Monthly Archives: October 2015

General Election Picks 2015: Our Last, Best Chance

This is it, peoples.


Two years ago, against the near-unified opposition of Seattle’s political establishment, an overwhelming two-thirds of Seattle voters approved a new, district-based composition for Seattle City Council. (Seven districts and two at-large seats.) The landslide reflected widespread disgust with a homogenous, unresponsive council almost universally in the pockets of big developers. The idea behind the campaign for Charter Amendment 19 (which – full disclosure – I was on the steering committee for) was to hold council members accountable to someone besides big downtown interests, give neighborhoods more of a voice, and make it easier for non-monied interests to run for office.

None of us working on CA 19 could have imagined the pent-up demand we unleashed. In this, the first local election year after CA 19’s passage, all nine council seats are up for election. In the primary, a staggering 47 people sought them. Three incumbents chose not to run for re-election, and another, undecagenarian Jean Godden, lost in the primary, so in January at least four of the nine seats will have new council members. For better or worse, we’re guaranteed to have the biggest turnover in city leadership in decades.

However, 2013’s charter amendment proponents also could not have imagined that in only two years, a city already politically dominated by real estate developer corporate welfare would become so swamped with money, new tech workers, and construction cranes that the inherent corruption of local politics would be boosted bazillionfold. Any local political observer with two brain cells to rub together understands that this month’s Triad Capital/Jonathan Grant scandal – in which $200,000 in independent expenditures was apparently waved around as leverage to get Grant to help resolve a lawsuit holding up one project – is not, and cannot possibly be, an isolated incident. The advent of districts has coincided, for Seattle, with a fundamental remaking of the city’s economy and demographics. Our city is rapidly becoming younger, whiter, wealthier, and less tolerant of anyone not fitting that profile.

This year’s election has several races which are clearly referendums on this change. Do you like paying $3,000 for a two-bedroom apartment? Do you memorialize the event in your diary when you see an open street parking spot? Are you planning to move to the suburbs, or farther afield to someplace more welcoming, if you’re not a young, childless white tech sector worker with a six-figure income? Then you’ll love the slate of candidates associated with Mayor Rd Murray and consultant Christian Sinderman, who is representing candidates in eight of the nine seats (including all but one of the incumbents) that promise to double down on our city’s transformation into a climate change ark for the wealthy.

If, on the other hand, you’ve spent years pining for more and better progressive voices on the council, people who’d prevent stalwarts like Kshama Sawant and the retiring Nick Licata from having to spend their days constantly on the losing end of 7-2 and 8-1 votes…Then there are several council candidates with real shots of winning – winning, even, a progressive majority on council – that you need to know about and vote for.

Because if they can’t get on council, preferably as a majority bloc, and slow down some of our city’s current excesses, the infusion of wealthy young hipsters onto our voting roles and post-Citizens United anonymous corporate megadollars into our elections is going to make it much, much harder locally to elect non-incumbent progressives in the future. Get these people on council, and then make sure they stay progressive.

This is it. If you care about the future of our city, vote, dammit.

And I recommend voting in the following ways, though, in this, my 20th year of local election picks, my caveats have never changed: this is one opinion. Take it for what it’s worth, which is, well, one opinion. Do your own research.

And be sure to vote by November 3 – this time it’s worth it – but don’t think for a second the job of changing the world, or even our city, will be over afterwards. Social change comes from below. Voting becomes most useful when – as Kshama Sawant has clearly demonstrated in her limited time on city council – people have already organized, not when the people and policies we empower are formally approved. Without the organizing, we’ll never get that chance, and even if everything we want to see happen in our city takes place, it only opens up that many more opportunities. Get out and make yourself heard all the time, not just by mailing in a piece of paper.

But do mail in that piece of paper. And fill it out like this:


King County Council, District 4: Sen Jeanne Kohl-Welles has always been one of the more active and progressive members of Seattle’s somnambulent contingent in Olympia. So you can understand that with Larry Phillips retiring, she might want the hefty pay raise and far less stressful environment that would come with a job in a legislative body not controlled by wingnut Republicans. She’s more than earned the promotion. Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

King County Council, District 6: Jane Hague? I kind of remember that name…wasn’t she the conservative tool of a county council member a few years ago who got popped for a DUI in an election year? (Family values!) Why, yes…yes, she was. But since she only had a meaningless permacandidate for an opponent that year, she got re-elected anyway?

