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Supporting Sawant is a cry for change

Voting Socialist isn't about embracing Kshama Sawant's three-point agenda. It's about poking Seattle's cozy, complacent City Council.
As of Tuesday, Kshama Sawant was beating incumbent Richard Conlin by 41 votes.

As of Tuesday, Kshama Sawant was beating incumbent Richard Conlin by 41 votes. Photo: Bill Lucia

Even before the final vote count (and probable recount) takes place, Kshama Sawant's surprisingly strong City Council candidacy is the biggest news coming out of Seattle's electoral results. Her showing — and the passage of the City Council elections-by-district measure — will make our governance more responsive if sometimes disputatious.

I don't support Sawant's basic three-point agenda for the city and cannot imagine that many well-educated and informed voters do. But I voted for her, probably for the same reason so many others did; namely, to send a message to a complacent, go-along City Council seemingly responsive only to the city bureacracy and a handful of downtown developers and corporate players rich in influence and campaign money.
 
Analysts would be mistaken to credit Sawant's Socialist platform for her success. Her success, instead, should be attributed mainly to voter impatience with incumbents and to the fact that she was the only challenger who ran a vigorous, credible campaign. (The other four City Council incumbents up for re-election, unlike Sawant's opponent Richard Conlin, drew lucky straws and got a pass.)
 
Sawant's three-point program is as fresh as New York City circa 1933. The rent control, she champions, would hopelessly distort the housing market and, over time, result in wholesale deterioration of housing stock. Her advocacy for an increase in the minimum wage is admirable, but the $15 level she wants would kill jobs, especially the entry-level jobs available to the poor and unskilled. Her talk of a Seattle "millionaires tax?" Sounds good. Trouble is, local millionaires can avoid it by employing tax shelters or simply moving out of the city.
 
If Sawant manages to win her Council election, none of her program is likely to be enacted, except perhaps for a more modest minimum-wage increase than she proposes. She will, however, bring a challenging, critical voice to a body which has okayed multimillion- and billion-dollar capital projects, financed by regressive taxes, with few questions asked. Sawant, if elected, will not shut up or allow herself to be shut out.
 
Expect more shakeups when Council members hereafter are forced to live in the districts they represent, and get their votes only in those districts. That will make Seattle like many major U.S. cities where public officials are forced to pay attention to public safety, transportation and other neighborhood and community issues. Some City Council incumbents may opt out of the next electoral cycle, one suspects, because they dread the hard work involved in relating to constituents on a personal level. Easy, when you are elected at-large, to rubberstamp the agenda in front of the council. Harder, when you represent a defined constituency, to stand up actively for the interests of the voters who sent you there.
 
Sawant is a standup person and a disturber of the status quo. More power to her and to others of a similar mindset who may follow. Power, too, to ordinary voters who too often have endured local taxation without representation.  We need Sawant, not because of what she proposes, but because of who she is. Go, Kshama, go.

Ted Van Dyk has been involved in, and written about, national policy and politics since 1961. His memoir of public life, Heroes, Hacks and Fools, was published by University of Washington Press. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 8:18 a.m. Inappropriate

These same remarks about throwing a monkey wrench into our staid City Hall could have been used as an endorsement for Mike McGinn. Although I disagreed with most of his policies (which, by the way, were no different than Murray's), I none the less voted for him as a disrupting force. It seems strange that all of a sudden, in the wake of adopting a district system for electing Council members and the growing likelihood of electing a Socialist firebrand to that austere body, folks should start lauding the virtues of disruption, contention, and just plain shaking things up. Well, we already had some of that with Mike McGinn. It's only now--after he's been defeated--that all these voices in favor of disruption speak up. How ironic!

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 8:41 a.m. Inappropriate

The mayor is the CEO of the city and is singularly responsible for keeping the machinery of government running. Big distinction from having disruptive voices on the board of directors.

