by Chetanya Robinson
A new Seattle City Council was sworn in Monday, bringing four new faces behind the dais, three members returning for new terms, and with them, perhaps, a more progressive direction for Seattle politics.
Council member Kshama Sawant began Monday’s meeting as temporary Council President by noting cheerfully (and to many laughs from the room) that a socialist is now the most senior Council member, in her view a sign of the zeitgeist and of working-class power. Seattle now has “the most progressive City Council in recent times,” Sawant said.
New Council member Tammy Morales of District 2, who identifies as progressive, was sworn in to represent most of the South End, including Beacon Hill, Columbia City, the Rainier Valley, Georgetown, as well as portions of SoDo, and the Chinatown International District.
Small parts of the South End also lie in the districts of returning Council members Lisa Herbold (District 1), who represents South Park and West Seattle, and Sawant, whose District 3 includes the Central District and parts of North Beacon Hill.
Other new Council members sworn in Monday were Alex Pedersen in District 4, Dan Strauss in District 6, Andrew Lewis in District 7, and returning Council member Debora Juarez of District 5.
Before the swearing-ins, Council member Lorena González, who represents the city at large, was quickly selected among her peers to serve as new Council President through 2021.
Echoing a common theme in their remarks after being sworn in, most Council members vowed to focus on making Seattle a more equitable city affordable to all residents.
Morales received applause from the room after she was introduced by González, and was sworn in by her mother, with her husband, sister-in-law, and children by her side.
“Let me be frank – I was elected to repair the harm done to our Black and brown communities in this city,” Morales began, after reading from the City Charter about the government’s obligation to provide services and meet the needs of the people.
She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King’s observations about people of color suffering disproportionately from poverty, and mentioned the displacement of South End communities who had historically been impacted by the discriminatory residential practice of redlining.
District 2 is one of the most diverse relative to the rest of the city; it’s 20 percent Black, 33 percent Asian and 9 percent Hispanic, according to 2014 estimates from market research firm Nielsen, as reported and mapped by the Seattle Times.
Fifty percent of District 2 residents speak a language other than English at home, compared to 23 percent city-wide.
Morales called for a focus on anti-displacement strategies, including community ownership of land. Driven by her interest in addressing displacement, Morales plans to chair the Community Economic Development Committee, which oversees legislation relating to economic development, small business, civil rights and equitable development, and arts and culture. She will also vice-chair the Sustainability & Renters’ Rights Committee, and serve as a member of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee and the Transportation & Utilities Committee.
A former legislative director for a Texas state Representative, Morales moved to Seattle 20 years ago and has worked as a community activist for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, and served on the Seattle Human Rights Commission.
She first ran for the District 2 seat in 2015, losing to Bruce Harrell by just 344 votes.
Her experiences showed her that the economy “is not working for working people in this city,” she said during her remarks, calling for more investments in job training and education for young people and support for small businesses.
Morales called for returning wealth and power to communities. “We must reject a scarcity mentality that asks little of the wealthy while asking our communities to fight over crumbs,” she said.
“History tells us that when marginalized people demand their right to their city, they face resistance from the powerful,” Morales concluded. “I was not elected to tell my community to wait, and I was not elected to tell you all the things that we can’t do.”
Morales emphasized the power of local government to shape people’s quality of life, and the need for a strong vision. “We can do this – we are a creative city full of talented community members.”
Council member Herbold, sworn in for a second term in District 1, invoked her campaign priorities to double investments in permanent supportive housing to address homelessness, making taxes less regressive, and to support an equitable development initiative project in South Park and an affordable, transit-oriented development in Delridge.
Council member Sawant will be formally sworn in for her third term on January 13 at Washington Hall, but she spoke briefly about looking forward to working with Council members on making Seattle more affordable, and a battle to tax big business to build new publicly-owned, permanently-affordable social housing.