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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Angry White Man

Posted by on January 25 at 16:44 PM

Recent City Council hopeful Aaron Shuman - a white male who didn’t show up for the six-hour public-testimony-a-thon earlier this month - is contemplating a lawsuit against the city of Seattle for discriminating against non-minority, non-female council candidates in its process for choosing a successor to Jim Compton, who resigned in December. (At least four members have said publicly that the winning candidate would likely be a minority woman.) Right-wing blogger Stefan Sharkansky alluded to the news on Monday; this morning, Shuman e-mailed me to say that he was still seriously considering a suit against the council:

Basically, the crux of the matter is this:  Councilman Peter Steinbrueck said [in the Seattle Times], “It seems like the council is headed in the direction of [appointing] a woman of color. It seemed to be the momentum of this process, and I think it’s going to stick”.  Well, since he is one of the ones appointing the interim councilmember, he is stating that he has a racial and sexual preference.  That preference is counter to the spirit, if no the letter, of RCW 49.60.400: “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.”

Two problems with Shuman’s argument: 1) The last time the council appointed a council member, in 1997, all the finalists were men, and all but Richard McIver and Bruce Bentley were white. (McIver eventually won the appointment.) At the time, the council consisted of seven women and two men, including John Manning, who resigned. So if the council had a legitimate interest then in promoting diversity in its ranks (by narrowing the list to an all-male field of finalists) why is that interest illegitimate when the group it benefits is minority women? And where were angry white men like Shuman in 1997, when they could just as legitimately have cried discrimination?

2) Shuman isn’t qualified to serve on the council anyway. His resume, which lists his most recent address as Kyrgyzstan (where he works as a contractor for the US Air Force), says he is “seeking a full-time position in voice or data network installation, operations, and maintenance.” In his brief letter of interest, Shuman laments that “the quiet, peaceful and firendly city I grew up in is not as it once was,” but does not claim to possess any qualifications for the position.

Even if Shuman’s lawsuit was ultimately unsuccessful, a temporary injunction could leave the council with just eight members — exactly the situation that has prevented them from moving forward with their business in the month since Compton left office.

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ugh...that's ridiculous! It drives me nuts that someone who is (a) not qualified (would like to reiterate Josh's frustration as to how the unqualified really muddied down the process) and (b) didn't care enough to show up, would have the guts to make that sort of claim. I'm sorry, but if you didn't show up for any other job interview, would you EVER think that you could file any lawsuit.

It would be interesting to see how a court would balance an injunction with the Council’s bylaws that essentially mandate a candidate be chosen within those 20 days (lest we put up with a daily reminder of how bureaucratic and dumb this whole thing is. I don’t know what would be the point of an injunction. Sure, if he were arguably qualified, an injunction could prevent someone less deserving from getting the position over him. But, in this case, even if they had picked 5 white men, I don’t think he would have been one of them. I’d think a court would be loathe to hold up the process for something that’s basically moot.

It's a dumb way to pick a council person. What I'd like to find out is if its an illegal way to pick a council person. I don't care if the guy is qualified or not. It would still be discrimination against all the other white guys who were qualified who didn't make the cut.

Whether it’s dumb or not, I think it’s a pretty common process. I think for many elected positions, there’s some sort of provision that someone appoints the replacement (until the next election). We could switch to Mayor Gridlock picking a replacement? And doing a special election, even rushed, could mean some major slowdown for the Council. At least if we had some sort of districts, there’d be more logic behind the selection process.

I think that he could have a point about council members blatantly expressing a race/gender preference, and it would be nice to have an answer to your question, but I don’t think a lawsuit is the best way to address the matter, especially not with the timing. A lawsuit is expensive and takes a lot of time–it would be a big drain on the already limited resources of the City. I think it would be preferable to ask the AG’s office or the City’s Human Rights Commission (especially b/c they might be the first ones to hear such a case anyway) for an opinion on the matter. If they think that the Council crossed the line, then the council could work to change things in the bylaws to prevent it from happening.

Council members could possibly make the argument that, because the candidate won’t be chosen via election, they wanted to make a choice that would help the Council to be more representative of the City.

And you know what? Even if it were illegal, it doesn’t mean that it would stop it in the future. It would just be more subtle.

Erica, please. This isn't about "angry white men" upset because the new councilmember won't be a white guy. It's about the council using the wrong criteria to fill the vacancy. You wrote: if the council had a legitimate interest [in 1997]in promoting diversity in its ranks (by narrowing the list to an all-male field of finalists) why is that interest illegitimate when the group it benefits is minority women?

