Familiar names apply for Sally Clark's council seat

By David Kroman
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City Council elections are approaching

By David Kroman

The applications for Sally Clark’s vacant Seattle City Council seat are in, all 44 of them. And there are some recognizable names: former council members Jan Drago and Peter Steinbrueck; Director of the city’s Human Services Department, John Okamoto; former Director of Washington State Ferries, David Moseley; and, most surprisingly, Howard S. Wright III, the Seattle business leader whose family company constructed the Space Needle.

A few months after Clark announced she would not seek re-election, she surprised the council again with her decision to leave seven months before the end of her term to take a job as the director of regional and community relations at the University of Washington. Her last day was Monday, April 13.

The process for selecting a replacement is light on protocol; the only requirement is that the position be filled within 20 days of the elected council member’s exit. So Council President Tim Burgess decided to set some guidelines for the selection process, deciding that the appointee be a "caretaker" who will not seek election next fall, and that he or she come with enough experience to hit the ground running.

Jan Drago certainly fits that bill. She served on the council for more than 15 years, retiring after a fifth-place finish in the August 2009 primary for Seattle mayor. While on the council, Drago chaired its Transportation Committee. Since her council days, Drago has remained a strong voice on matters of city planning and managing. She co-founded Sustainable Seattle, represented Pioneer Square in the Historic South Downtown organization and served on the board of the Alliance for Pioneer Square.

Peter Steinbrueck was elected to the council in 1997 and served until 2007. He chaired first the Housing and Human Services Committee, then the Parks, Education, and Libraries Committee, and finally, the Urban Development and Planning Committee. He was council president in 2002 and 2003. Steinbrueck ran for mayor in 2012, but failed to advance past the primary, eventually endorsing Mayor Ed Murray.

Since his council exit, Steinbrueck founded Steinbrueck Urban Strategies, a development company with a focus on sustainability. The company was recently commissioned by the city to evaluate Seattle's health. The analysis can be found here.

Even though they are without council experience, David Moseley and John Okamoto will likely get second looks. Moseley served as the director of the Washington State Ferries from 2008 to 2014 before resigning. Before he was appointed as the interim Director of the city’s Human Services Department last July, Okamoto was Executive Director of the Washington Education Association for six years.

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Howard Wright is perhaps the most surprising applicant. Wright is a famous Northwest name, thanks in large part to the more than 100-year-old Howard S. Wright construction company, which is responsible for developing the Space Needle. The company was sold to Balfour Beatty out of the U.K. in 2011. Wright is currently the chairman of SH Worldwide, a meeting and event management company. He recently co-chaired the mayor’s $15 minimum wage committee, a civic rarity for the Wrights, who tend to function in the background.

A couple of controversies surround Wright, mostly having to do with the Wright company’s involvement with managing Seattle Center. First, the hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 8 called for a boycott of the Chihuly glass museum in 2013 because the union accused the company of failing to deliver on the promises of a playground and a gallery for Northwest artists. More recently, the Space Needle Corporation has been accused of not paying its employees properly.

Other notable candidates for Sally Clark's seat include former council member Heidi Wills and Clark's former aide David Yeaworth.

A majority of sitting City Council members must approve the final candidate, so don't expect a dark horse to win Clark's seat. And although the term is only seven months long, council members — and voters — seem ready to move forward with action on housing, so it's likely they'll opt for someone who can step right in and be productive. "We cannot slow down," said Burgess.

After reviewing applications, the City Council will generate a short list by next Monday, April 20th. Each finalist will then give a three-minute presentation to the council the following Friday. The council will announce Clark's replacement on Monday, April 27th with a majority vote.

Correction: An earlier draft said Steinbrueck was appointed in 1997. In fact, he was elected.


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About the Authors & Contributors

David Kroman

David Kroman

David Kroman is formerly a reporter at Crosscut, where he covered city politics.