New at-large city council candidate John Roderick (maroon sweater, fourth from left) made his debut at North Seattle Community College last night where the candidates for North Seattle's fifth council district and the candidates running for the two at-large positions—districts eight and nine—debated in front of a joint meeting of the 46th and 32nd district Democrats.
If the generic Parks and Recreation setting—a tiled room crowded with older Americans wearing "Hello, my name is" name tags—was light-years less glamorous than where Roderick is used to performing (Roderick is a successful indie rock musician with the band the Long Winters), he didn't show it.
Affable and comfortable with the lo-fi, cell-phone-timer set up at a roll-out lunch table alongside his opponent, current veteran city council president Tim Burgess (standing), plus an earnest activist or two, some angry know-it-alls, policy wonks, mayor Ed Murray's accomplished legal counsel, a neighborhood council leader, and a raving council gadfly (looking at the ceiling), Roderick didn't miss a beat hitting his own theme.
"As you saw in the lightning round," he said, referring to the previous hour's batch of candidates (the seven-candidate parade of people running for North Seattle's open fifth district seat), "there was no dissension. There's a broad consensus. We share values in Seattle. The question is how to tell our story and engage in progressive change." Roderick said it would just take collective sacrifices—"we have the money" he said—to forge "the Seattle we all want." (Including, he noted our "capitalist" neighbors; presumably he meant Amazon employees.)
Roderick, who's running against Burgess in the at-large eighth district, hit the same note about shared consensus a few minutes later.
Riffing off Alex Tsimerman (the raving council gadfly) who had just finished promising to "clean house" while cursing about one-party fascist rule, Roderick pivoted playfully: "You know, the wonderful thing [about one-party rule in Seattle] is that we don't have to debate if global warming exists." (Even the stone-faced Tsimerman cracked a smile at that.)
This was Roderick's response to a question about oil trains. Calling oil trains a remnant of 19th Century technology, he said the solution to the problem was to embrace 21st Century green technologies—he mentioned "super hot salt batteries." And, apparently having read the Brookings Institute's Metropolitan Revolution, he proclaimed that we should use our city leverage to forbid Shell arctic drilling and "prevent any oil trains from running through our city. The rest of the country should follow us."
Roderick was right that the lightning rounds—Should there be more money in the capital budget for sidewalks? (This was North Seattle) Should we protect the tree canopy? Do you support municipal broadband? Should we use bonding to build affordable housing? Do you support body cameras? Do you support additional density in single family zones?—featured a boring chorus of green yes placards. (Even Bill Bradburd—the neighborhood council leader who has fought pod apartments—said yes to more density in single-family zones.)
As people dug into the details, there certainly were some occasional differences.
For example, Lorena González, Murray's brainy former legal counsel (she stepped down in early April to campaign), running in the ninth district against Bradburd for the other at-large seat, was the only candidate who seemed to get the nuances—um, privacy—of body cams. Union rep David Toledo, whose zany handouts included the non sequitur Beatles spoof above, dissented during the anti-oil train crescendo with a riff about union jobs. And homeless advocate Mercedes Elizalde broke from the crowd with her forceful rap that addressing homelessness wasn't about social services, but was about providing "house keys."
But with the macro liberal consensus—civil rights attorney González and housing bleeding heart Toledo are both superliberal, by the way—what truly distinguished all the candidates last night were their personal histories, which in some noteworthy instances translated into the night's standout answers.
Fifth district candidate Elizalde, a righteous case worker for poor people at the Low-Income Housing Institute, stood out during the coal trains discussion by saying stricter regulations—everyone else's go-to answer—actually needed to be backed up with "teeth and consequences." She said cynical oil and coal companies could just "check boxes" by going through regulatory hoops like presenting at public meetings, but, she said, Seattle needed to bring "real penalties" to the table and say, "If you can't work with us, if you can't do that, we care about jobs, but we're not willing to compromise for safety."
Elizalde did get a bit carried away with her badass populism at times. During the affordable housing discussion, she went as far with the popular developer bogeyman meme to say developers weren't paying taxes when they built new units.
Fifth district fundraising standout Reverend Sandy Brown—a church leader who championed both the marriage equality and gun control initiatives—deserves the credit for reframing the oil train debate by introducing a larger issue, which people like Roderick glommed on to later in the night. Brown said while he agreed with everyone about regulations, the real answer was to "move as quickly as we can to get away from fossil fuels." And in a rejoinder to the concern about losing union jobs, he said: "It's important to build jobs, but let's build them on a green economy. We cannot move ahead in an economy that's not based on renewable energy."
Brown also brought a green lens to the affordable housing question. He called for "smart and green density around business centers and hub neighborhoods"—he used 125th and Lake City Way as an example, saying that upzoning and density was "one way to reduce the price of housing."
Another fifth district candidate standout, former King County Superior Court Judge and legal powerhouse Debora Juarez, reframed the discussion of homelessness by saying we "had to stop criminalizing homelessness" and had to recognize it as "a symptom of a broken system." She called for "hospitalization, not jail."
The most powerful stump speech of the night, though, goes to González in the at-large candidate roundup. During the discussion on police accountability, while Roderick and Bradburd both gave admittedly eloquent versions of standard POVs—Roderick talked about the "suburbanization" of the SPD and said the SPD had to hire Seattle-only residents to stop commuter cops from bringing Issaquah values to the city, and Bradburd explicitly said the police union was the problem—González gave a riveting account of her work as the attorney "suing the police" in the "Mexican piss" case. She said she translated that into tangible reform by handing over her depositions in the case to the DOJ which helped make zero tolerance of racial bias a focus of the consent decree.
There were a few other notable moments—Tsimerman refused to take part in the lightning round, starting out by calling body cams "bullshit"; Burgess challenger Jonathan Grant pointed out that Burgess was the chair of the public safety committee when the DOJ consent decree "landed on Seattle"; and David Trotter had it ass-backwards when he accused Burgess of derailing the council stand against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Burgess, in fact, flipping off the stodgy Seattle Times, ushered through the nine-to-zero vote.
Two final notes: 1) I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that supposed frontrunner (and another fundraising star) fifth district hopeful Mian Rice was woefully shy on specifics and relied on an elementary, robotic tactic of starting each answer by repeating the topic at hand. As in: "Homelessness. Homelessness is a serious problem..."
And 2) Districts do appear to bring out a more diverse set of candidates. It was impossible not to notice that after the fifth district debate between a Latino, an Indian man, a young Latina, a middle-aged Native American woman (Juarez, who noted that she "was homeless, but didn't even know it growing up on the res"), an African American man, a lumpenprole white dude, and a young woman—the crowd in the two at-large seats featured six white men and one Latina.
P.S. Here are the resumes of all 44 candidates running for the council appointment to serve out Sally Clark's term. (Clark resigned this month to take a job at the UW and decided not to run in this year's council free-for-all just to win a spot back on the council tangling with Kshama Sawant.)
On the list: Former council members Jan Drago, Peter Steinbrueck, and Heidi Wills, current candidate David Toledo (he would have to drop out of the fifth district race), monorail legend Dick Falkenbury, green architect Rob Harrison, and reported frontrunner John Okamoto, the interim human services director.