By Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant
“I don't know,” was John Okamoto’s answer when asked about his solutions to Seattle's most pressing issue, the lack of affordable housing. Rather than offer any proposals, Okamato deferred to the mayor's housing committee. Nor was he prepared to even support the council's previously unanimous position on making big developers pay “linkage fees” for affordable housing.
Unfortunately, this did not stop the majority of the council from appointing Okamoto, the most controversial applicant, by the narrowest possible vote of five in favor and three against.
Wednesday’s Times editorial casts this split on the council as a question of “style” or personal differences. This widely misses the mark.
Monday's vote was the latest illustration of important differences of priorities on the council. In light of Seattle’s housing emergency, the council had an obligation to appoint the best applicant to advance an affordable housing agenda. Unfortunately, five members of the council instead chose to appoint a mayor-picked political insider, in a political maneuver to reinforce their majority.
This same majority has failed to act on necessary solutions to the affordable housing crisis – rent control, strengthening tenants’ rights, and building thousands of high-quality, city-owned apartments to provide an affordable alternative to skyrocketing rents in the private housing market.
Council member Rasmussen had no qualms in scrutinizing applicant Sheley Secrest, a civil rights leader. Yet the council majority cried foul when Okamato was questioned about his record as chief administrative officer at the Port of Seattle from 2003 to 2008, a period marked by numerous financial improprieties.
In electing me, voters gave me a mandate to represent the interests of working people, and in particular for a $15 minimum wage, rent control, affordable housing, and taxing the super-rich to expand transit and social services. The Timeseditorial board may disagree with voters on these issues, however they cannot claim I have acted inconsistently with the agenda on which I was elected.
Monday's vote demonstrates a bias by the majority on the council in favor of political insiders and a lack of urgency to address the housing crisis.
Despite disagreeing with this appointment, I will of course work with Okamoto to advance the interests of working people, as I have with every other council member. On every issue facing the council, I will continue to vote on political merit, not based on backroom dealing or personalities. Seattleites should expect nothing less of all their elected officials.