1. I had the pleasure of interviewing former Seattle city council member Nick Licata last night at Phinney Books in Phinney Ridge; Nick read a section from his book “Becoming a Citizen Activist” (a great—and super germane—excerpt about a George Wallace rally in 1968). And then we discussed Licata’s own legacy of populism in Seattle. (With everyone being a Democrat on the Seattle city council, you’ve got to break things down into subsets, and Licata has been the longtime leader of Seattle’s populist faction.)
I asked him what he thought of the current criticism that (maybe with strains of Wallace) Seattle populists were exacerbating the affordable housing crisis (and default segregation) by resisting changes to single family zones that would allow more housing.
He chuckled that the mayor’s (now withdrawn) HALA recommendation to amend zoning rules in single family zones was like "putting a match to gasoline."
He said urbanists—the faction in Seattle that’s critical of populists—needed to be more "nuanced" and were overlooking that the people on the front lines of the impacts of increased development were smaller homeowners in lower-income neighborhoods.
He also said the big fancy single family neighborhoods—where he’s taken to biking around in his post council heyday—are impossible to develop for density because of the awkward roads.
Licata also stuck by his longstanding analysis that developers are “the enemy.” (To be fair, “enemy” was my word; I had asked Licata—with Seattle’s current progressive consensus and the absence of obvious villains from his past like tough-on-crime city attorney Mark Sidran—who “the enemy” was these days.)
Meanwhile, speaking of changes on the council: Licata, as recently as four years ago, just one of two anti-stadium votes on the council, told me with a big smile that he had been texting with his council heir Lisa Herbold as she led the charge to foil the stadium in last week’s big vote. (See, there was one bro in the mix.)
Licata, an anti-stadium activist dating back to the mid-90s, actually wrote up a detailed analysis of the anti-stadium vote on his Urban Politics newsletter. For my money, the dramatic vote shored up a key part of Licata’s legacy. He writes:
It was possible that Juarez might come out against it, given her vote to support Herbold’s amendment. And with a passionate speech she indeed voted against the legislation. Councilmember Kshama Sawant had been quiet during the debate, with the exception of asking some questions, so it was unclear where she would land. When she gave her final statement it continued in that vein until she concluded that she would vote against it. Suddenly the best scenario had played out – 4 votes against vacating the street.
All eyes then turned to councilmember Gonzalez. She had been attentive asked critical questions, had introduced a good amendment that passed, so she could have voted in favor of the legislation and justified it by showing that she had taken her job seriously. But then came the surprise. She continued to present her thoughts in a straightforward fashion (reminding me of Burgess’s style) and concluded that she would vote against the street vacation.
Everyone, let me repeat, everyone was shocked by the turn of events. Every sign that this legislation was going to pass had been signaled clearly, and yet somehow on the dais, and apparently not before hand, councilmembers were still deciding how to vote. It was a very democratic moment, one that we too often don’t enjoy witnessing.
Hansen will have to rethink his strategy and the Mayor has vowed to continue his efforts to bring a professional basketball team to Seattle, so the game is not over. But for one afternoon a legislative body had a thoughtful discussion on how much to bend the rules for those with the most money on the table.
By the way, my favorite part of Licata’s delightful book—a soft spoken recap of Seattle’s progressive victories over the the last 30 years, complete with lessons learned—was actually another story from his college days (the Wallace rally also happened while Licata was in college.) Licata detailed his very first organizing victory when he teamed up with his other nerdy roommate to outnumber the suave, hip, bullying roommate to make him take down the oafish Playboy pinups that covered their dorm room walls.
Here’s my more detailed account of Licata’s council legacy (including a prescient footnote about "council member Herbold.")
2. A quick follow-up to yesterday’s story about the man who’s complaining that state senator Pramila Jayapal’s U.S. congressional campaign let him go in what he believes is a case of religious and racial discrimination.
The man, Ben Yisrael, clarified that though his complaint centers around his right to not work on Saturdays so he can honor the Sabbath, he is not Jewish. He identifies as “a Hebrew of Israelite descent.”
Yisrael explains: “I do observe the Hebrew scriptures and observe the Sabbath. However, I do not refer to this as Judaism, because the scriptural culture of Israel precedes and did not include the Talmud, Kabbalah, or rabbinical additions.”
He adds: “Although my ancestors originated from what is commonly referred to as the African continent, I don't use the terms African-American or Black when describing heritage because they do not denote nationality.”
He also objected to my use of the word “threat” when I reported that he told the Jayapal campaign: “By 1pm tomorrow May 6th, 2016 you will contact me with an offer of an acceptable severance package that covers at least the next 6 months. If this does not happen, I will contact every legal, political, and media resource I have available to me.”
Yisrael says: your characterization of my legal considerations as a threat is false, and biased. Taking legal action after being discriminated against is not a threat, it is an American right."