What? Eight years later, she’s still on King County Council, and she’s still a conservative tool?

That ain’t right.

Fortunately, this year, at least, there’s a choice for Eastside voters. Democratic Bellevue mayor Claudia Balducci (yes, Bellevue elected a Democratic mayor!) is giving Hague a long-overdue, strong challenge. She’s not the most progressive of Democrats (it’s still Bellevue, after all…), but that’s still a massive upgrade over Hague’s 17 years of tooldom. Claudia Balducci.

King County Assessor: They say all politics is personal (and local), and never more so than in this race. Until not too long ago, John Wilson worked for incumbent assessor Lloyd Hara. Word is, Hara discovered that Wilson was allocating quite a bit of additional money…to himself, and fired him. Now Wilson wants Hara’s job, and says the dispute was over an iPad app, or something. Whom to believe?

Well, Hara’s done a solid job as King County Assessor, and previously served as a relatively reform-minded Port of Seattle Commissioner. He also appears to have good relationships across the political spectrum. That seems like a better bet than a disgruntled former eomplyee. Lloyd Hara.

King County Elections Director:I really like Zack Hudgins. For the last decade, representing his Southeast Seattle district, he’s been one of our better, more effective progressive voices in Olympia. Now he’running to head King County Elections. And much as I’d like to reward and support him for a job well done in Olympia…I just can’t. Because Zack could be the world’s greatest legislator, and he still doesn’t necessarily know shit about how to run elections. Julie Wise does.

Some context is in order here. In the wake of the controversially close first Gregoire/Rossi governor’s race in 2004, bitter Rossi supporters (mistakenly) blamed fraud at King County Elections for their loss. A hand-picked Republican judge in Wenatchee laughed their lawsuit out of court, but no matter; the controversy caused then-King County Elections Director Dean Logan to flee his job for California, and disgruntled Republicans to file an initiative making the directorship an elected rather than an appointed position – so that they could elect a partisan Republican, Katherine Harris-style, to the job. And the measure passed, since plenty of low-information Good Liberals thought, “Hey, more democracy! Great idea!”

Fortunately, not one but two batshit crazy Republicans – Sen Pam Roach (R-Dodge City) and David Irons (who’d previously lost a race for King County Executive when it came out that he’d physically assaulted his own mother) – ran in the 2009 special election for the new position, and Logan’s appointed replacement, elections professional Sherril Huff (who was Logan’s deputy director), won instead. And King County Elections, despite the transition to all-vote-by-mail, hasn’t been in the news for the last decade specifically because an elections professional, not a partisan politician, has been running the department.

Now, Huff is retiring, and her deputy, Julie Wise, is running to replace her. Which is why, even though I like his politics, I don’t want to set the precedent of having a politician like Hudgins, or any other partisan amateur, running our elections. And Hudgins’ sleazy, desperation last minute tactic – a robocall that sounds like it’s from the Department of Elections, falsely accusing Wise of misrepresenting her education credentials – just underscores why you don’t want a career politician, no matter how ideologically sympathetic, in this position.

Leave it to the professional. Julie Wise.

Port of Seattle, Seat 2: Courtney Gregoire, with her mother’s name, money connections, and instincts for business-friendly liberalism, waltzed to victory in this seat four years ago, and has spent the intervening four years honing the “business-friendly” part of her political resume. Alas, she had no meaningful re-election rivals this year, and so perennial candidate Goodspaceguy is her November opponent. It’s long been my policy not to endorse in uncontested races. Technically, this doesn’t qualify. In every other sense of our broken democracy, it does. Skip it.

