So, city hall pretty much blew up this week.
But the battle burst into the open on Monday morning—not on Monday afternoon at the now-infamous John Okamoto vote. As we all know, at the afternoon Okamoto vote, Kshama Sawant told her colleagues that it would be "scandalous" if they voted to appoint Okamoto to fill Sally Clark's vacancy (which they subsequently did). Sawant then spent more of her allotted time trashing Okamoto for "cesspool corruption" and "corporate" leanings than she did making the case for her own picks—Sharon Lee, Sharon Maeda, and Sheley Secrest.
Then: On the following Tuesday morning Bagshaw went on record with me about Sawant, calling her "mean" and "exploitative" and concluding: "More than frustrated, I am sad about how Sawant is acting. I perceive her as intentionally creating class differences for her own gain." (I have a feeling Sawant wouldn't disagree that she's "intentionally creating class differences." In fact, that's what she says she's there to expose and rally around; I have a call in to Sawant.) At the same time—Tuesday morning—Seattle Times reporter Daniel Beekman hit with the news of an ethics complaint that Bagshaw had lodged against Sawant. (Bagshaw hasn't actually filed a formal written complaint, by the way. She simply called the ethics office to alert them about Sawant's behavior.)
The complaint wasn't about Sawant's now-legendary déclassé performance (no pun intended) at Monday's appointment hearing. It was about the fact that Sawant supporters were tabling for her reelection on the first floor lobby of city hall during her rent control event in council chambers the previous Thursday. More on the specifics of that complaint below, but the open feud between Sawant and Bagshaw (and by extension the rest of the majority wing of the council) actually blew up the previous morning—at council briefings on Monday before that afernoon's Okamoto vote.
It is must-watch (Seattle Channel) TV.
Go to the 29:28 mark to watch it all go down. It starts when council member Bagshaw says she felt "personally slighted" and "didn't feel welcome" when she showed up to Sawant and Licata's previous Thursday-night hearing at city hall. After receiving an invite to what she thought was a council event, she reports, she realized that there were just two chairs in the front (for Licata and Sawant) and she "ended up standing...for an hour."
"I did not feel that I was warmly welcome if [I had] an alternative viewpoint."
—Sally Bagshaw"I did not feel that that was a city council event," Bagshaw says. "I was there to listen, but we're sending [articles] around like "In Defense of Rent Control," but at the same time [lefty New York Times columnist] Paul Krugman is writing things like we need to be really thoughtful about what second-generation rent control means, and I did not feel that I was warmly welcome if [I had] an alternative viewpoint or conversation."
Sawant's usual lefty ally, Mike O'Brien, who had a scheduling conflict and wasn't at the rent control event (and hasn't yet taken a position on Sawant's resolution to lift the state ban on rent control, his office tells me) jumped in to raise questions about Sawant's event too. "I think we should have some clarity about how that works. If it is a council event, my expectation would be that all council members are equally appropriate and if it's not a council event then that's a different thing..."
Bagshaw jumps in: "Then let us know that we're not invited, and that's fine." I have a call in to Bagshaw.
Sawant, calling her invitation "genuine" [screenshot below, which she sent out the previous Saturday— arguably late notice for council members packed schedules], defends herself, explaining that while she had invited other council members to attend she only asked longtime progressive Nick Licata to cohost.
Her understanding, Sawant explains, was "not that we were all hosting—because it's a political thing. If you're hosting the town hall with us, then it implies that you are in agreement with our point of view. I didn't want to put words in anyone's mouth. If you're still thinking about the measure that we are convinced of, than that's fine, but if you sit there with us, it conveys the impression that...[you] are in support of this resolution...of a renters' bill of rights...of the maximum linkage fee...these are political positions, this is not a formalistic question of who's hosting."
Sawant adds that she invited Bagshaw to sit in the front row ("the deluge" of people there, she adds in a pitch for her position, made that impossible).
She also notes that when mayor Ed Murray came to her LGBTQ town hall on Capitol Hill last month, he sat in the audience and took the chance to speak. (The analogy isn't great because Mayor Murray's office and Sawant's office arranged in advance for Murray to stand up and speak at the gay rights event. Not so with Bagshaw.)
For the record, Sawant's town hall—a blatant political rally—is totally kosher. Ethics director Wayne Barnett tells me: "It doesn't violate ethics code for a public official to organize or rally at city hall around something they're pushing."
While people idealize city hall as a place for governing and not electioneering, the question in front of the ethics department is
just how formalized that idealistic notion actually is
in city code.
As for the complaint about Sawant's city hall electioneering. Barnett wouldn't go on record with me about that. In addition to Bagshaw's phone call, a self-identified "anonymous whistle blower" going by Bill Kirk—a mash up of William Shatner and his famous character?—has filed a formal complaint. It includes pictures of Sawant's reelection tabling effort. ("Volunteer for Kshama's reelection" one sign says. "Sign here to get Kshama on the ballot" another—oddly paranoid—sign says. Sawant is not not on the ballot, people. There's also Sawant literature on the tables.)
In an email to "Mr. Kirk," Barnett says he's investigating the allegations under city ethics and elections code. The code does prohibit elected officials from using their offices and other public resources to campaign, but only on the grounds that other candidates don't have access to those resources—for example, a Sawant opponent doesn't have access to Sawant's office phone to do fundraising and so Sawant is prohibited from fundraising from her office.
It's not the case, though, that Pamela Banks, a Sawant opponent, didn't also have access to the main floor at city hall last Thursday night. And city rules make it clear that "members of the public may distribute literature and collect signatures" on the first floor lobby. (However, the rules also say "tables...are not permitted." So, Sawant's crew may have violated that rule. Sawant says the activity was a-okayed by fleets and facilities.)
Ultimately, while people idealize city hall as a place for governing and not electioneering, the question in front of the ethics department is just how formalized that idealistic notion actually is in city code.