I wasn't living here in 1997. But I disagree with the characterization that the council has a legitimate interest in trying to "balance" the gender and racial make up of the council when filling a vacancy. Either then or now.

The voters are grown up enough to look
beyond a candidate's race and gender. And
we've had councilmembers from a variety
of backgrounds without trying to fill a quota at every election. It's just plain dumb (and illegal) for the Council to use race and gender as a filter, no matter which race or gender they think they need at the time.

Whether it's a legitimate interest or not, this guy has absolutely no legal basis for a lawsuit. You can't just cry discrimination, you have to prove that you've been harmed by it, and since Air Kyrgyzstan didn't get him to the mandatory meeting on time, he couldn't have gotten the job anyway.

One more point, Erica. Shuman has all the formal qualifications for the job -- he's a legal resident and registered voter in Seattle. His assignment in Kyrgyzstan is temporary. Whether he's the best candidate among the 100 or so applicants for the job is a subjective question separate from the issue of "qualification".

I don't think the discussion of "criteria" holds any legal water in this case (granted, I'm not a lawyer). The City Charter sets out the only binding criteria to be a City Councilmember (I'm assuming you have to be 18 and a City Voter).

What this appears to be is the personal opinion of individual Councilmembers, and unless there is some official Council statement of "criteria" that has been adopted by the body saying white boys need not apply, I think white whine guy is out of luck. Doubly so given that whoever they appoint has to stand for election anyway this fall.

I'm sure the BIAW and the rest of the Astroturf right will get all mad and write mean fundraising letters to their mad followers about it, though.

It's disrespectful to "minorities" and suggests that they that they simply can't compete.

I'm sorry, but I still don't get it.

Is this fellow considering a lawsuit on behalf of himself due to harm caused by council action or is he considering this on behalf of a class or group of individuals, i.e. all those who were not considered as they are neither female nor a minority?

Again, sorry to add to any confusion.


1. I think there's a difference between "The voters [being] grown up enough to look beyond a candidate's race and gender," and how important it is for people to feel all of their interests are represented on the Council. If voters aren't allowed to pick the candidate, I think the overall makeup of the council is a legit consideration.

2. The criteria established by the law are the BARE MINIMUM. Much like they are for president, senator, or any other job. I think that we'd all agree that there are some other requirements that can't be written into the law, but are there. Such as: being with-it. Being smart or savvy enough to realize that you should change the "objective" section on your resume. I'm sorry, but if you can't figure out that you shouldn't say your objective is “seeking a full-time position in voice or data network installation, operations, and maintenance," you don't deserve the job. That's basic Job Hunting 101.

Maybe you could explain what the citizens of Seattle would gain -- based on historical experience, not some theory -- by having more "minority" women on the Council? I simply don't get what magic you think will happen. Are they smarter? In which case maybe there should be nothing but minority women onthe Council?
Do you really tink that they think differently?
It all sounds like such BS.

Raw Data:
I hope you don't think that the comments above are from Erica...

The fact is that one's experiences, needs, etc., can be impacted by one's race. For that reason, it is reasonable to think that it is a positive thing to have a Council that is close to representative of the makeup of the City. However, until you feel that your particular group is under-represented, you may not understand that.

But you wanted Erica to respond, so I won't say anything more.

I'm not an attorney, but I think everyone is mixing discrimination (as prohibited by law prior to I-200, passed in 1997) with the now (in a miserable post I-200 state) prohibited use of race and gender preferences.

Before 1997, government was allowed to use race and gender preferences in hiring, contracting, etc. It did not legally meet the definition of discrimination. Remember WMBE (Women and Minority Business Enterprise) contracts? Today, what I-200 calls “the state,” WA State, County, City, School District, etc...can no longer create programs that preference the awarding of govt. contracts to WMBE firms. Sadly, contracting with women and minority businesses has decreased in Seattle by about 1/3 since the passage of I-200.

In other words, I worry that regardless of whether there is an equally qualified aggrieved party the use of any race or gender preferences - may be argued to be a violation of I-200 – because the Council created it’s own little WMBE program.

Worst case scenario is that Mr. Shuman's qualifications, or lack of them, has no bearing. If the Council appoints a woman of color, the bad guys may argue that the harm is not that someone else didn't get the job, rather that the will of voters in expressing the expectation that its government not use race or gender preferences has been violated.

I think someone may even try to make the argument that anyone who is a WA State resident has standing.

ICK…this really sucks. I usually think it’s kinda funny when govt. makes a mistake of its own doing, but I really hope this one blows over!

