More than most, this election season has been dreadful. The ballot measures are bad enough, highlighted by another draconian Eyman eyesore and the shotgun wedding of a good transit package and an awful roads one. But city voters this season also must consider the future composition of the Seattle City Council.
Can we, like, abolish it and start over?
Recent weeks have seen a rash of headlines featuring council members and candidates and their inappropriate behavior. Even when the behavior had nothing to do with the person’s job performance (or prospective performance), the poor judgment shown, time after time, and this year’s seriously weak crop of council candidates, leaves one wondering: is this really the best we can do?
* Before the primary, Councilwoman Jean Godden’s campaign shopped to her old colleagues at the daily papers a “scandalous” story about her main challenger, Joe Szwaja, and a minor 17-year-old domestic violence incident. And then Szwaja obligingly stumbled all over himself responding to the reports.
* In a remark widely trumpeted as “racist” by supporters of opponent Bruce Harrell, candidate Venus Velazquez told a largely non-white crowd at a Hate Free Zone forum to “vote for people who look like you.” It was a dumb remark–especially since Harrell is also non-white–but in this case she’s gotten a bum rap. Velázquez was only reflecting the grim reality of Seattle politics, in which David Della was elected because he was Asian Pacific Islander and Richard McIver would long ago have been retired were he not African-American. Why? Because non-whites perceive, accurately, that in our at-large system the white council majority could not care less about minority interests. Velázquez would be the city’s first Latina councilmember, and she was speaking, however clumsily, to that. But it was still a really stupid thing to say.
* Harrell himself is a disaster, a developer-backed lawyer who–“when I starred for the Huskies in the Rose Bowl…”–trots out more–“back when my grandfather settled in Seattle…”–irrelevant cliches per second than any other–“growing up in a working class Seattle household…” politician I’ve ever met. Ever. (All guaranteed actual quotes. Frequent quotes).
* Sally Clark, who was appointed to the Council last year and still hasn’t had a serious challenger in two elections since, drew as her general election opponent one Judy Fenton, who ran for office because she wants the nude male sculpture at Olympic Sculpture Park covered up to protect our children. I can’t make this shit up. I’m tempted to endorse Fenton for the sheer entertainment value. I think I’ll go lie down instead.
* McIver made headlines this month–and spent two nights in jail–for a drunken brawl in which he allegedly tried to choke his wife. (Okay, okay, “choke” is a harsh word. He allegedly put his hands around her throat and squeezed. How’s that?)
Mind you, McIver is only on the council in the first place because he was appointed in 1995 to replace John Manning, who resigned after his third domestic violence incident. Manning ran for city council this year, too.
* Councilmember David Della, facing a stiff re-election challenge from a guy (Tim Burgess) who spent years advising the far-Christian-right group Concerned Women of America, embarrassed himself twice in the same week. First, Della pulled a Velazquez, injecting race where race need not be, by lashing out at environmental groups like the Sierra Club and Washington Conservation Voters for endorsing his (white) opponent as “someone who looked like them.” Then leaders of the police and firefighters unions reported that they, too, got flack from Della when they endorsed Burgess. Della should’ve expected those endorsements, Burgess being an ex-cop, but allegedly he warned the union leaders that there would be retribution for their choice, since Della sits on the Finance Committee and the police union is in negotiations with the city and has been without a contract for months. Ugly.
* And then Velazquez gets pulled over for DUI, refuses a breath test and generally doesn’t cooperate well with police, then does an about-face and apologizes to her supporters for all the fuss, and then pleads not guilty anyway.
I’ll ask again. Is this the best we can do?
Being on Seattle City Council is a big deal. It’s an over $100,000 a year job, with staff, that controls an annual city budget of well over $2 billion, oversees more than 10,000 city employees, and makes decisions that will affect every city resident for decades to come. One would hope that the position would attract intelligent, articulate, responsible visionaries, with proven records of accomplishment in their fields.
Instead, we have this sorry lot, the survivors of a process dependent mostly on fundraising and name recognition. More and more, we’re coming to recognize their names–for all the wrong reasons. Surely we can do better.