Before a crowded council chambers, the eight finalists to finish Sally Clark’s term on the Seattle City Council carried out what were essentially job interviews in public. A majority of the conversations centered on issues of affordable housing, while dipping occasionally into the various sitting council members’ favorite issues.
The candidates were granted three minutes to make their case (videos here). After each presentation, the eight council members took 15 minutes to ask questions.
Unless there is an unlikely shuffling of committee chairs, whichever candidate is chosen next Monday to file the remainder of the term will take over Clark’s position as chair of the Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency Committee. The appointed candidate will serve until this November's election.
John Okamoto, the recently replaced interim director of Seattle Human Services Department, presented first and it quickly became clear that the event would in some ways be a de facto continuation of socialist Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s Affordable Housing Town Hall the night before -- with her supporters waving red signs and hissing or cheering to express their feelings.
Okamoto’s answers to questions were considered and steady, likely the result of years in government. He spoke of potential and need, advocating for expanding partnerships with non-profit organizations to better cater to homeless and affordable housing needs. In terms of housing, he spoke mostly in broad generalities.
In what would prove to be a theme, Sawant took quite some time pointing out that he had not attended her town hall the night before. Further, she questioned his earlier work with the Port of Seattle and inquired about a supposed $40,000 unspent surplus in the HSD.
When Sheley Secrest, a policy analyst with the Metropolitan Urban League of Seattle, took the podium, she spoke in much more flowery language. As council members asked about transportation and housing, her responses reflected activism, advocating for the poor and minority communities of Seattle. Again, Sawant dominated the council members’ side of the table, taking four of the 15 minutes in asking Secrest whether she would have voted against King County’s new youth jail. Secrest’s response was that, yes, she would have opposed the jail.
Of the eight finalists, some consider former Councilmember Jan Drago as the favorite, largely because of her experience. However, the 15-year veteran appeared uncomfortable. Her answers largely lacked specifics, except for when she suggested Seattle annex White Center to create more affordable housing within Seattle. As her time ran out, she appeared to acknowledge her vagueness, saying, “Look, I’m here to carry out all of your agendas. I don’t have one of my own.”
Alec Stephens, formerly a leader in Sound Transit’s diversity efforts, showed enough eloquence to prompt Councilmember Tom Rasmussen to wonder whether he could be the council’s speechwriter. He answered a question from Councilmember Bruce Harrell, chair of the Public Safety Committee, by promoting greater police oversight and pleased Council President Tim Burgess when he said he had the guts to say no to developers.
Sharon Maeda, a longtime Asian American community advocate, and Sharon Lee, founding Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute, each garnered cheers when coming out in favor of rent control and charging developers per square foot fees if they don’t build affordable housing.
“We’ll have to do a housing levy, right?” said Lee, cautioning that Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed transportation levy of nearly $1 billion might spook voters away from more levies.
Maeda got laughs and applause when asked about enforcing wage theft, suggesting publishing offenders names like some municipalities do with patrons of prostitutes.
Noel Frame, a former candidate for the Washington State House, pledged, similarly to Drago, not specifics, but cooperation. “I have no personal agenda,” she said. “I just think this would be a really great job.”
And the final presenter, former Washington Ferries Director David Moseley, appeared among the most poised, expressing specific confidence in how he'd help form the budget. “The ferries,” he said, “have no permanent funding source and I negotiated them through that."
The evening concluded with a full 90 minutes of public comment. The council will take the weekend to consider the candidates before voting at the end of Monday’s full council meeting.
This was originally published on April 24 at 9:25 p.m.