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

You know when a self-styled insider like TVD is ready to shake the tree that things have gotten pretty intolerable. I think he is right. When the need is for new thinking across the board, one should be prepared to accept that some odd items will show up in the mix.

woofer

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

She is exactly what Seattle deserves.

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 12:51 p.m. Inappropriate

I agree with TVD, except that I am also a Republican. I voted for Sawant because I thought that she could do no harm as a caucus of one but could stir the pot quite a bit and this will be amusing...

RRM

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 1:01 p.m. Inappropriate

I also voted against Conlin. I voted against every incumbent, although the other city council incumbents all won easily. Thank god McGinn lost. And I am very happy that district elections won.

It will be interesting to see if this election changes anything at all, or if it will just be business as usual in Seattle. If many of the current City Council plan to retire in two years instead of running for election from a district, then they may have no incentive to change what they have been doing. They clearly have no concern whatsoever what the majority of Seattle residents want.

What a great change to no longer have a mayor who rides around on a bicycle.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

At least one of the major proponents and authors of Charter Amendment 19 (me) rides around on a bicycle. Does that change your opinion of its merits?

louploup

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 2:05 p.m. Inappropriate

It changes my opinion of you. lol Whoever you are.

District Elections is going to make it possible to stop road diets and bike lanes. And I don't think road diets and bike lanes are Murray's priorities, as they were McGinn's. They certainly are not priorities for the majority of Seattle voters.

Lincoln

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 3:14 p.m. Inappropriate

You should get your facts straight instead of just blathering on with contrived "war on cars" drivvel. The majority of Seattle supports road diets, as does Murray.

Road diets are a federally mandated pedestrian safety improvement and have very little to do with bicycles. They have everything to do with making the roads and crosswalks much safer for kids walking to school.

If you don't support road diets you are basically supporting the right of SUV drivers to run over our children.

andy

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

Andy,

Actually, if you support road diets you also support little old ladies dying of coronaries because the ambulance they're riding in is stuck in traffic.

There, fixed that for you.

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:01 a.m. Inappropriate

"bike lanes... are not priorities for the majority of Seattle voters." If you want traffic to move better, you'll support all actions that get people out of their cars and onto buses and bikes. Bike lanes are lots cheaper than regular road lanes.

louploup

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Actually, bubbleator, wrong. The speed is lower on road diet streets but the thoughput is greater, mostly due to the center turn lane. Also, autos will have room to pull over into the bike lanes to let the ambulance through!

andy

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:39 a.m. Inappropriate

"I support cycle tracks. I used them in Europe. If they think I am opposed, then they'll be surprised." -Ed Murray. This proves he is a bike rider.

http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/extra-fizz-the-mayors-race-and-the-loo-debate-october-2013

Plus, he has since come out in favor of the westlake cycle track.

andy

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

1) Throughput is no greater than it would be if you added left turn lights, and throughput is limited by road diets to at least some extent because they are not considered suitable (even by SDOT - aka - "Slowing Down our Traffic") for streets over a certain volume (the specific figure escapes me). In the case of eastbound NE 50th street, it has made throughput significantly worse in that direction (among other places). SDOT likes to say that traffic volumes are down, but arterial street congestion continues to get worse - and those of us who drive know that road diets and similar projects are a big part of why. Whether Murray pushes this bullshit as hard as McGone did remains to be seen.

2) I ride buses and streetcars on vacation, too, but in Seattle I drive. Apple, meet orange.

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

...ah Murray does ride a bike (sad trombone)

...Murray supports all the bicycle projects that McGinn supported (another sad trombone)

Looks like it is time to drive the lincoln continental into the sunset.

andy

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 1:48 p.m. Inappropriate

I wonder if my red Corvette would make it up the stairs to the Council Chamber and into it. Long live Detroit, which built America like the bike never has!

kmeyer

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 2:06 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't think you were paying attention to what Murray was saying.

