Kate Martin doesn't talk in political platitudes. Right off the bat, Martin takes the strongest stance of any mayoral candidate when she talks about the Seattle Police Department. “I think that we need a new chief,” she says, making an obvious, and likely popular, statement about her priorities for reforming our beleaguered department. “That’s as blunt as I can put it,” she says.
“I think that going back to the root of who we hire—we need to hire people who don’t have that penchant for racism and excessive force,” Martin says.
A former president of the Greenwood Community Council, who’s carved out a niche as an advocate for neighborhood organizing and education reform, Martin tells The Stranger that she’ll file paperwork this week to run for mayor. A Seattle resident since 1979, Martin runs her own design firm after getting a BA in landscape architecture at the State University of New York.
If she wins, Martin would be the city’s first female mayor in 85 years. “I think it’s time—it’s definitely time,” she says. Martin isn’t running on a ticket simply as a woman, naturally, but as someone who envisions a platform aimed at making the city friendlier to raising kids. She says, “I don’t think that anyone can champion the type of priorities that I am looking to add to the mix besides a woman.”
Not to dwell on Martin’s XX chromosomes—and she didn’t stress them in our interview—but competing against several high-profile men in the top-two primary election, every distinction could help her stand out and squeak through. After all, the vote will be sliced into slivers that could allow someone with just over a quarter of the vote to advance to the November ballot. Where the incumbent mayor, Mike McGinn, along with Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess and state senator Ed Murray certainly bring profiles of civic accomplishments, Martin may further distinguish herself as a plain-spoken community leader. She believes her neighborhood bona fides—and a platform that includes everything from building sidewalks in north and south Seattle to augmenting the school district—could win the allegiance of parent groups, neighborhood groups, education reform groups, and environmental organizations.
“I think I have a pretty nice menu of supporters… I take time to analyze issues and understand both side of the argument,” says Martin, eschewing the policy briefings she says her competitors rely on. “I think that people know that. I have a conscience. And I also have a spine.”
But realistically, Martin has never won an election (and the aforementioned men in the race all have).
Martin ran for the Seattle Public Schools board in 2011, losing to incumbent Sherry Carr. Martin is undaunted. She points out that she won 47 percent of the vote in that race despite being outspent by more than three-to-one (Martin raised only about $12,000, which isn’t even enough to blanket the city with a single mailing, while Carr’s $43,000 hit mailboxes around the city with oversized glossy postcards of shiny red apples).
“I only lost by a little. I am more prepared this time,” Martin says.
This time around, her plank relies partly on augmenting the Seattle school district, which is a separate government body from the City of Seattle. First, Martin envisions a student mentorship program run by the city—at a cost of up to $10 million—that would help kids from the time they enter kindergarten right through rough patches in high school and on to college. Second, as schools are rebuilt and renovated, they should be partially financed by the city to serve as community centers for all sorts of uses, she says. “These schools are open only six hours a day and closed in summer—that's an underuse of facilities.” The city of Tukwila and many schools in Oregon’s Multnomah County have adopted the model, Martin says, and the city should collaborate, for instance, when the district rebuilds the Wilson-Pacific School in north Seattle.
In our interview, Martin was supportive of light rail throughout the city—while calling streetcars "nostalgic"—and believes the city can do more to mandate new housing construction to have more "charm." She also floats the idea of major infrastructure improvements. In downtown, she envisions sidewalk enhancements that promote more retail uses and a “friendlier atmosphere.”
“From a woman’s perspective, you see how many places you are not comfortable going or comfortable with children,” Martin says. She doesn’t support civility measures that further penalize aggressive panhandling, but rather says attracting more families has a synergistic effect: “The more women and children downtown, the less we have to worry about aggressive anything. The drug dealers? There’s nothing that scares them away more than children. We can go in that direction. I don’t think we need to throw everyone in jail.”
And in far-flung neighborhoods, Martin says we need to finally build sidewalks, a cost-prohibitive dream of neighborhood leaders and political candidates for years. She imagines that homeowners could pay the roughly $10,000 needed to build them in front of their properties, in part with zero-interest loan programs, while the city could can coordinate and construct the intersections.
All of these cost money—and Martin freely admits that they may require going to voters for money. And she insist it would require the buy-in of business, nonprofits, and private investors.
But Martin’s immediate challenge isn’t raising money to pay for civic improvement. It will be raising money for her campaign—and climbing to the ranks of a serious contender will be particularly tough as entrenched politicians like Burgess (who has reported $26,000 in donations), McGinn (who has reported $95,000), and Murray (who has reported $120,000) all seek to tap the relatively few reliable campaign donors in Seattle. She’ll need far more than the $12,000 she raised for school board to be viewed as a serious contender. What is her plan? “I am starting out in the traditional way with my 100 fundraising letters work from there, just like I did last time.“