Our voices matter: Demand that Mayor Durkan be accountable to the community and human services workers!
Please join community members, human service workers and providers, and Councilmember Kshama Sawant on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 6:00pm, as the Human Services Committee takes up the resolution directing how the City of Seattle will select its next Human Services Department director. Republished below is Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s letter to Mayor Jenny Durkan, calling on the mayor to involve city workers, the community, and human service providers in an open, transparent, and inclusive candidate search for a permanent director of the Human Services Department.
February 7, 2019
Dear Mayor Durkan,
Thank you for your letter describing your decision to nominate Mr. Jason Johnson to direct the City of Seattle Human Services Department (HSD). I am writing to respond to some of your assertions, and to recommend steps that you can take to nominate – after which the Council can confirm – a permanent Director with the support and confidence of affected communities.
In response to the considerable public testimony from HSD employees and members of the PROTEC17 union, human service providers, and community members, my office has brought forward a resolution that recommends an inclusive search to find the next HSD Director, and that the search itself reflect the principles of the Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) agreed upon by the City of Seattle. The resolution will be discussed at the City Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renters Rights Committee, which I chair, on Tuesday February 12 at 6:00PM in chambers. I urge that a representative from your office join us at the table to answer questions and to listen.
Seattle faces a huge and growing housing affordability and homelessness crisis. The for-profit market has no solution, and the city urgently needs a major expansion of high-quality publicly-owned affordable housing. We also need to fully fund social services. Neither is possible without taxing big business and the wealthy. However, because the political establishment, starting with your office, has utterly failed to do that, it forces City employees and community providers to tackle this crisis with gravely insufficient resources. It’s especially vital in this context that the permanent HSD Director be selected with the full engagement of staff, human service providers, and community members.
Regardless of what one thinks about Mr. Johnson’s qualifications, it’s quite clear that your office has failed to use an inclusive approach to candidate search. Indeed, it appears you have not conducted any search at all. That is a disservice to HSD workers, human service providers, and to the most vulnerable in our community.
My office has been asking you for public community engagement in the nomination of a future HSD Director for the past year. On March 23, 2018, Ted Virdone from my office emailed your Director of Legislative Affairs, inquiring:
“People are asking us about the appointment process for the new HSD Director. Have you had a chance to get any information about that? We would love to have someone from the Mayor’s Office brief the Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renter Rights committee about the intended process at some point before Director Lester’s last day.”
Your refusal to involve the public and key community and workforce representatives in any meaningful search has resulted in a nomination beset with community outrage. Last week the members of the HSD Change Team and caucuses wrote to Council to inform us that in 2018:
“Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan, representing the Mayor’s Office, stated to staff at an HSD division meeting, there would be an inclusive process for the selection of the permanent Director. Many in the department had confidence that that type of process would take place. Instead, staff learned Mayor Durkan made the decision to directly appoint our interim Director into a permanent position—foregoing an inclusive process that many believed would take place.”
If you have reviewed the Seattle Channel video of the January 24 meeting of the Human Services, Equitable Development, and Renters Rights committee, you will have observed a room overflowing with the people who do extraordinary work every day to make human services available in Seattle. You will have seen that 34 of 35 speakers testified against moving Mr. Johnson’s nomination forward at this time, and in favor of an open, transparent, and inclusive approach that incorporates RSJI principles to searching for the future HSD Director. It is unfortunate that your office declined to send a representative to the committee.
The RSJI-related concerns are captured clearly in a letter from an HSD worker to City Council:
“The RSJI cannot remain something that is only implemented when convenient for those in power.”
The letter from your office objects at length to no official confirmation hearing being scheduled. My office has, of course, prioritized outreach to community members to get their input, and to make my committee meetings accessible to them. Since you announced the nomination of Mr. Johnson, my staff and I have met with dozens of HSD workers and their union PROTEC17, along with human service providers and their organization, the Seattle Human Services Coalition (SHSC).
As you know, the SHSC, representing 180 human service providers in Seattle, wrote council on January 15, 2019 to say,
“The Seattle Human Services Coalition urges the Seattle City Council to return the nomination to Mayor Durkan and request a full search process that includes integral participation of human service providers, program participants, HSD employees, and other public partners.”
Your approach for HSD Director nomination stands in striking contrast to the nomination of Mr. Sam Zimbabwe as the Director of SDOT. As the recent press release from your office announced:
“In May, Mayor Durkan announced a search committee that included nearly a dozen business, transportation, labor, and community leaders. The search for a new Director of SDOT also included an extensive community outreach process. After conducting interviews with applicants, the Search Committee submitted their recommendations for finalists to Mayor Durkan, who interviewed the finalists earlier this month.”
My resolution urges you to convene a search committee that includes representatives of non-profit human services providers, individuals who have or are experiencing homelessness and other clients of HSD, and representatives of HSD employees selected by PROTEC17 and the HSD Change Team and Caucuses.
Then, in line with the search committee’s recommendations, you would send a nomination to Council for confirmation, and Council could proceed to consider the confirmation of that nominee with the confidence that the individual had been recommended by a search committee that represented Seattle’s impacted communities.
