When Donald Trump came to power, he did it by railing against “the establishment,” encouraging disruptive behavior that polarized the nation and is now making it difficult for leaders to reach consensus on difficult issues.
Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant is doing to Seattle from the left what Trump has done to the nation from the right. ““Sawant is a populist ideologue who is currently spending more time building a national political movement than being a Seattle legislator,” says Kevin Schofield, editor of the Seattle City Council Insight blog.
This spring, for example, Sawant called on her followers to shut down airports and block highways in Seattle on May Day as a way to “stop Trump.” She seemed unconcerned about the inconvenience such actions could cause to thousands of Seattle residents. “The chaos we created at the nation’s airports gives a hint of what’s possible,” she wrote on her website about an earlier action.
Sawant has regularly invited her followers to disrupt council meetings. “Pack City Hall!” she emailed followers at the end of May. “Tell Council Loud and Clear: Tax the Rich!” The boos and catcalls of her supporters have helped her bully the City Council into passing a string of regulations that have given Seattle the reputation of being anti-business.
“We used to be a partner to the city,” says Mike Dunn, whose family-run lumberyard has operated in Seattle for more than a century. “Now we are seen as greedy villains.”
With the impending retirement of Tim Burgess, who SeattleiPI.com columnist Joel Connelly once called “the adult in the room,” there is a danger that the council could spend more time addressing an ideological agenda and less time addressing a widening range of immediate problems from road and bridge maintenance to traffic congestion. Talented civil servants such as Kathleen O’Toole, a police chief who has brought discipline and calm to the city, could choose not to remain here in such a politically charged environment.
We are fortunate to have at least two candidates running in November who could help bring balance to city government.
During her five years as U.S. Attorney, Jenny Durkan was a strong leader who helped hammer out reforms to improve relations between the police and city residents. She is running for mayor and would likely do a great job leading the city at a difficult time in its transition to a major metropolitan area.
Sara Nelson, who worked on Sound Transit, mandatory recycling and other issues as an aide to former council member Richard Conlin and then went on to cofound Fremont Brewing Company, is running for an at-large council seat. She combines policy smarts with the problem-solving mentality of the small-business owner. She has been a strong advocate for independent brewers and has taken steps to make her company a leader in sustainability. She took measures to compost the thousands of pounds of waste produced in the brewing process and is now looking for ways to use “digesters” to turn the waste into energy and fertilizer.
Seattle likes to push the envelope on social issues. Witness the $15-per-hour minimum wage. But to the extent that such programs have worked, it is because they have been developed in collaboration with businesses and others influenced by the new rules. As we head into the heat of election season, we should remind ourselves that with the many challenges Seattle now faces, we need problem solvers who can collaborate to help make our city better, not rabble rousers who try to bring it down.
LESLIE HELM is executive editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.