Port of Seattle Seat 5: Last July, I remember chatting with candidate and former Normandy Park city council member Marion Yoshino, who cheerfully outlined to me how as a small town suburban nonentity, she’d win this open seat in a countywide vote when most people on her own street had no idea who she was. In a nine-person primary field, she explained she was the only woman candidate, so of course she’d finish second (to environmental activist Fred Felleman, the only one of the candidates with a genuine base). She’d then get all the business money for the general election against the tree-hugger, and, voila! A successful campaign, won while actually saying and doing nothing substantive at all.

Well, the first part of her plot for evil global domination actually worked, thanks to the stone ignorance and random choices of primary voters in downticket races. (Nutty permacandidate Richard Pope finished third, ahead of several qualified candidates who ran actual campaigns.) Yoshino got enough of the she’s-a-woman-so-she-must-be-less-predatory-than-the-guys vote to advance to the general election against Felleman.

(Side note: Anyone who actually believes that about a female candidate has clearly never spent any time around women, ever.)

Now Yoshino – who in the primary was all about climate change blah blah – is bestest friends with Alaska Airline, Shell Oil, SSA, the various cruise lines, and all the other corporate predators who’ve run the Port of Seattle for years and who very definitely do not want Fred Felleman on the commission. Felleman, a longtime, smart and dedicated environmentalist, would definitely be isolated on the Port Commission – but following the Sawant model, one activist can still accomplish quite a lot just by making his or her colleagues nervous. And the last thing the Port needs is yet another parasitic opportunist like Yoshino. Fred Felleman.

Seattle City Council, Position 1 (West Seattle): No development company executives would ever dream of offering to make disappear a six-figure expenditure on behalf of Shannon Braddock. That’s because the Joe McDermott aide, and Christian Sinderman client, has positioned herself since this race’s inception – when 11 people were vying for the seat – as the obedient establishment choice. Braddock has said and done nothing in the past year to disappoint them.

(Side note:The reactionaries on the Seattle Times editorial board – most of whom live in Mercer Island – endorsed Braddock as “not beholden to the uber-Left surge” in Seattle. They didn’t bother spelling out who, exactly, Braddock is beholden to, for the same reason that fish don’t think a lot about water.)

It’s a smart move for an ambitious young pol, because Braddock’s opponent scares the crap out of the Usual Suspects for all the right reasons. Lisa Herbold is also a longtime legislative aide, to progressive city council stalwart Nick Licata. She has been doing unsung but incredibly valuable work at City Hall for the entire 18 years of Licata’s council career. She is beloved by almost every political activist who’s ever dealt with his office, and more than a few who haven’t. With Licata retiring, she’s also the strongest bet this year for a new progressive champion on council. Do not hesitate. Vote many times if possible. Lisa Herbold
Seattle City Council, Position 2 (South Seattle): Let’s start with who not to vote for – incumbent Bruce Harrell. Harrell, the council’s chair of the Public Safety Committee during the city’s resistance to federal efforts to reform the Seattle Police Department, has been among the worst apologists for SPD abuses. As the council’s sole African-American, Harrell is now running to represent South Seattle; that record should be triply disqualifying. There are other reasons not to support Harrell, but that’s plenty.
Thing is Harrell isn’t interested in representing South Seattle; as his time on council and his mayoral run have repeatedly shown, Harrell is almost entirely interested in representing, and promoting, Bruce Harrell. This includes, just in the last month, some shenanigans to get a 37th LD Democratic Party endorsement, falsely claiming credit for a municipal broadband proposal, and a backfired attempt at pandering by planning to introduce a resolution praising Christopher Columbus on Indigenous Peoples Day. And, as yet another Christian Sinderman client, he is very much Part of the Problem.

Fortunately, there’s a far better option. Tammy Morales is more progressive, more responsive, is also a person of color, and doesn’t act like someone who wishes they could hang out with Tammany Hall. Morales has run a solidly progressive (and well-organized) campaign, and has a realistic shot at beating Harrell. That’s where we come in. Tammy Morales.

Seattle City Council, Position 3 (Capitol Hill): The knock by some progressives two years ago on Kshama Sawant – aside from distrusting the ideologues at her party, Socialist Alternative – was that, sure, she talked a great and inspiring game. But how effective could she really be on council?