I urge you to listen to the HSD workers and their union, the community, and the human service providers and support this approach. Your concurrence would make clear to the public that you agree to support and include them in this decision. Please let my office know if you will be concurring, and we will amend the resolution to reflect your support. And I hope we’ll have a representative from your office at the February 12 committee.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Seattle District 3
The last five years have been the warmest on record. We’re seeing an alarming regularity of extreme weather events, from wildfires across Washington State and in California, to a new normal of “once-in-a-lifetime” storms super-charged by global warming, to the recent polar vortex. With a climate change denier in the White House who has filled his cabinet with fossil fuel interests, we need immediate action to address the climate crisis.
The idea of a Green New Deal, which was formally introduced this week by democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is a crucial step in the right direction. Unfortunately, Nancy Pelosi struck down calls for a select committee on climate change to propose a Green New Deal, replacing it with a toothless committee. She even ridiculed the idea of it, referring to it as “the green dream, or whatever they call it.”
It will take building powerful movements to win a Green New Deal in Seattle and nationwide.
Here in Seattle, we need to lead on the environment and clean energy. We should create our own aggressive targets to make Seattle 100% renewable by 2030. Traffic gridlock in Seattle is the 9th worst of any city in the country —we need to develop a world-class, fully-electric mass transit system, free at point of use, to provide a viable alternative to reliance on car-based transit. This must be financed by taxing the rich, not with regressive tolls on city streets or in the new tunnel. We need a major green public works program which can create thousands of family wage union jobs for Seattle workers through a major expansion of clean energy, free energy conservation retrofitting in homes and apartments, and repair of broken and increasingly unsafe public infrastructure. Let’s fully electrify our working waterfront, for port worker safety and a sustainable environment.
Just last week, 45,000 students walked out of classes in Belgium to protest climate change, and students across the world, including in the U.S., are building for a major climate strike on March 15. We need elected officials who aren’t bought off by Big Oil, and who use their positions to stand with movements fighting the fossil fuel industry, like Kshama did during the successful struggles to block access of a Shell oil rig to the Seattle Port and to divest Seattle from Dakota Access Pipeline-investor Wells Fargo.
We need a new party for working people that will fight to stop climate change. We need to take the big energy corporations into democratic public ownership and re-tool them for clean energy and mass transit. The fossil-fuel reliant capitalist system has failed to address the urgent climate crisis – we need a democratic socialist green economy that bases itself on the needs of people and the planet.
In his State of the Union address last night, Trump said that “America will never be a socialist country.” We, along with millions of American workers, completely disagree. Since 2013, when Councilmember Kshama Sawant was elected as the first socialist member of the Seattle City Council in a century, the hunger for an alternative to pro-corporate, pro-capitalist politics has only grown. A recent Gallup poll found that less than half of young Americans view capitalism positively, down 20% since the beginning of the 2008 financial collapse.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders’ democratic socialist presidential campaign had a profound impact on the political discussion in the U.S. Since then, the Democratic Socialists of America has grown nearly tenfold and last fall, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib were elected as self-identified socialists to the U.S. Congress.
American workers and young people are rising up against corporate politics and capitalism. In the three years since Trump’s election, we’ve seen the biggest days of action in U.S. history. From the women’s marches, to the airport shutdowns against Trump’s anti-Muslim ban, to a resurgence in labor struggle with the #RedforEd movement, we’ve proven over and over again: when working people get organized, we can beat back racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-worker attacks.
With Trump calling in his speech for increased “bipartisanship” to fund his racist border wall, we should be clear about what really caused Trump to retreat on the government shutdown and what type of approach will be needed to stop his attacks. Under pressure from below, the Democrats refused to accept his demand for wall funding, but they were in no way prepared to mobilize the forces needed to win that fight. Ultimately, it was the threat of working-class action from TSA workers and air traffic controllers that forced Trump’s hand.
We also can’t forget: last year, when DACA was under attack, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer said they would consider billions in funding for a border wall in exchange for protecting Dreamers. And while it’s positive that Democrats pushed back this time, we should be clear that fighting Trump can’t mean throwing one section of the working class under the bus to protect another. This actually feeds into Trump’s “divide and rule” agenda.
Instead, what’s required is building movements alongside working people against the Billionaire in Chief. That’s why Kshama Sawant called for the need to resist Trump from day one, and her organization, Socialist Alternative, organized protests that helped bring out hundreds of thousands of people immediately after his election. That's why we worked alongside other activists to organize mass nonviolent civil disobedience at SeaTac against Trump's racist Muslim ban, with 5,000 people shutting down the airport and helping to block the ban.
In the era of Trump, we need elected officials who will build fighting movements against Trump’s bigoted, billionaire-backed agenda to defend those in the crosshairs of his attacks.
Last night, Trump bragged about the state of the economy, pointing to raises in wages and conveniently leaving out the fact that one of the only reasons for raises amongst the lowest paid workers was our successful struggle for the $15 minimum wage – spearheaded by Kshama Sawant and Socialist Alternative right here in Seattle in 2014.
