The newly-elected City Council held their first session today. Taking their oath of office, speechifying, and picking teams were all on the agenda.
The majority of the agenda today was taken up with administering the oath of office to each Council member in turn, followed by a speech in which each thanked all the people who helped get them to today and laid out their agenda and priorities for the year.
Despite the fact that seven of the nine positions now represent districts rather than the whole city, only two Council members — O’Brien and Bagshaw — made direct reference to their own district and its needs. All nine of them spoke to the big themes that have been dominating local politics recently: income and housing inequity, homelessness, and labor issues.
Lisa Herbold spoke to her long history of working in City Hall — starting as a janitor when she was 13 and working her way up. After stating “We must make sure that people are not left behind,” she listed her two big priorities: instituting developer impact fees to pay for programs that address the problems caused by economic and population growth, and “responsible, responsive and accountable policing.”
Bruce Harrell, in the first of his two speeches today, noted the words he expected to hear “over and over again:” equity, civil rights, justice and fairness — their “political DNA” — as they strive to realize their vision of “a Seattle that is just and moral.” He spoke at length about the importance of education, claiming that “education has always been at the center of my life.” He will be leading the Council’s committee work on education; he said “I think we have to stop seeing education as a race, and [see it] as a process of self-discovery.”
Kshama Sawant, who filled the Council chambers with her supporters, delivered a characteristic fiery speech. Beginning with the claim that her election and their successes over the past two years with the $15 minimum wage and other legislative victories showed “immigrants and working people an come together and make social change.” She called for “political revolution against the billionaire class,” and laid out the big problems she saw in a city “blighted by income and wealth and housing inequality:” an ever-growing housing crisis, an unaccountable police force, and “the largest gender pay gap in the country.” Among the legislation she intends to fight for:
- A minimum of 12 weeks paid parental leave;
- Rent control;
- Building thousands of city-owned affordable housing units;
- Fair worker scheduling legislation.
None of these are new or surprising; give Sawant points for consistency in her goals.
Rob Johnson stated his desire to think long-term, saying: “We must commit ourselves as city leaders to making plans for 2065, not just 2018.” In that spirit he spoke to his desire to make comprehensive plans for the city and regional transportation system, getting the city to carbon-neutral, and creating a holistic education system that “prepares students for any path they choose.”
Debora Juarez had unfortunately lost her voice but nevertheless fought her way through her oath of office and speech. She noted that this was only the second time she had ever lost her voice, and the first time all of her colleagues in her law office were very happy. After noting in thanks to her family, friends and supporters that “you don’t get here by yourself,” she claimed that this is a historic day — not because she is Latina or Native American, but “because I am America. I am a product of 1970s War on Poverty programs. I am a product of Affirmative Action.” She also noted her fervent belief that “you should live with the people you represent,” a lesson she learned from the Native American community.
Mike O’Brien asked a woman currently living in transitional housing to swear him in, and gave her the chance to say a few words at the end of his speech. He spoke at great length about the housing and homelessness crises in Seattle and stated that two of his highest priorities were to make “the next housing levy as big and robust as possible,” and to create more shelter and safe places for people to stay at night. He also looked forward to his work on the Sustainability and Transportation Committees to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Sally Bagshaw noted that she was posting a list of her seven priorities on her blog, but focused her remarks on her human services which she has increasingly been involved in over the past two years and looks forward to providing more leadership in that area this year. She claimed to have a new approach to human services, which is to treat it as a public health issue in which “my objective is to invest in each individual to get our neighbors the services they need.”
Bagshaw also noted the importance of addressing the housing and homelessness issues, but said “We need a regional approach. Seattle can’t do it alone.” An she emphasized that she wanted to see a “sustainable” parental leave program put in place.
Tim Burgess noted that he will be taking over the oversight of city finances and budgeting, pointing out that several important voter-approved levies will be coming up for renewal and new ones will need to be put forward; but he emphasized that in his view “Seattle voters, in their wisdom, always step up.” He spoke at length about early childhood education and the work he did over the past two years to start the preschool program. He ended with a haiku that summarizes his goals as a Council member:
Always serve humbly
Do things that really matter
Focus most on the kids.
Lorena Gonzalez, going last, began by noting that six weeks ago she was sworn in so she didn’t feel the need to do another lengthy speech. In stating “We must be a voice for those so often forced into the shadows, only to be silenced,” she listed her four priorities:
- Gender inequality;
- Income inequality;
- Housing affordability.
Gonzalez concluded by saying “I am certain that 2016 will be a year of action.”
Following the oaths of office and speeches, as expected the Council voted Bruce Harrell as the new Council President. Harrell is expected to be a moderating influence, following in the footsteps of Tim Burgess the outgoing President — which did not sit well with Sawant’s supporters in attendance who would have preferred a farther-left President who would more aggressively push progressive legislation through. Harrell was nominated by Mike O’Brien and seconded by Sally Bagshaw, both who spoke of Harrell’s commitment to fairness and justice in an attempt to make Harrell a consensus candidate. In a nod to political expediency and comity, Harrell was unanimously elected by his peers — though it would be interesting to have watched all the backroom conversations that led to that outcome. In Harrell’s acceptance speech he talked to his desire to support all of his colleagues. He also waxed about his excitement for this particular group of nine Council members and their willingness to fight for those in need, saying “The city needs to be led by people who know what it means to be without power.”
The Council also ratified the committees and assignments for the coming year; again, no surprises here.
The full video of today’s Council meeting is here.