City The Smell of Democracy in the 43rd
posted by July 18 at 14:13 PMon
I spent three hours last night in the sweltering, sweaty confines of a converted classroom at the University Heights Community Center, where the 43rd District Democrats had gathered to decide who (if anyone) they’d endorse for this year’s local primary races. (Next door, belly dancers writhed with gold pots on their heads; across the hall, jazz and ballet dance classes were in full swing.) The meeting was supposed to wrap up no later than 9:00 pm; but, this being the 43rd, process trumped the official agenda at every turn, and the last stragglers didn’t stagger out of the room until well after 10:00.
The biggest surprise of the night: Jean Godden’s failure to win the 43rd’s endorsement, an outcome that was seen as a victory by supporters of Godden opponent Joe Szwaja, who isn’t a Democrat and thus wasn’t allowed to speak. (Other Democratic organizations have allowed the Green Party candidate to have his say, but the 43rd are sticklers.) Szwaja supporters fanned out across the hallway outside the meeting room, handing out a letter by activists John Fox, Gary Clark, and Trevor Griffey urging a “no-endorsement” vote. The letter charged Godden with neglecting the interests of neighborhoods and low-income people while approving subsidies to Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc. and failing to support state legislation that would have allowed cities to limit the number of apartments that can be converted to condos. (For the record, she did support the legislation, along with the rest of the council.)
Whether 43rd District members found those charges compelling, or whether they simply couldn’t muster sufficient enthusiasm for Godden (about whom her advocate, Linda Mitchell, could say only, “Jean Godden is one of only three women left on the Seattle City Council, so it’s important that we keep here there”) was unclear, but the jubilant Szwaja and his supporters certainly saw it as a victory.
On the other hand, it could have also been a result of the convoluted process the 43rd Dems use to decide endorsements, which requires a candidate to win 60 percent of the room’s support to win sole endorsement on the first go-round. That process meant that in all but a few relatively uncontested races (Bill Sherman vs. Keith Scully for King County Prosecutor; two levies to fund King County Parks), any candidate who won less than 60 percent but more than 40 percent (stay with me here) had to go back for “reconsideration,” a second, yes or no vote on that candidate. (The members of the 43rd, apparently familiar with this outcome, let out a loud, collective groan when the reconsideration vote was announced.)
Under that system, it’s virtually impossible in races with three or more candidates to win full endorsement on the first go-round; however, it’s also unlikely that more than one candidate will top 40 percent. In the race for Godden’s seat, Godden beat 40 percent, but just barely, while the other three candidates split the remaining 60. Then, during the up-or-down vote, she failed to win 60 percent of voters. Hence, no endorsement. A similar thing happened in two other races—School Board Position 2, where Lisa Stuebing got through the first round but failed to push past 60 percent, and City Council Position 3 (the seat currently held by Peter Steinbrueck, who was on the scene, wielding a Venus Velazquez yard sign), where Velazquez met a similar fate. Only Port Commission candidate Gael Tarleton made it through both rounds of voting to win the 43rd’s endorsement.
Other highlights of the evening:
• Council member Tom Rasmussen, who’s running for reelection unopposed (and isn’t even on the primary ballot), has nonetheless been a cheerful presence at endorsement events across the city. Rasmussen kicked off last night’s meeting with an odd speech in which he expressed his ambition to take over Steinbrueck’s Urban Development and Planning Committee and vowed never to use the word “vibrant” to describe the city again. “The Italians have a word for it. It’s ‘basta’—enough of the word ‘vibrant’ already!”
• Event organizers apologized repeatedly for the choice of room, which was much smaller than the upstairs room they usually use and had virtually no circulation. As I sat off to the side of the makeshift stage, I watched the mercury in a thermometer on the wall rise to a high of 84 degrees—a temperature that did not make for a pleasant-smelling congregation.
• I swear I’m not trying to pick on Bruce Harrell, but he STILL insisted on referring to himself in the third person—and bringing up his football career at the UW and Garfield High as a metaphor for how he’ll be a “fighter” on the council. (“I played football here at the UW and I’m still the 8th leading tackler in their history.”) That’s got to be, what, 20 years ago now? Dude, it’s time for a new metaphor. Harrell was also the only candidate who didn’t clean up after himself—long after everyone else had removed their campaign signs, five Harrell signs remained plastered around the room.
• After referring to Democrats as “the rainbow party,” open-seat candidate Al Runte declared himself “the candidate of young people.” As proof, he offered his campaign staff—made up entirely of high-school Democrats. “They average 17 years in age,” Runte bragged. Then he joined his 17-year-old campaign manager in the back of the room.