Murray will listen to everyone -- not just the little bicyclist lobby.

Lincoln

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 8:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Citation for Ed being a frequent bike rider, please. Oh that's right, you're just making stuff up (and typing on your smartphone hand weaving though traffic one-handed on a fixie, too).

Posted Fri, Nov 15, 10:50 a.m. Inappropriate

"I support cycle tracks. I used them in Europe. If they think I am opposed, then they'll be surprised." -Ed Murray. This proves he is a bike rider.

http://www.seattlemet.com/news-and-profiles/publicola/articles/extra-fizz-the-mayors-race-and-the-loo-debate-october-2013

Plus, he has since come out in favor of the westlake cycle track.

andy

Posted Thu, Nov 14, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

I also voted for her, feeling that it is time for Conlin (a good man) to step down, and for new voices to be raised in a "policy debate" that has been no debate at all--either in the Council or from the "disruptive" Mayor's office.

I'm delighted to see McGinn go; while he was forward-thinking and adventurous in some very good ways, he utterly, miserably, failed to stimulate open discussion prior to pursuing his own solution-jumping, "I'm-doing-it-my-way" agenda. His staff is notorious for their screw-you, move-aside management of that agenda. I don't expect any of them, ever, to admit how badly they blew their huge opportunity to bring a new, exciting political stance to this city.

Sawant will, indeed, bring a feisty and "impractical" voice to the Council...but in classic fashion will articulate and help to legitimate positions that have long been marginalized and dismissed out of hand. Perhaps she, Licata, and (though I truly doubt it) O'brien could form a progressive group that could move the needle a bit. And we can only hope that the other Councilpersons who are next up for election, having seen the voters' willingness to stroll on the wild side, may begin to get off dead-center, too.

Seneca

Posted Sat, Nov 16, 6:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Two thumbs up for Ted van Dyke! Ms. Sawant's entry to the council will make it more of a true representative legislative body instead of a cadre of cozy insiders. Seattle will breathe better with district elections.

Posted Sat, Nov 16, 8:14 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for your comments. Since this was written, Richard Conlin has formally conceded the loss of his seat. On election night, when he thought he had won, he had announced that the following term would be his last...he and his family didn't want to go through another campaign. So I suspect he has feelings of relief mixed with the disappointment at his defeat.

Richard Conlin is an honest, conscientious person with a desire for public service. But it is time for our City Council to more fully reflect the range of interests and outlooks in the city. Other incumbents no doubt would have been defeated had they encountered competitive opposition candidacies. As I and others have noted, the shift to City Council election by district (except for two at-large seats) will hasten the necessary change. In meantime, Richard Conlin is due thanks for his service.

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

Seattle had a Pioneer Square theatre in the late 1980's featuring a play called "Angry Housewives". Welcome to 2013's version.

animalal

Posted Tue, Nov 19, 9:57 p.m. Inappropriate

You mean like "Eat your f*ing three minimum wage jobs"?

louploup

Posted Thu, Nov 21, 11:48 a.m. Inappropriate

As a conservative living in Seattle I'm never excited about local politics. I'm also one of those who believes that two-terms in public office is long enough to fulfill your civic duty and live off the tax-payer dime. However I could not force myself to vote for Sawant. Not because I disagreed with her platform or her re-hashed "socialist workers paradise" rhetoric, but because of all the idiots living here who will blindly follow her off a cliff. The "hipsters", as a co-worker often calls them, are what I consider the entitlement generation. They want to live in the city, have the latest electronic gadget and own a brand new hybrid on a barista salary. They do not have the ambition to work hard or better themselves and feel that society owes them something. They are not the single mother trying to survive off a job at McDonalds who Sawant talks about. These "hipsters" listen to Sawants rhetoric and see it as a way to "stick it to the man" to get the stuff they desire. This is the danger we have now unleashed by electing Sawant. Besides, do you really think her political ambitions will end with city council?

bsteele

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