The answer is in, and it’s unambiguous: Sawant has gotten more done in 20 months than most council members can point to in their entire careers. And she’s done it with almost the entire Seattle civic and political establishment horrified of her. Besides making the city’s $15/hour minimum wage a national model, Sawant made key social service improvements to last fall’s city budget, got a horrific Seattle Housing Authority rent increase stopped, and was out in front on Capitol Hill’s spike in hate crimes and especially the city’s accelerating housing crisis long before any other elected official. (As with the minimum wage two years ago, she’s the sole reason council passed a pro-rent control resolution last month.) This is what progressive organizing looks like.

Sawant has done exactly what she promised to do – listen to and prioritize the concerns of the ordinary working people long-ignored at City Hall. Which is exactly why this will be the most expensive council race in city history, as both local and national special interests channel their horror into unseating her. Carrying the banner for special interests, and Ed Murray, and Christian Sinderman, is former Urban League executive Pamela Banks. Banks has run a dishonest, bigoted campaign whose primary – OK, only – selling point is that she’s not Sawant. That’s been plenty to get her the endorsements of SPOG and all the usual suspects, and, in a last minute development, an enormous chunk of corporate soft money in a “Neighbors for Banks” PAC led by a Comcast CEO from Puyallup and a Bank of America executive who lives in District 3’s richest neighborhood. Nice “neighbors,” and yes, you read that correctly: Banks own Banks.

(Hint: If Pamela Banks were as progressive as she claims she is, with two citywide seats also available, she wouldn’t have chosen to run against the most progressive member of Seattle City Council.)

Banks is exactly the sort of pliable civic nonentity the Seattle establishment loves. Sawant…is not. She’s shown the path this year for a whole slate of additional progressive candidates, she’s made all the right enemies, and she’s more than earned a full four-year term. Kshama Sawant.

Seattle City Council, Position 4 (University District): There’s a reason why, after more terms than I care to think about, the former Court Reporter for Alexander the Great, Jean Godden, was forcibly retired in last August’s primary. After nearly losing her past two elections, it was clear that Godden’s days as an automatic vote for developer corporate welfare were numbered.

So the developers went and found a younger, more polished automatic vote for their gravy train: Rob Johnson, a transportation activist and urbanist True Believer who is happy to vomit the Randian nonsense that the “free” market will take care of all of Seattle’s housing ills, provided, of course, that it includes massive subsidies for the wealthy. Did I mention the words vomit? Ed Murray? Christian Sinderman? The massive Chamber of Commerce PAC monies supporting his campaign?

Happily, there is once again a far better alternative. Michael Maddux, an LGBT and Democratic Party activist, is part of an emerging progressive counter-slate that includes Herbold, Sawant, and Grant. Vote for him, or you’ll regret it. Michael Maddux.

Seattle City Council, Position 5 (Northeast Seattle): The early favorite in this district was Sandy Brown, who is a former Church Council of Greater Seattle head, 7,294 Year Plan To End Homelessness architect, and (of course) Christian Sinderman client. Brown cares about social issues but, as you might gather, is rather too fond of the kind of bureaucratic “solutions” civic Seattle likes to use to wash its hands of such icky problems. It’s easy to envision Brown voting to upzone all of Northeast Seattle while eliminating all affordable housing requirements and voting to study why, exactly, rents are so much cheaper in Moses Lake.

But once again, there’s a better choice, and she’s gathered enough momentum since narrowly winning the primary that she’s got a good chance of winning. Debora Juarez, a former public defender and judge, is running a strong campaign on housing and social justice issues. Most importantly, she shares Brown’s good heart but combines it with far more passion and dynamism. Debora Juarez.

Seattle City Council, Position 6 (Ballard): Sometimes, Mike O’Brien has been an invaluable progressive voice on council, a reliable third vote (with Licata and Sawant) for progressive principles. And sometimes, he’s been a sanctimonious urbanist nuisance, using climate change as the excuse for handing big developers the keys to the civic vault.

Way back in 1997, two candidates with Green Party backing (no kidding, it actually mattered back then) won with progressive campaigns and would go on to long council careers. One, Nick Licata, retiring this year, would become revered for his combination of idealism and effectiveness. The other, Richard Conlin. would become a pompous ass, corporate welfare toadie, and all-around sellout, so widely loathed that he was beaten in 2013 by an open socialist.

