The Gay Catholic & The Socialist: Income inequality’s uneasy odd couple
by Bill Lucia
Kshama Sawant speaks at her inauguration. Credit: Allyce Andrew
Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle’s newest council member, Socialist Kshama Sawant, were sworn into office at City Hall on Monday during a packed inauguration ceremony. The pair of newly elected officials both say they’re committed to reducing income inequality in Seattle, although the points they emphasized in their speeches differed.
Pledging to "help those who live on the margins of life in this great city,” Murray said Seattle should solve its greatest challenges by working together as a community. He derided political posturing and, referencing Franklin Delano Roosevelt, called for “bold and persistent experimentation.”
Sawant, a crowd favorite, came on stage to raucous applause and pulled no punches as she lambasted capitalism for failing “the 99 percent,” and called it a system in which “the market is god and everything is sacrificed on the altar of profit.”
Murray, the city’s first openly gay mayor, took the oath of office from his husband and partner of 22 years, Michael Shiosaki, and U.S. ambassador to China, Gary F. Locke.
“We are the heirs of a special, great progressive legacy,” Murray said during his roughly 15-minute address. But later he warned that Seattle has become “fragmented by race, by gender, by economics, by geography and by education.”
The mayor expressed optimism that Seattle’s government could overcome these divisions and thrive.
“The ability of government to function has been called into question; I reject that cynicism,” he said. “Government can function again and Seattle can lead the way.”
While the effects of the Great Recession are fading, the 53rd mayor’s term will be no walk in the park. Murray will contend with the tricky politics of a minimum wage hike, the multi-billion dollar Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement and federally mandated police reforms.
Nicole Grant, vice president of the Washington State Labor Council and an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union leader, administered Sawant’s oath of office. Peppered throughout the crowd were at least 30 people toting signs that called for a $15 minimum wage, the signature issue of Sawant's campaign.
“Working people need a new political party,” Sawant said. "Political pundits are asking about me: Will she compromise? Can she work with others? Of course. I will meet and discuss with representatives of the establishment."
"But when I do," she continued, "I will bring the needs and aspirations of working-class people to every table I sit at."
Three other returning City Council members — Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Sally Bagshaw — and City Attorney Peter Holmes also took oaths of office.
Licata, first elected in 1998, is beginning his fifth term as a City Council member.
“I think it’s the greatest job in Seattle,” he said during his address. “City Council is where the action is, and there will be a lot this year.”
Murray planned his day around two themes: Service and community. At 7:30 a.m., he served pancakes and eggs at Mary’s Place, a downtown day center that provides a range of services, like meals and medical care, to about 140 homeless women and children each day. The mayor first stopped by Mary's Place when he was campaigning.
After that, he and his new staff members and department heads went to a specially arranged showing of the "RACE: Are We So Different?" exhibit at Pacific Science Center. “I’m here today to learn,” Murray said. “That’s going to be our approach to race.”
Later in the afternoon, Murray attended Mass at the Chapel of Saint Ignatius at Seattle University.
The choices Murray made about how to spend the earlier part of his inauguration day were echoed in his speech, which stressed working together.
“Seattle has always been a place where we believe we can overcome our differences,” Murray said during the address. “Our diversity is our strength.”
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