Trump also claimed credit for a “massive tax cut for working families.” In reality, his tax plan overwhelmingly benefits the super rich and gives major handouts to corporations and his billionaire buddies while slashing social programs. In a world where six billionaires have accumulated as much wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population, these tax cuts make the super rich even richer at the expense of growing hardship for working people.
Nowhere is the failure of “trickle-down economics” more apparent than right here in Seattle. The world’s two richest billionaires live in King County at the same time that working people, small businesses, people of color, and LGBTQ people are being rapidly gentrified out of our city. Our transportation systems, schools, healthcare, and other vital social services have long been at the breaking point, while Amazon threatened to take away 7,000 jobs over a small tax on big business only last year.
We stand with other socialist politicians like NYC’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in calling for a 70% tax rate on the super rich nationally, and we think we need bold action to eliminate these gross inequalities right here in Seattle. Our city has been the national leader in the number of construction cranes three years running, yet the crisis of affordable housing in Seattle remains among the worst in the country, with the average rent now over two thousand dollars a month.
We need rent control and a massive expansion of social housing – paid for by taxing Amazon and big business – to provide an alternative to the broken private development system.
With unprecedented environmental disasters becoming the new norm and climate change getting worse, Trump’s fossil fuel friendly approach – boasting about how the US has ramped up up production of coal and natural gas – will impact working people hardest. That’s why we’re fighting for a Green New Deal with a just transition for all fossil fuel workers – to make Seattle 100% renewable by 2025, with a free, world-class mass transit system in Seattle.
Because unlike Trump and the billionaire class, we know that a socialist America and a socialist world is possible. The fight for a different kind of society, based on the needs of working people and the environment, is one of the many reasons you should join the grassroots movement to re-elect Kshama Sawant.
NYC’s socialist representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez fights for policies that would hugely benefit working-class people, like a 70% tax on the billionaire class to fund a Green New Deal and Medicare for All. These demands are overwhelmingly popular (even among many rank-and-file Republicans), but AOC’s advocacy for them has already earned her the ire of the Democratic establishment.
Just yesterday, The Hill reported that corporate Democrats are already making plans to oust AOC. One Democratic lawmaker said that he is urging New York Democrats to “find her a primary opponent and make her a one-term congressperson.”
The fact that Trump is in the White House and Republican leaders are eager to carry out his bigoted, billionaire-backed agenda makes it even more outrageous that the Democratic Party establishment is setting its sights on defeating working-class fighters like AOC.
We need to stand with AOC against the attacks of the corporate Democrats.
But I’m not surprised by this reaction by Democratic Party leaders. Seattle is a city run from top to bottom by the Democratic Party, which is tied by a thousand threads to corporate interests and big developers to the back rooms of City Hall. Rarely have the links between big business and the Democratic Party establishment been more clear than last summer, when 7 of the 8 Democratic Party councilmembers caved to the pressure of massive corporations like Amazon, whose billionaire CEO Jeff Bezos opposed even the modest-sized Amazon Tax to help address the affordable housing crisis.
There are very important differences between the Democratic and Republican Parties, but they also have one key thing in common: loyalty to Wall Street, and opposition to elected officials like AOC, Bernie, and myself.
Fighting unapologetically for working people means making powerful enemies, and the political establishment sees our re-election campaign this year in Seattle as a key priority to get the socialists out of City Hall. Big business will spend huge amounts of corporate cash to try to bring back business-as-usual in Seattle politics.Read more
Did you see that the struggle of Halcyon residents to save their homes from corporate development made front-page news in the Seattle Times today?
Two months ago, the 85 seniors who have been living at the Halcyon Mobile Home Park in north Seattle -- many for 25 years, investing their life savings into their homes -- learned some alarming news. The trustees of their property -- corporate executives of US Bank -- had put their mobile home park up for sale, marketed as a “development opportunity.”
This “opportunity” for a profit-driven, corporate developer could mean a death sentence for the Halcyon residents: eviction, destruction of their long-time community, and potential homelessness.
As Halcyon resident Renee Heggem, a retired bartender and member of UniteHere Local 8 who had been homeless for years before moving into Halcyon, testified: “For 7 years I’ve had the security without worry...and now they’re going to take it away.”
How did Halcyon residents respond to this blatant corporate power grab? They organized, fought back, and reached out to Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s office -- and just today, fighting alongside Kshama’s office, Halcyon residents won a major victory!
Under pressure from their movement, City Council unanimously passed the legislation introduced by Councilmember Sawant, to set a moratorium for one year on mobile home park redevelopment.
Our struggles, from the $15 minimum wage and victories for renters’ rights, to the fight to #SaveTheShowbox, have all focused on one key question: Who runs Seattle? Corporate developers, big business, and Amazon, or ordinary working people?
While Halcyon residents won a huge victory today, their fight is not over. Halcyon residents need a permanent solution, like a zoning change to enshrine protection of their homes into laws.
As Seattle increasingly becomes a playground for the rich, it’s more important than ever to have representatives like Kshama who will use their offices to bring the voices of ordinary people into City Hall.
This also means refusing donations from the corporate developers and CEOs who rake in profits at the expense of working people and the oppressed.