Yes, we know it's summer and you'd rather be picnicking on the beach. But there's an important local election coming up. Five City Council seats are up for grabs. In fact, with the recent decision to move the primaries back to August, it's less than a month away - Aug. 21. You'd never know it, though, given the lack of media coverage of these races.
Normally we'd decry such a lack of attention. But after following the candidates around, reviewing their websites and literature and talking with some of them... well perhaps there's a reason for such a blackout. With only a few exceptions, it's all rather boring and the choices are limited. Incumbents and challengers seem too prone to mouthing platitudes rather than offering real substance.
Of the five council seats up for election, only three - David Della's, Jean Godden's and retiring Peter Steinbrueck's open seat - are truly contested. Incumbent Tom Rasmussen has no opponent while Sally Clark faces only weak challengers with no funding, no name familiarity and no knowledge of the issues.
ONE OPEN SEAT
For Steinbrueck's seat we've got five candidates of which only three are mounting credible campaigns. Social service consultant Venus Velazquez has some good points. No doubt she'd advocate for more funding for low-income housing and service providers. But she seems to dismiss the neighborhoods as nothing more than a bunch of NIMBY's. Then there's Seattle businessman Bruce Harrell, who touts his former prowess on the football field and his support from the downtown establishment. Last but not least, retired professor Al Runte is the only candidate in any of the contested races truly trying to represent Seattle neighborhoods. He speaks out clearly for example on key transit, parks and fiscal issues. But he does not seem adequately tuned to the city's continuing loss of low-income housing or issues of homelessness.
In another race we've got Tim Burgess, a former police officer, taking on incumbent David Della. Burgess is the "let's get tough on crime" guy, long obsessed with the four-year-old Rick's Strip Club affair. Like dozens of other aspiring politicians over the years, he mouths what he thinks people want to hear while catering to the status quo. Della did stick his neck out with his strong and early support for the elevated viaduct option. But other than that, try getting him to tell you where he stands on a specific issue -especially any with even a smidgeon of controversy. We've never been able to get a commitment out of him on housing or homeless matters.
ONE REAL RACE
Jean Godden's facing a real challenge from Joe Szwaja, with Lauren Briel and Robert Sondheim trailing far behind. Four years ago, Godden squeaked into office on the strength of high name recognition and her opponent's involvement in "Strippergate." She also raised, and continues to raise, oodles of cash from the corporate establishment. Godden touts her role in rolling back electric rates as chair of the Council's Energy Committee.
But most of the rollback grew out of commitments made by City Light and the Mayor before she had a hand in the process. Meanwhile, there isn't a subsidy or a zoning change requested by Paul Allen's Vulcan Inc. that she hasn't fully supported.
Most importantly in our mind, Godden has been absent when housing advocates have called for legislation to control runaway condominium conversions, demolition of low-income housing, and runaway gentrification.
Her opponent, Joe Szwaja is to date the only candidate in these contested races willing to give our growing housing crisis the attention it deserves. While we see much to like in Szwaja, we nevertheless remain troubled by a lack of specifics in his call for "affordability" and "sustainability"- phrases all the candidates are using.
We're still looking for candidates who'll be far more explicit in speaking to those constituencies increasingly left out at City Hall.
For example, we want a candidate who will:
• Support tenant rights by promoting a return to a mandatory code enforcement program, a moratorium on conversions and demolitions, and give nonprofits first crack at buying low income apartments before an owner can sell to a speculator or condo converter.
• Uphold neighborhood plans and prohibit upzones unless existing low-income housing is protected and the neighborhoods approve
• Require developers to sign community benefit agreements committing them to provide livable wages and affordable housing before they can get a permit or land use change.
• Ensure police accountability by supporting a true independent review board with subpoena power and real enforcement teeth.
• Put protecting our greenbelts, open space and tree canopy over the prerogatives of developers.
• Support the "green alternative" four-lane-only SR-520 and oppose any high-level bridge or any plan that does irrevocable damage to the Arboretum.
• Support use of our parks for all, preserving them for passive use rather than giving them over for on-going commercial use.
• Redirect transportation dollars now pouring into South Lake Union back out to our neighborhoods.
• Place caps or other reasonable limits on runway downtown development to ensure manageable levels of growth and make developers, not taxpayers, pay for new infrastructure needed to support their developments.
Our message to candidates: Stop speaking in mind numbing generalities. Be specific in responding to these issues and say so in your leaflets, websites, and in the voters guide. Let us know how you are different from the run-of-the-mill politicians who dominate the Seattle political landscape.
That's what city residents are crying out for in this and future elections.
John Fox and Carolee Colter lead the Seattle Displacement Coalition. Reach them at editor@capitolhill times.com.