NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

Seattle voters: No on public financing, yes on Districts Now charter amendment

Seat­tle pol­i­tics has some­times been char­ac­ter­ized as a divide between “Seat­tle nice” and “less­er ver­sus more Seattle.”

It’s just not that sim­ple any­more. Seat­tle has 410,000+ reg­is­tered vot­ers, and we seem to have elect­ed a new may­or tonight with less than 33% vot­er turnout thus far. Maybe we’ll hit 40% by Thurs­day, but by any mea­sure, this is a ter­ri­ble vot­er turnout for a city that thinks of itself as a har­bin­ger of things to come. It’s hard to be a leader when a major­i­ty of the vot­ers decide to sit on the side­lines and watch.

Seat­tleites have reject­ed the incum­bent may­or, but retained all the City Coun­cil incum­bents. King Coun­ty vot­ers retained all the incum­bents – the exec­u­tive, the coun­ty coun­cil, and the Port of Seat­tle commissioners.

Seat­tle vot­ers also turned down Propo­si­tion 1, which would use prop­er­ty tax­es to finance city coun­cil cam­paigns, a mea­sure sup­port­ed by all nine City Coun­cil incum­bents. At the same time, they said yes to Seat­tle’s oth­er bal­lot mea­sure, Char­ter Amend­ment 19, to adopt dis­trict elec­tions for City Council.

Seat­tle up until now has been one of only three major Amer­i­can cities with the at-large coun­cil rep­re­sen­ta­tion (Colum­bus, Ohio and Port­land, Ore­gon are the oth­er two). Now Seat­tle joins the likes of Boston, Min­neapo­lis, San Fran­cis­co, and Den­ver as a mem­ber of the dis­trict club. Why did vot­ers go for dis­tricts now after hav­ing reject­ed them sev­er­al times, most recent­ly in 2003?

Per­haps the suc­cess of Char­ter Amend­ment 19 is the result of twen­ty years of the Growth Man­age­ment Act leav­ing neigh­bor­hoods denser and more con­gest­ed, with no viable pub­lic tran­sit options in place or in the works. And maybe vot­ers found Amend­ment 19 appeal­ing because the City Coun­cil is so con­sumed with meet­ings with itself and with the neigh­bor­hood and dis­trict coun­cils, there is no time left for meet­ings with ordi­nary cit­i­zens who won­der why they can’t get a side­walk built.

Who knows? But the vot­ers might sense what Char­ter 19 sup­port­ers believe (full dis­clo­sure: I endorsed Char­ter Amend­ment 19): that we’re not a lit­tle or provin­cial city any­more. We can­not choose to be less­er than who we are.

We don’t want our city coun­cil mem­bers play­ing “Seat­tle nice” and just being nice to get along, with­out debat­ing what’s good for the city.

In fact, it’s time for the city coun­cil mem­bers to be talk­ing about what they think about the “less­er ver­sus more Seat­tle” choice, and to let us know where they stand. Progress comes when we are hon­est about what we wish to create.

When it came to pub­lic financ­ing for cam­paigns, the peo­ple have giv­en a resound­ing “no” to Propo­si­tion 1, at least so far.

Why would pro­gres­sive Seat­tle reject a pub­lic cam­paign financ­ing ini­tia­tive in the wake of Cit­i­zens Unit­ed and unlim­it­ed inde­pen­dent expen­di­tures? Maybe there is a sense we should be tack­ling oth­er city-wide prob­lems with prop­er­ty tax dol­lars. Maybe it’s a way of say­ing the vot­ers want cam­paigns to be waged on the ground with­in a dis­trict, instead of going on TV to run city-wide.

Today the vot­ers also had the chance to put two more peo­ple of col­or on the Seat­tle City Coun­cil, but once again it didn’t hap­pen. Some of these can­di­dates will hope­ful­ly give it anoth­er try once dis­trict elec­tions go into effect.

Tomor­row there will be time to ana­lyze how the pas­sage of a $15 min­i­mum wage in the City of Sea-Tac might find its way into Seat­tle pol­i­tics. There will be an oppor­tu­ni­ty to exam­ine new trans­porta­tion solu­tions for our city.

But tonight, this city’s vot­ers – the ones who showed up and vot­ed – have shift­ed gears and said they want a new may­or with new ideas and new ways of doing the city’s busi­ness. It’s not easy to make the choice to tell the incum­bent it’s time to move on. It’s also not so nice. But Seat­tle wants to move forward.

Seattle’s future pre­vailed over Seat­tle nice.

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