The city council interviewed all eight finalists for Sally Clark's vacated council seat late Friday afternoon (here's my live Twitter report from the hearing).
During the Q&A, a Mike O'Brien staffer tweeted me and a batch of other reporters also covering the hearing, asking who we thought was winning.
My answer: Mike O'Brien.
O'Brien, sparing the audience and the applicants the long-winded, throat-clearing intros we heard from the other council members, succinctly put all the contenders on the spot about his linkage fee proposal—getting the info he needed from all the applicants who are vying to replace Clark as chair of the housing committee. (The housing committee will handle O'Brien's big proposal, deciding the specifics of the linkage policy that's emerging as the centerpiece of the council's response to skyrocketing rents; O'Brien's linkage fee charges developers for new construction and puts the revenue into an affordable housing fund.)
All eight applicants were for it—with a few caveats (former Port of Seattle administrator John Okamoto, who skeptically called it a "transfer of wealth," said he was wary of the unintended consequences, and progressive organizer Noel Frame, saying "my gut is for it," added that she didn't want the fee to squeeze mom-and-pop landlords.) Former council member Jan Drago, who I'm hearing is out of the running, summed up the real debate on the table, answering that the "only question is the size of the fee." Council member Kshama Sawant noted that Sheley Secrest supported "the highest possible fee."
Broad support for O'Brien's idea shouldn't come as a surprise. Back in October, the supposedly developer-friendly council already passed a seven-to-two resolution supporting a fee of between $5 and $22, depending on the neighborhood. (Sally Bagshaw and Tom Rasmussen, who's retiring, were the only no votes.) Now O'Brien has all his potential new cohorts on record.
Sawant, who asked all the applicants to fill out questionnaires prior to Friday's live interviews (four of the eight—Sharon Lee, David Moseley, Sheley Secrest, and Alec Stephens—responded), attempted to get an answer on her new policy priority as well: rent control. She didn't get too much clarity, though Secrest and Lee supported it, and Frame, during testimony, expressed upbeat interest in the idea.
As for Sharon Maeda, a Sawant pick going into the process: Not only did she fail to fill out Sawant's questionnaire (gasp), but she seemed to diverge from Sawant on a few points (hyperventilate.)
As for Sharon Maeda, a Sawant pick going into the process: Not only did she fail to fill out Sawant's questionnaire (gasp), but she seemed to diverge from Sawant on a few points (hyperventilate.) In response to Sawant's question about the mayor's "unelected" housing affordability committee, Sawant asked if Maeda would go her own way rather than proceeding from the committee recommendations. Maeda said the mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendation was coming soon, and she would work "collaboratively" with the committee. It also took Sawant a followup question to get Maeda to say she was for increasing fines on employers guilty of wage theft. Maeda, who said she did support increasing fines, initially focused on strengthening the program at the front end with clear communications and outreach. Oh, and Maeda, who ran the left-wing Pacifica Radio in the 1980s (and gets my teenage WPFW vote for that), was also elusive on Sawant's rent control yes or no.
Other noteworthy moments from Friday:
Stephens, a retired civil rights attorney and former Sound Transit diversity manager, was the most convincing on police accountability, stressing the need to stay on top of the consent decree and adding, "Cops need to get out of their cars so they're not viewed as an invading force and so they stop seeing the community as gang members."
Separately—but also noteworthy—on a question about transportation priorities, Stephens called for more park and rides.
Frame, who boldly began her testimony by identifying as "a survivor of sexual abuse, [and] I am somebody who manages my own mental health with medication every single day" before segueing into a hardcore working-class stance throughout her testimony (she said she intended to work 100 percent nine to five, but needed to go home at the end of the day to manage her home life), ingratiated herself to Rasmussmen by praising his bizarre Neighborhood Conservation District proposal, which the Seattle Planning Commission utterly trashed—as did The C. is for Crank. Among other things, the SPC says Rasmussen's idea "contradicts many of the housing goals and policies in the comprehensive plan" including housing affordability.
Urban League analyst Sheley Secrest—who has endorsed Sawant over Urban League director Pamela Banks in the this year's district elections (and was also outed by Rasmussen for having her Washington State Bar Association license suspended)—pushed back on SDOT's bike lane consensus saying, “Coming from my culture, I’m not really a bike-ride-to-work kind of person. A lot of African Americans are not. The car is our status symbol. We’re looking for the cars with the rims.” She said the city needed to do more outreach to African Americans as it devises the priorities of its transporation levy spending.
Finally, in my real answer to that O'Brien staffer's question about who came out ahead on Friday: I think Low Income Housing Institute director Sharon Lee gave the most substantive answers, getting into policy-heavy specifics like using bridge loans to build affordable housing; I think Frame was the most riveting and passionate, bringing the biggest personality to the table with her Roseanne Barr shtick; and I think Stephens commanded the most respect and even reverence from the awed council members (the full gray beard and veteran civil rights status didn't hurt).
But if I had to predict who's going to get the votes? I'd say Maeda has enough left-wing appeal and establishment crossover to win the majority of votes—particularly with swing-vote council member Bruce Harrell's apparent commitment to having a person of color fill the spot.
Speaking of votes, Nancy Krier, the assistant attorney general for open government in Washington state attorney general Bob Ferguson's office told me that "polling members and making a decision outside a public meeting can raise Open Public Meetings Act concerns."