Read it yourselves if you haven't already:

funny that you bring up WMBEs. I happen to know that some local govt agencies still use a WMBE prefernce, but they have to be more careful about it (which is why the numbers have gone down).

i know it's off topic, but it's sad that the huge hurdles are back in-place, because it decreases diversity in contracting...beyond just race and gender, but also business size. it can be VERY hard for any small business to make ends meet working for these govt agencies (when it sometimes takes 3 months to get paid)

Let's hope Steinbrueck keeps his big fucking mouth shut in the future.

Aaron Shuman last lived in Kyrgyzstan? I think this must be another incarnation of the British comic who normally goes by the name of "Ali-G." Check it out.

yeah, whatever. I really shouldn't talk openly about the obvious- 'cause its just not *politically correct* in this town. Besides, look what trouble it causes.whatever.

not to be immature and not "grown up" about the issue, but having a more diverse ethnic and gender perspective hardly seems as arbitrary as some of you are proposing. of the current "top six" candidates for the city council, nearly all have held significant positions of leadership in local community organizing and have actively represented the interests of our city's underserved and overlooked populations. whether you hold those accomplishments in any esteem may be a different issue but in my mind these are much more impressive and appropriate qualifications than the head of a chamber of commerce or an overseas military contractor.

additionally, asking for "historical data" on the merits of having minority women hold office over another measurable demographic is ridiculous considering that women who are minorities have held far fewer positions of measurable political power than say white males-- who according to available history data must have always been smarter?

or are white men just that magical?

White men aren't magical.
What's magical is not excluding them because of race and sex.

I think everyone continues to
miss a very important point.

This process isn't entirely about who the best candidate available to serve the needs of the people living in
Seattle. I am saying this process is largely centered around the needs and goals, both individually and collectively, of the city council members.

As I have stated previously, the
profile for a new candidate is neither going to be someone politically threatening to the individual members nor likely to rock the boat during the next nine months.

This has been and continues to be not an issue about who is best for Seattle.
It's about who is best for the individuals currently serving on the city council.

By the measure stated above; the fact this selection is being undertaken in
secret; no public disclosure by the council members why they are choosing who they are choosing outside of the categories of race and gender, is a disservice to the people in this city and to the person being selected for the position.

This continues to support the absolute need to establish the voters in the process by instituting district representation on the council. The
people should be making this selection, and not the city council.


Funny how some whites ASSUME that because theyre women of color they are NOT as Qualified as a White male, and the absence of a white male just smells wrong to them.

The absence of white men in the finalists, must mean, therefore that these women are not as qualified as the white guy from Kyrgyzstan, because in their bizzare logic, it does not matter that these women who hold Masters degrees, have been executive directors of non profits, ran their own firms, have worked in community organizing, have built numerous units of affordable housing, have worked in goverment, ran a union local and have been involved in local politics for years is not enough. Is not enough because there is an absence of a white male, and white males are so discriminated againts in our society. ( Waaaahhhh) (waaaaahhh)

Despite all of their qualifications, they are still viewed as Quota candidates by the right and by the fashionable black clad hipsters who are involved in the civic process by whining and occassionally showing up at hearings when a stupid city council ordinance threatens to cover their obscure band posters and ocassionally they blogg, and because they have not heard of these women, than they are not qualified candidates.

There is an absence in the discussion of their ( the candidates') qualifications. Personally, I would have liked other candidates, and personally I would have liked the process to be opened, instead of this secretive closed door crap, but to suggest that these women are not qualified because there is an absence of white men is just crap. I think ideologocally these women are all centrists and none of them can be considered either progressives or conservatives so that to me is disapointing, but I beleive they are very qualified.

I mean, Compton ( a white guy) never showed up for crap, and Rich Mcgiver probably naps in his office. I am certain that these women have more energy than those two guys combined.

Dont worry, guys you have plenty of white guys to represent you, there is Nickels, Ceis, the chief of police ( I cant spell his name), the AG, most of the city council , most of the county council, most of the reps in Olympia, most of the developers, all the editors of the mayor papers, most of the dudes that write the opinion pieces, the majority of reporters, most of the people in the developer community, most of the bloggers, dont be afraid, relax, settle down, your town is still run by the man.. ;)

I'm no right wing blogger, but about as far left as you can be - and I agree that the City Council even thinking they should appoint a woman of color this time is just plain wrong - and will taint the term of any woman of color who does get selected.

Candidates for any position - but especially positions where only one candidate will succeed, so you can't balance things out by hiring so many of this kind, so many of that - deserve the right to be considered and selected on their merits alone, and not their sex or the color of their skin.

Even where there is evidence of past discrimination - it's unfair to take that out on the candidates of today.

