The Seattle City Council announced eight finalists on Monday. One of them will serve out the remaining months of former council member Sally Clark's term. Expect a hectic week of politicking ahead by this large field of candidates.
The finalists are: Jan Drago, John Okamoto, Sharon Lee, Shelley Secrest, David Moseley, Noel Frame, Sharon Maeda and Alec Stephens.
At a closed-door executive meeting last Friday, council members discussed the 44 applications for Clark’s seat. They then voted on each; any candidate with three or more votes was added to the short list.
Council President Tim Burgess has suggested that the candidates should not seek re-election and should have an intimate knowledge of the issues in Clark’s Housing Affordability, Human Services and Economic Resiliency Committee.
Last week, Crosscut reported on a few of the original long list’s more noteworthy names. Three are now finalists: former Councilmember and mayoral candidate Drago; Okamoto, who just finished serving as interim director of the city Human Services Department; and former Washington State Ferries director Moseley. Surprise applicant, Howard S. Wright III, who co-chaired the mayor’s $15 minimum wage committee and whose family’s development company built the Space Needle, did not make the short list.
Former Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck withdrew his application last week, saying it did not align with his career goals and making a pitch for a younger "woman of color" like Secrest.
Secrest is a lawyer and activist. She works as a policy analyst for the Metropolitan Urban League of Seattle. Her selection likely comes with the support of the council’s left-leaning members, Kshama Sawant, Mike O’Brien or Nick Licata. Although her focus appears to be mostly on police and justice issues, she says in her cover letter that she worked to develop housing in Renton “without displacing vulnerable, low-income residents.”
Similarly on the left-end of the spectrum is Lee, who is the director of the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI). LIHI promotes housing policies that benefit the homeless. It also owns and operates several affordable housing complexes.
Stephens is a retired lawyer. He worked for years for the Regional Transit Authority, later renamed Sound Transit, as the diversity program manager, promoting priority hiring for minority and women in the department.
Frame’s resume is heavy on politics, working for Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell in the early 2000s. She has spent most of her time since then working as a campaign strategies consultant. In 2012 she lost a bid for state Legislature. This winter, Frame was a finalist in Crosscut’s Community Idea Lab on education.
In 1994, Maeda worked in the White House as an assistant liaison to the Asian-American community. Most relevant to her status as a finalist is her experience on the Department of Housing and Urban Development as a community outreach officer.
For many, including Real Change Director Tim Harris, housing is the next big issue on Seattle’s horizon. “Housing will be very hot over the next few months,” he said.
Mayor Ed Murray announced an ambitious goal last month to produce 20,000 new affordable housing units in the next 10 years. His task force, the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, is currently working on a plan. Because housing is so hot, whichever candidate is chosen to chair Clark's committee could be in a position of real influence. For that reason, said Harris, the choice will likely be a safe one. “I think [the council members] are going to look for a consensus candidate who won’t raise alarm bells.”
It’s one thing to get three council votes, but a majority five (out of only eight) greatly decreases the chance of a bold or risky selection. Who are the consensus builders? Although he likes Lee and Secrest, Harris said he doesn't think they fit that description.
Drago would make sense considering her experience as a council member, and her relationship with Clark who thanked Drago in her final speech before the council.
Okamoto would be unlikely to stir up controversy; he told Crosscut he was committed to Clark’s constituents. He is a friend of Ed Murray’s and would be a good ally for the mayor in the council. In fact, Okamoto said Murray encouraged him to apply.
Steinbrueck was encouraged by the finalists. “Out of the eight,” he said, “only one has prior legislative experience, so the council has clearly decided that is not a pre-condition and is extending the opportunity to some younger people and women of color, as well as some older, more seasoned choices.”
The council will hear presentations from each of the eight finalists on Friday. Until then, look for a good deal of advocacy on behalf of individual candidates. Frame, for instance, immediately took to social media to urge her supporters to attend the Friday presentation.
The council plans to select the new council member next Monday.