Schwa Szwya Szwaja @ Liberty
posted by June 14 at 13:29 PMon
City Council candidate Joe Szwaja had a meet-and-greet with Capitol Hill folks last night at Liberty on Fifteenth Ave.
In addition to having the hardest name to spell of any candidate ever, Szwaja has some real progressive credentials, including the backing of a coalition of social-justice and low-income housing activists who have been trying to get someone to run for council on a progressive platform for years. (He’s also the guy who ran against Jim McDermott as a Green in 2000—which is to say: He ran against Jim McDermott from the left.)
Standing outside Liberty, surrounded by a half-dozen supporters (including fellow Green and onetime Ron Sims opponent Gentry Lange, who was also celebrating his 32nd birthday) Szwaja explained why he’s taking on Godden. “She’s been on the council three and a half years and what has she done? You associate a lot of city council members with their accomplishments—Peter [Steinbrueck] with his work for the homeless, Nick [Licata] with fighting corporate wellfare, Richard Conlin with sustainability. Jean hasn’t really accomplished anything.”
Szwaja has raised more than $20,000 so far and hopes to top $100,000. That sum that won’t put him in Godden’s league, but he says he’s not concerned. “We’re not going to beat Jean in the money race, but that’s not really the kind of campaign we’re running anyway. We’re going to be very competitive in terms of the number of donors. We already have more than 200 donors, and our average donation is around $75.”
Szwaja seems like a nice, genuine, likable guy. He listens well, and gives thoughtful responses. However, I am troubled by his history of run-ins with the law, a topic we didn’t discuss at last night’s event but that I’m sure will come up during the Stranger’s endorsement interviews. The charges, as documented in a P-I story by Angela Galloway, include a domestic-violence incident that put his then-girlfriend in the hospital with three gashes across her face. (He acknowledges throwing a plate after his girlfriend threw a bottle at him.) Szwaja was also was convicted numerous times of driving after his license was revoked. He was arrested in 1988 for failing to pay $2,584 in costs associated with his son’s birth and medical complications. And he failed to pay $5,100 in child support, for which a judge garnished his wages in 1994.
Are these charges relevant anymore? I think so. Failing to pay child support, losing your temper and throwing things, getting your license suspended and then driving anyway—all of these are things that speak to character, and character matters in politics. I’m not saying people can’t reform themselves, but they have to make a compelling case—and that starts with being least a little contrite. So far, Szwaja’s only response has been a defensive post on his web site, in which he refers to his legal troubles as “mischaracterized personal issues,” accuses Galloway (inaccurately, she says) of relying on an opposition memo for her information (she says she got the information from Wisconsin news accounts and a court records database), and notes that the police dropped the domestic violence charges (while failing to mention that he completed a mandatory course for first-time offenders, according to Galloway’s story).
As an aside, the response to her story has been, frankly, a little shocking. Readers attacked Galloway personally, calling her “lazy,” “sick,” “slanderous,” and a “hired gun” for Godden and her article “shoddy,” “unprincipled,” and “ugly.” I think it’s a legitimate use of the press to point out information that voters may or may not think is relevant to the election.