If you want to balance the City Council, let some of the white men already on it retire and open up their seats for new members to be selected in a non-discriminatory fashion. That would be putting their money where their mouth is.

One reason I feel so strongly about this is I suffered in a similar situation, from which I finally simply withdrew rather than attempt a pyrrhic and personally embarrassing struggle against it: I was once an aspiring humanities academic up for positions where only one person would be hired. As a renowned senior female professor put it to me when I asked her why, since she thought my work was great, I was finding it so hard to get a job - she said "well, people have been into hiring women in this field lately."

So much easier to balance university faculties by hiring females in the humanities - where candidates are plentiful - than in the sciences - where they are scarce - anyway.

Whenever you start discriminating, the web quickly gets very tangled indeed.

Oh, and anyone who disagrees with me should go see August Wilson's last play Radio Golf at the Rep, and see what they think after that.

John From--
I'm sorry if you feel you were shafted. Who knows whether that's actually the reason you weren't able to get the job, but I can' understand how that must have been frustrating.

But you can't argue the point you're arguing simply in the abstract. Your argument may be stronger if you could point to people who were given the shaft, because of a stated preference.

I happen to think that this issue is more complex than what we've boiled it down to. It could partially be that more women and people of color showed up b/c the council indicated they would value more diversity (rather than the only ones who were picked were the women of color). I also understand the reticence of Council members to not bring on somebody who has recently lost a City Council election (or forced out due to scandal). To be honest, I watched the big hearing, and there weren’t many others that left a lasting, positive impression in my mind. In fact, I can remember more male whack-jobs then I can remember viable male candidates.

Actually I was arguing in the concrete, based on personal experience.

"Affirmative action" sounds great - until you personally come out on the other side of it, and you realize it's just plain old-fashioned discrimination based on race, sex, whatever.

I'd be more in favor of taxing the Southern States to pay reparations for slavery and finally be done with its legacy that way, than for affirmative action to go on ad infinitum - and typically benefits middle class people who don't really need it anyway.

You may very well be right that you were squeezed out unfairly. On the other hand, have you ever considered that she was just b.s.’ing you? I’ve made many hiring decisions and been involved in even more, and I can tell you that it’s awkward and hard to tell someone why they didn’t get selected. And when I’ve deliberately tried to recruit a diverse pool, I sure as hell wouldn’t have told a candidate that they didn’t get the job because of their race or gender. I'm not saying this to be mean, but there’s a good chance that there were other reasons you weren’t hired and she just wanted to make you feel better.

Well, WELL, the senior female professor who said this to me wasn't ever involved in hiring decisions about me - I met her when I took an NEH summer institute she co-directed...with a friend of hers who had once been my search committee contact for a position, and told me I had "such cute ears" just before I gave my job talk.

Interesting how when the shoe gets on the other foot, so little actually changes.

No, I guess it was just my misfortune - owing in part to my own work's leftist political and gender stance - to get into the finalist pool only of committees like our own City Council, well meaning liberal souls who figured all other things being equal, they should hire the candidate with the best combination of sex and color they could.

(God, just putting clearly and succinctly like that exposes what a queasy concept it is, doesn't it?)

After all, in a national search with hundreds or thousands of applicants, when you get down to the final three they're all pretty fabulous for the job - how to choose? And why not please everyone - feminists, old school male lotharios - and pick the female? And if she's also black - and has cute ears - well, so much the better.

Hi. I'm the guy contemplating the lawsuit.

I have an issue with the poster who sai, "Worst case scenario is that Mr. Shuman's qualifications, or lack of them, has no bearing. If the Council appoints a woman of color, the bad guys may argue that the harm is not that someone else didn't get the job, rather that the will of voters in expressing the expectation that its government not use race or gender preferences has been violated."

So basically - as long as you think it's okay, people should be able to BREAK THE LAW?

I am not whining because I am a white male. I honestly harbored no illusions that I would be selected. But when HALF of the council states that they had preferences based on race and gender AND that is contrary to EXISTING LAW, there is a problem.

Also, I asked Jan Drago if I could have someone go in my stead as the notice I recieved was extremely short. I prepared a written statement, which was forwarded to my father (a longtime city employee who I asked to stand in for me) and the Council. Jan NEVER RESPONDED, nor did any of her staff. I work on a forward logistics base in a country that borders China. It's not exactly around the block.

Hear hear. Go ahead with your lawsuit. Our City Council is setting a bad example of precisely the wrong way to promote diversity. And your own personal qualifications are hardly the issue.

It's one thing to ensure fairness by solliciting a diverse pool of applicants.

But its illegal - and should be - to narrow the field down to applicants of only one sex and/or color.

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