Mary Lou Sanelli
Mary Lou Sanelli

At the start of every mayoral election, there are new sparks of hope. These sparks may be emotional or symbolic, but either way, candidates elicit sparks. And sparks are many things, but they always shed a little light. Which helps us to see our way forward.

And that’s what we want, isn’t it? To see our way forward. To feel like we are doing something to move beyond our mistakes. Because a city is fragile, such a fragile thing. A city can fall faster than anyone imagines. But, like I said, new hope!

I wanted to like Lorena Gonzales, I really did. But her effects on me were two: First, I felt like she was putting our city at further risk, and I sensed a worrisome threat I could never completely shake off.

Secondly, and far worse, she, a few other council members, our out-going mayor and the head of Decriminalize Seattle who still wants added cuts to the budget of Seattle’s Police Department, well, these women have caused me to really question myself. I thought women would do a better job.

By now, I think most of us know we cannot de-fund our way out of a crisis. Most people want a police response when they call 9-1-1. Because what does it really mean to have the police feel under appreciated, underfunded? Whatever it means, it is never good for a city, and the people who talk as if it is have almost never lived anywhere where this is so. Given the high stakes of a lawless city, who in his right mind wants to be a social experiment?

The point, or points, I mean to bring up is that from the very beginning, I feared these women would put their ideals above diplomacy, which they eventually did. I used to tell myself, any day now, I am going to feel confident that they know what they are doing. After a while, I just had to admit that gender has little to do with leadership skill. I mean it’s a fine enough word: gender — rife with significance, but I will now vote based on one human being at a time, regardless of it. Which is why, the day before the election I was texting everyone I knew, asking them, pleading with them, to vote for Bruce Harrell.

There are days, like today, when I see so clearly how being a visiting dance teacher has given me new perspective on our political challenges. See, even the most rundown town can have a ballet studio. And the thing that is most troubling to me is how rundown so much of our state is.

I’d anticipated seeing a few towns that are down on their luck, but I didn’t think there would be so many, which is really how it is out there.

There are exceptions, such as college towns like Ellensburg. And Walla Walla has reinvented itself into a wine-tasting mecca, a little gem of Syrah success, triggering investors to buy up surrounding farmland and plow under the fruit and nut trees to make room for more and more vines while TRUMP 2024 signs shoot up as fast as vineyard stakes.

Why? Because the next generation who thought they’d be orchard farmers feel left out of the tech-affluent, investment, corporate culture of the coast.

There is a sense of despair when the only jobs to hope for are ones that are going to have you filling orders for Amazon in a windowless concrete hanger.

This is what I saw, and what I felt I understood, in eastern Washington: that people are put off by anything that seems to stand for “socialism,” and a tightfisted resistance to anything that might in fact be positive for their town if it presented by the “other side,” or, as a father of one of my choreography students put it and not all that jokingly, “you crazy folks in Seattle.”

Friends in the city are always saying things like, “What is wrong with these Trump supporters? I just don’t get it.”

Well, now, I do get it. I also get that some of these friends don’t fully understand what employment-hopelessness feels like. But those that know what it feels like, know. My last tour helped me to realize there is another flicker of hope that people will put their faith in when they see no other spark of light: blind trust.

I admire politicians who can face up to accountability on both sides, but I don’t meet a lot of them lately, do you?

I don’t know why I’m asking you this, except that I don’t believe Jenny Durkan didn’t run again because of threats; I think she gave up.

Anyone in the public eye receives threats. I’ve received a few just for writing this column. I once felt so threatened by a man in Magnolia I had to involve the police. I hadn’t felt so scared since enduring a peeping Tom while living in Port Townsend. I mean, I wanted to buy a gun.

Which makes me remember what a friend said after he recently did buy one to protect his Pioneer Square business. Gun sales are up exponentially in Seattle, which always happens when homicides are exponentially up (and they are), so he wondered aloud — then laughed at his own joke — if the real truth of our current City Council is that they are undercover agents for the NRA. I laughed, too, not wanting to admit, even to myself, the sudden constriction in my throat.

 

Mary Lou Sanelli’s latest collection of essays, “Every Little Thing,” has been nominated for a Pacific Northwest Book Award and a Washington State Book Award.