Kent Kammerer, neighborhood activist and writer, dies at 78
by Joe Copeland
Kent Kammerer, a Seattle neighborhood activist and Crosscut writer with a deep sense of curiosity about the city he loved, has died following what his family said was a brief illness. He was 78.
His curiosity, which often extended to a fair-minded skepticism about how the city was run, was matched by the depth of his knowledge about civic affairs. He asked hard questions, looked at whether the answers matched up with what he knew from elsewhere, and made his own judgments, but respected those with whom he disagreed.
He hosted a wide range of civic, political, business, and intellectual leaders on Saturday mornings, for what his Crosscut biographiy called the “informal, non-partisan Seattle Neighborhood Coalition, which meets over breakfast once a month to discuss Seattle policy and politics.” Kammerer served as the unofficial leader of the group.
The meetings, recalled Crosscut Publisher David Brewster, were “lively, funny, pointed, and all about educating neighborhood activists about the city and each other’s neighborhoods.” Crosscut writer and editor Eric Scigliano noted that while working for other publications, he covered Kammerer’s activities as a neighborhood activist. “He had the knack of boring in and digging in on an issue, without ever getting personal or nasty about it,” Scigliano said. That kindness could be seen in Kammerer’s writing, which showed a deep streak of compassion for others, especially those simply trying to get by in a city that was becoming increasingly affluent.
While he was a serious student of any number of subjects, Kammerer brought a sense of delight to his explorations of issues. His eyes would often seem to twinkle with excitement as he discussed everything from Seattle’s politics to the importance of dirt in shaping society.
A retired schoolteacher, Kammerer became one of Crosscut’s first writers and published his last Crosscut piece just a few weeks ago. Because of the breadth of his interests, Kammerer wrote for us about a range of issues, including education, police tactics and policies (he worried greatly about abuses and whether the taxpayers were getting enough real protection for their money), city streets and parks, ever-rising utility rates, and City Hall’s treatment of neighborhoods, the poor, and the disabled. (An index of all his stories for Crosscut can be found here.) He was also a talented photographer, and his work sometimes illustrated his articles.
Kammerer’s final story for Crosscut questioned the cost, structure, and priorities of the city’s Nov. 8 ballot issue, which sought a $60-per-year charge on car tabs. The measure was soundly defeated by voters, based on many of the factors that concerned him. He wrote about the city officials’ eagerness to start new projects and their lack of effort in maintaining its existing transportation investments. Still, he also struck a note of understanding, acknowledging that acquiring new things, but failing to take care of them, was a fault shared by many of us.
As much as he could get to the heart of city problems, Kammerer also celebrated those who worked hard for the city, whether in business or government or as volunteers. He wrote about city officials who quietly made good things happen during long careers, the legacy of late Delridge community activist Vivian McLean, and Sally Jewell’s community-oriented leadership at REI.
Kammerer’s first story for Crosscut in April 2007 mourned the death of former City Councilmember and mayor candidate Charlie Chong. In it, Kammerer struck what became familiar themes: the need to ask questions at City Hall, even if it made people uncomfortable. He wrote candidly and admiringly:
Charlie, a civil servant much of his career, knew that unless the hard questions were asked, sensible, affordable, and practical decisions wouldn’t be made.
Charlie cared deeply about Seattle neighborhoods and was our knight, our champion, our Sir Lancelot on some days and Don Quixote on others. Charlie was a warrior in what was often a battle between the establishment and the public. Because Charlie said what others were afraid to say, he was often the single voice of reason in a bureaucratic web.
Kammerer concluded the article, “Damn it Charlie, we still need you.” At Crosscut, we’re feeling that all too sharply, as we think about the loss of our friend Kent.
The family’s obituary, published in Sunday’s Seattle Times, can be found here.