Tim Burgess to Kshama Sawant: Keep it brief

An awkward exchange at Monday's Seattle City Council briefing pointed to the emergence of possible tensions among council members.
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Kshama Sawant wants colleagues to take a public stand on Gaza.

An awkward exchange at Monday's Seattle City Council briefing pointed to the emergence of possible tensions among council members.

In a somewhat awkward moment during Monday’s City Council briefing, Council President Tim Burgess tried repeatedly to rein-in Socialist Kshama Sawant. The rookie councilmember was working her way through a hodgepodge of policy topics, from ridesharing to food stamp cuts to wage theft. Eventually, Burgess cut her off mid-sentence.

The meeting was intended to give councilmembers a chance to inform each other about their committee work and personal initiatives. Staff members from the Office of Intergovernmental Relations, who lobby state lawmakers on Seattle’s behalf, were also at the table providing an update on their work in Olympia. Burgess, responsible for keeping the meeting on schedule, pushed to keep conversations and comments at the briefing, well… brief.

Early in the meeting, as councilmembers discussed the now months-long effort to regulate ridesharing, Sawant weighed in. She said that as the council considers how to regulate companies like Lyft and Uber, its central focus should be looking out for “working people” who drive taxis, flat-rate cars and rideshare vehicles. Sawant also noted that financial corporations like Goldman Sachs back rideshare companies. “We're not talking about a level playing field,” she said. 

Councilmember Sally Bagshaw pushed back a bit, recommending that the council also consider the importance of traffic congestion reduction and citywide transportation options. “I'd really hate to pit one of these social goods against the other,” she said.

Burgess, with an eye on time, cut off the conversation, encouraging members to attend a Friday committee meeting on ridesharing regulations. The council moved on to other business.

But, when given another chance to make remarks, Sawant again raised ridesharing.

“The idea that demand has skyrocketed for expensive convenience is not in line with the evidence from the recession,” she said. “In fact, demand, you know, has gone down and I know that there's a study that shows that, which I don't have access to right now, so I can't talk about it.”

“But if you talk to just taxi drivers who are on the street,” she continued, “they can see how their daily business is changing and they will tell you that, actually, that's not correct. And just from an economic stand point it doesn't seem—”

“So councilmember Sawant,” Burgess interrupted, “I think we've put that discussion off until Friday's committee meeting, so if you have any other updates—”

“I'm just getting to the next points,” she said.

"Please," Burgess said.

Sawant went on to discuss the Senate’s failure to extend unemployment benefits and the Farm Bill signed last week by President Barack Obama, which included food stamp cuts.

“Ultimately the lobby of the super-wealthy is going to outweigh us, and so we need to build mass movements,” she said. “I wanted to announce that Feb. 15, Saturday, will be a big day for $15now.org, the grassroots campaign that is underway and that I'm supporting.”

Sawant described some of the day’s planned events, which will include music, workshops, education and discussion about how to counter arguments designed to “demonize” minimum wage increases.

Burgess tried to interrupt. “Ok, thank you,” he said.

But Sawant carried on, saying that she wanted to see if representatives from the police department could brief the council on wage theft reporting. “A couple of weeks ago, a local restaurant worker — ”

“Councilmember Sawant, excuse me,” Burgess said. “You can take that matter up with councilmember Harrell and if he — ”

“I just wanted, because this is the public meeting, I wanted to — ”

“No, we're done with your section now,” Burgess said. “I'm sorry.”


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