided we were going to go and eat some meat. We had gotten tired of eating nothing but vegetables. So of course, this being a commune, we had to go out to where the cows were and watch the cows get slaughtered. So we set out one day in the morning through the fields—the mist was rising from the ground—and we came up to a field where about eight cows were standing around eating grass. And the guy who was going to slaughter the cows got out his shotgun, and he put the shotgun to one of the cows’ heads. And the cow just looked up at him, kind of curiously. And then suddenly, BAM!—he just blew its head off. And the other cows looked up, and they all looked really freaked out. And then, after about a minute, they all took a few steps backward, and then they all went on eating. That’s about what it was like.
The going away bash was a sort of a cross between a very good office party and an Irish wake, but without the booze. The majority of the room was thinking the same thing: who the fuck is going to stand up to the Mayor now? Venus Velazquez was the shoo-in heir apparent, but that didn't quite work out. So, Herrell? Not bloody likely.

The pain of the Council losing it's fire and growing fat and happy on the comforts that only the money that runs this town can provide is only slightly mitigated by the fact that nearly everyone I know assumes that Peter will be back soon to take on Nickles. The second best bit I've ever read in The Stranger, incidentally, was Dan Savage's description of the Mayor looking "like Ariel Sharon dipped in goose fat and shaved coconut."

Peter and I first got to know each other well across a negotiating table half-dozen years ago, when Real Change's Initiative 71 campaign both qualified for the ballot and had some decent polling that showed it could pass. The initiative would have created another 600 shelter beds and increased human services spending. Our effort was a last minute affair, and our fundraising capacity was very limited. Right around the time we qualified, the economy tanked and the City was grappling with dire general fund projections. If it went to ballot, we could count on the dailies aligning against us and not being able to afford an effective counter-campaign. We settled for a more limited win. Tom Byers played the hard-ass from the City. Peter was the Council pragmatist working on a five vote compromise. Together we achieved what was probably the best concession possible. In the end, support was unanimous.

Since then, he's been the stand-up guy for the City's low-income people, and I credit him with the Council's shift over the last decade toward putting people first. Many of us worry that this is might become a thing of the past.

Money and politics is the issue. There weren't a lot of solid progressive candidates willing to jump into this year's race. Apparently, it now takes about a quarter-of-a-million dollars to run a competitive council race.

Tom Rasmussen ran unopposed and raised over $201,000. What the fuck is that? I guess everyone likes a sure bet. Joe Szwaja showed us that it only takes $94K to run a purely symbolic race. Burgess raised over $300K to beat Dave Della. I'm sure he could have done this for less. Herrell, Steinbrueck's successor, raised $263K.

Can one still win a seat on the Council without selling out to corporate Seattle? In another few years, we'll see.


Sally said...

At the City Council hearing during which McIver appeared for the first time since his arrest, he gave an awkward little elegy to Steinbrueck as the social justice member of the Council. Can't remember his exact words, but his assumption seemed to be that that particular role was being retired along with the actual guy who he says personifies it. (Wonder what Licata, no slouch himself, thought of that characterization.) Of course, McIver was particularly wordy during that hearing, seemingly trying to distract us from thinking about his arrest by a stream of rambling chatter between bits of testimony. However, his remarks about Steinbrueck were disturbing in their matter-of-factness: when Steinbrueck goes, that's it. So what are we supposed to do, say kaddish for the death of social justice itself on the Council, as well as mourning the loss of an effective champion of sj (and hoping he'll run for Mayor)?

Anonymous said...

The photo of Steinbruek switching places with this homeless person has always disturbed me. I have seen hundreds of homeless people in Seattle through the years. I have never seen one dress like that. And, of course, most homeless people don't look like the stereotype. This was a free ad campaign for Real Change and I guess it was more positive than not, but still the photo says more about the ad agency than about homelessness.

Tim Harris said...

I imagine your reaction was one that many shared. I had misgivings myself. There were three others that were part of that campaign, and this was the only one where the "homelessness" was this cartoonishly represented. The trash bag around his shoulders and the one on the ground were actually photoshopped in later. I objected that it was too much, and the answer was that this one needed heightened contrast or people wouldn't get what was going on. It made sense to me at the time. The campaign won an award. Looking back, I probably should have held my ground.