Revisiting City Council, Position 9

Pat Murakami herself managed to convince me not to vote for her.

Every time over these past many years, when giving election recommendations, I’ve encouraged readers and listeners not to take my word for it. Do your own research. I’m just one guy, and I can make mistakes.

And I made one in this year’s primary.

I tend to include strategic voting (not necessarily the best or most sympathetic candidate) among the factors that inform my picks, and on occasion I’ve chosen one candidate in the primary, and another in the general election. But I don’t remember ever getting information that caused me to change my mind before the vote in question has even happened. Until now.

And it’s not the race you might think, the one where several strong progressives are competing against each other for an open mayorship. It’s the at-large Seattle City Council Position 9, where I picked small business owner and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami over incumbent Lorena Gonzalez.

I was well aware that Murakami has some…problematic history fighting against the placement of social services in her neighborhood. But here was my logic: Gonzalez hasn’t been horrible overall. But in the city council’s most urgent issue, the runaway development that aspires to turn every third Seattle neighborhood into a miniature Manhattan, a series of zoning and development decisions have driven much of the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises. Gonzalez has been and would continue to be part of that problem. Murakami likely would not.

For the last decade, as part of successive mayors’ zeal to ram through upzoning, neighborhood activists have basically been shut out of city decision-making. First, the long-time and highly respected head of Seattle’s department that oversees neighborhoods was forced out. Ed Murray moved to entirely defund the city’s neighborhood council system. The new district system for city council implemented in 2015, with all nine seats up for election, certainly encouraged more candidates – but the winners two years ago included arguably no council members previously known primarily as advocates in and for their districts. Meanwhile, small business owners are fast becoming an endangered species, and our city is doing less than nothing to help forestall tat. The only small business owner currently on city council, Tim Burgess, is retiring.

My logic was that while I’m not thrilled with Murakami’s record on issues I care about, her campaign platform is more nuanced than her history would suggest, and as one of nine members she would bring a badly underrepresented voice to city council. Plenty of readers, including some friends whose experience and opinions I respect enormously, objected, citing Murakami’s history, but I still think that logic was sound. They didn’t change my mind.

Pat Murakami herself did.

Responding personally to criticism in a thread from a post by the invaluable Sarajane Siegfriedt, here’s what Murakami wrote last week:

“If someone came here because they were rejected by their families (for example, because they are gay), then we should embrace and assist them. If their pastor sent them here with a one-way bus ticket because they are a drug addict that that community doesn’t want to deal with, then shame on them! Every community should take care of their own members that can’t take care of themselves….

“If the taxpayers of Seattle are fine with paying for permanent housing for people that arrived here last week via a bus ticket given to them by a pastor, social worker or police officer from another state, then of course, we’ll pay for and provide the permanent housing…no matter how despicable they are.”

Okay, I made those last six words up. But they don’t seem out of place, do they?

One of the statistics from this year’s point-in-time count that Murakami should know by heart is that 87 percent of homeless people here have previously had housing in King County. That’s seven of every eight, and it tracks with the same types of numbers in other cities with exorbitant rents. Further, of the people who do arrive here from elsewhere, it’s usually for opportunities – a promised job, or an environment more welcoming to sexual or other minorities, or access to needed physical or mental health services.

The number of homeless that “come here to get free stuff” or who get handed a ticket out of their home towns is vanishingly small. It’s a bizarre and cruel myth, based on fear and popularized by hatemongers like KIRO-FM’s Dori Monson. The only people who believe that this scenario happens with any kind if regularity are simply looking for a way to rationalize their bigotry. They’re horrible human beings. Promoting such stereotypes on the campaign trail isn’t just appalling – it’s also dangerous in itself, because it panders to and legitimizes such bigotry in others – and that’s already, sadly, a significant problem in our city.

It’s even worse in this case, because it’s hard to tell from her words whether Murakami’s “nuanced” approach stems from benevolence or bitterness. Either way, it’s bad. You can’t help people who bear almost no resemblance to your stereotypes of them, because you’ll never understand what does and does not help.

And this wasn’t ten, five, or even one year ago. It was last week. When such sentiments come, unprompted, will ballots already mailed, from a candidate for city-wide office who has had every chance to know better – and who, failing that, also lacks the wisdom to simply STFU – they’re instantly disqualifying. I will not be voting for Pat Murakami.

Or for Lorena Gonzalez, who still has the same problems. Or for official civic menace David Preston, for that matter.

One other candidate I should mention, who is being promoted by union friends I respect, is WFSE Local 304 President Ty Pethe. I’d like to take a chance on him. But his campaign has underwhelmed, and his voters’ guide statement is frankly embarrassing – we learn that he’s a union guy, that he loves his union, that he likes humble bragging about his honesty, that he’s a union guy, and…that’s it. I have no idea what he’d do on council.

I’ll definitely be revisiting this vexing race in October. But for now, as I often recommend when I don’t feel comfortable supporting any of the candidates for a position, I’m going to… skip it.

UPDDATE: Murakami is still going in this thread. She’s not helping herself.

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