Kirsten Harris-Talley is the new member of Seattle City Council.
Harris-Talley—program director of Progress Alliance, an activist in the Block the Bunker movement, and a favorite of the Peoples Party—garnered the support of five city council members on Friday after it became clear former council member Nick Licata wouldn't have the votes. She said she'd focus her budget efforts specifically with her eyes set on reproductive justice, police reform and reducing incarceration, and community-led programs—and wants to hit the ground running starting on Friday and throughout the weekend to contribute to the first 2018 budget deadline for council on Monday.
"I believe that what government's role is is to actually be a conduit for the voice of the people," Harris-Talley said during a press conference Friday, adding that she doesn't believe community organizing is meant to demonize or act as a dichotomy of government work. "I think they need to work hand in hand. I feel like that's something that's been lost. ... Sometimes you have to make a lot of noise to get above the everyday fray."
Council members Bruce Harrell (who voted by phone), Loréna González, Sally Bagshaw, Mike O'Brien, and Kshama Sawant supported her in the first round of nominations. Abel Pacheco Jr. was also nominated by council member Debora Juarez and Rob Johnson.
Licata received only one vote from Lisa Herbold, who was his former legislative aide. Several council members said despite having respect for Licata, they thought the city should "walk the walk" and show their support of potential people of color in leadership. Lorena González shortly before the council meeting on Friday wrote about her support for Harris-Talley and said it was important to empower young women of color who can be leaders.
"This is not about identity. It’s about extending opportunity and recognizing the intrinsic and often undervalued skills of women in the work force," González wrote on her blog shortly before the council meeting Friday. She said Harris-Talley was well qualified to step up to the budget challenge. "I can attest to the complex nature of the budget process. However, these are not insurmountable challenges."
Harris-Talley's influence on the council provides another ally on the council for opponents to the sweeps; she said Friday that she has "deep concerns" about the sweeps and the frequency of them under former mayor Ed Murray.
She said she also wants to ensure the Community Police Commission has enough resources for its oversight work; she said she would consider the demand for additional full-time employees and said she has experience looking into the "dosage" of how quickly a program can ramp up in a short timespan.
Harris-Talley won the most support among community organizers who attended the forum Tuesday night to hear from council applicants. The straw poll for the public showed Harris-Talley as the favorite with 98 votes. ChrisTiana ObeySumner received the second-most votes (74), and Licata was in third with 44 votes. Pacheco was fourth with 22.
Pacheco, whose mother traveled to Seattle from out of town, spoke to council members emotionally after having lost the seat. He congratulated Harris-Talley and said he remembered 10 years earlier begging not to be kicked out of high school. "To be here in front of all of you was more than anything I expected," he said. González said she hoped he would continue to try.