The city council named eight finalists (out of 43 applicants) this afternoon who are now in the running to fill Sally Clark's council seat. (Clark startled city hall watchers earlier this year when she announced she wasn't seeking reelection—and then subsequently stepped down to take a job at the UW this month.)
The eight finalists are: conservative former council member Jan Drago, progressive Democratic organizer and former Washington Bus board member Noel Frame (the youngest finalist), low-income housing advocate (and longtime director of the Low Income Housing Institute) Sharon Lee, veteran Asian American progressive advocate (with a stint at HUD in the '90s) Sharon Maeda, former Seattle ferries assistant secretary at WSDOT David Moseley, former Seattle human services interim director John Okamoto, Urban League staffer Sheley Secrest, and probably the least known of the bunch, civil rights attorney and recently retired diversity program manager at Sound Transit Alec Stephens.
Each one will make a three-minute presentation to council this Friday, then face questions from the council for about 15 minutes. The public will also get a chance to testify during that hearing.
Council president Tim Burgess said any applicant who got at least three votes made the cutoff.
He held a closed-door executive session last Friday where council members made the case for their personal picks. And this morning, Burgess went around, polling council members to see which applicants made the cut. It was "a low bar" he told me today, referring to the three-vote prerequisite.
Burgess says the winnowing process jibes with the open meetings act. The law specifies that when a majority of the council meets (five members in this case), the meeting must be open to the public unless there are specific exceptions, such as client-attorney privilege or discussing appointments. As for voting on appointments, the behind-the-scenes polling process is kosher, as long as less than five council members are confabbing. "For two council members or three council members to get together and talk about legislation like today's motion on the appointee, that's no problem at all," Burgess says. "And that happens a lot." Burgess compared the process to rounding up the three votes council members need every year to bring a budget item forward when "council members walk the hallway, talk to each other, meet in small clusters—that's all on the up-and-up."
Burgess tells me the discussion on Friday was "quick" and "there was not a lot of dissension." He says some of the finalists received seven votes. (Lefty council member Nick Licata, who is out of the country, participated in the runup discussions and voting via email..."from Paris," Burgess laughs.
As I've reported before, Okamoto is supposedly the the frontrunner pick. I've got a message out to him. Okamoto, it's worth noting, was the chief administrative officer at the Port of Seattle during the besmirched Mic Dinsmore years.
Outside council chambers this afternoon, LIHI's Lee, rumored to be one of council member Sawant's main picks, described a city that's increasingly unaffordable for minorities and low-income people. Condemning "economic eviction," she said her goal was to keep Seattle affordable rather than forcing the working class to work in Seattle while living and driving in from the suburbs.
Maeda and also Secrest, who, by the way, endorsed Sawant for reelection over her urban league colleage Pamela Banks (who's running against Sawant in this year's council elections), are also likely Sawant top picks.
(Footnote: The data on whether Seattle is getting more or less diverse, as Lee maintains, is actually not clear. The most recent formal 2010 census data says Seattle is more diverse than it used to be, while the off-year sampling data since then says the city is getting whiter.) Either way, Lee said 48 percent of racial minorities who are renters are "cost burdened"—meaning they're paying more than the standard 30 percent of their income on rent.
The council has prioritized experience with affordable housing issues as a prerequisite for the job; Clark was chair of the council's affordable housing committee. However, the urgency around affordable housing has elevated the issue in its own right; council members Licata and Sawant are holding a public meeting on the issue on Thursday night, and many of the council candidates in this year's election have all prioritized the issue.