by Sharayah Lane
Fifteen candidates hopeful to fill the empty seat on the Seattle City Council sat in the front of the room at Tuesday’s public forum. The purpose of the event was to allow community members to hear from candidates about their plans for the council’s vacant position 8 seat if they are selected for the job.
The Seattle City Council will vote Friday on who will fill the empty seat of Councilmember Tim Burgess, who left to take the place of former Mayor Ed Murray after his resignation following the fifth allegation of sexual abuse against him. Whoever is chosen will serve for the 72 day remainder of this term when one of the most important votes will take place: next year’s city budget.
The panel was an array of community members including a Seattle police officer, a UW employee, a Republican and community activists. The evening’s agenda included panel introductions, short answers to two questions per panel member, and an audience Q&A.
Leading up to the meeting it was widely believed that former Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata was the frontrunner for Fridays vote, but the event allowed others to get their views and voices heard. During the event Licata’s responses were kept largely short and dispassionate while longtime community organizer and “survivor of 25 years of chronic homelessness” and now “10 years of civil engagement” ChrisTianna ObeySumner seemed to have the clearest responses and appeared to resonate most with the audience throughout the night.
“I no longer want to be complicit in a violent system so I am here to amplify voices tonight,” she said. “Homelessness is one component of people’s identity. Affordable housing applies only to people who are struggling with poverty and not homelessness as a whole.”
Other responses to questions were called out of bounds of the city budget or what would be realistic for the hired member of the council to accomplish in their short tenure. Applicant Doug Neilson shared his “35 things in 35 days plan” as he calculated that the council member would have 35 working days total.
Applicant Lewis Jones, who often went over time and had to be told by the whole audience his time was up, wanted to focus resources on increasing the number of police to deal with the city’s “most important issue which is crime” and putting “colored” officers in black communities. Rainier Valley resident Kristen Harris-Talley focused on the budget in responding to a question about homelessness saying, “we need to look at many parts of the budget” to determine where some of our biggest problems with homelessness are stemming from and how to strategically target those areas financially.
In the past, the council has appointed replacements for vacant seats. The decision to have a public forum and allow applicants was a first and came to be through a late change in procedure, largely the work of local organizing group Transparent Seattle.
“We did all the work organizing this event because we believe that it is important for the people of Seattle to be involved in the process at this very important time of voting on the budget,” said Day, who is a member of Transparent Seattle and one of the organizers of the event. “A really big part of this was having councilmembers O’Brien, Sawant, and Herbold’s support.”
Transparent Seattle were concerned about a new council member being assigned during the critical budget process and advocated for the application process. They were also largely responsible for organizing the public forum.
Two city councilmembers were among the audience. Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, who were proponents of the application process, listened at the forum without making public comment.
“The very fact that we are having a community forum today where community members who are marginalized and largely shut out of these processes, that in itself is a huge victory for the social movement,” said Sawant in a comment before the forum. “Through the people’s housing movement, housing justice is the burning need of our city. Tonight I’d like to see community members ask clear questions and demand clear answers from candidates.”
All the applications submitted have been made public and the city council is expected to release their decision for the new appointee Friday afternoon.
Sharayah Lane is an active seeker of good stories and social justice in Seattle. She is a new mama who loves spending time with her son Ian and watching him discover the world. She enjoys long naps, good books, and enjoying the beauty of the PNW.
featured image by Sharayah Lane