O’Brien is still a better choice this year than his unqualified NIMBYist challenger. And he’s the only candidate I’m endorsing who isn’t running against a Christian Sinderman client. He’s great on some issues, and by no means a lost cause on others. But in his next term, Mike O’Brien needs to decide which career he wants to have. Conlin’s? Or Licata’s?

Seattle City Council, Position 7 (downtown): Like O’Brien, Sally Bagshaw faces no serious option. Unlike him, she represents everything wrong with city council: wealthy, photogenic, blandly friendly, and just enough social conscience to mask the fact that she is a wholly owned puppet of the greedheads ruining Seattle. Naturally, she’s also a Christian Sinderman client. I’d suggest writing in Beezlebub, but King County Elections would just assign the vote to Bagshaw

Say, doesn’t Nick Hanauer have n office downtown? He must have a cot and shower in a back roon, right? Doesn’t that count as a residence? Of course it does. Good enough. Write him in. Write in Nick Hanauer.

Seattle City Council, Position 8 (citywide): Tim Burgess is city council president. He’s also council’s most conservative and business-friendly member, a former cop and a former consultant for a full decade to the reactionary, evangelical anti-feminist group Concerned Women for America, and a shrewd operator who’s raised boatloads of corporate cash. He started to run for mayor in 2013, but then cut a deal, dropped out, and endorsed Ed Murray. He’s a Christian Sinderman client. “Part of the Problem” is tattooed across his lower back. And he just might lose anyway..

Jonathan Grant is a former tenant organizer who’s run an outstanding grass roots campaign, but it took a crude shakedown attempt by an arrogant and/or careless development company executive – allegedly, of course – to make him a household name. Overnight, Grant has become a folk hero simply because he didn’t want to commit a felony. We need more council members like that. Jonathan Grant.

Seattle City Council, Position 9 (citywide): Neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd should be part of this year’s insurgent progressive slate. He’s a personal friend and a Nice Guy. He has a good history as a neighborhood activist. I agree with him on most issues. Except that nobody wants to work with him, and despite being perfectly positioned for an open seat, he’s run one of the most inept local campaigns by a serious candidate in memory. It’s a shame.

It’s doubly a shame because his opponent is Lorena Gonzales, whose major apparent qualifications for office are a legitimately inspiring personal biography, and having just been Ed Murray’s attorney. Her consultant is, well, you know.

Who does that leave? Nobody. Everybody. Really. It’s a big city, a citywide seat, and any legal adult can serve on council with enough write-in votes. The city charter says nothing about sports mascots, so let’s go with some who’s probably desperate for a new job. The Mariner Moose.

Seattle School Board, Position 1: This one is a no-brainer/ Scott Pinkham, an educator and Native American, wants better teacher pay, less testing, and historical accounts that aren’t revisionist colonial bullshit. All of these are worthy goals. Scott Pinkham.

Seattle School Board, Position 2: [edited since original post due to reader feedback] Rick Burke has a resume that reads like the Anointed One, the bureaucratic establishment choice to continue policies more concerned with spread sheets and visioning plans than actual human beings, let alone kids. However, he’s also getting support from the reform candidates running for the other three seats – perhaps he can bridge the unbridgeable gap between reality and the Glass Palace. (Hope springs eternal…) Laura Gramer is, among other things, deaf – in other words, likely to bring a badly needed sensitivity to a district whose approach to special education has lately veered between minimalist and contemptuous. She’s also passionate, smart, and isn’t friends with all the wrong people. But she also doesn’t have the experience or progressive support that Burke does. I’d say pick ’em, depending on your priorities. Rick Burke or Laura Gramer.

Seattle School Board, Position 3 : Jill Geary is an attorney who has worked on the issue of (the criminally underfunded) special education in programs in Seattle schools for 17 years. Her opponent, Lauren McGuire, is getting a boatload of money from the corporate education parasites at the Gates Foundation. I know who I trust more. Jill Geary.

Seattle School Board, Position 6: Four years ago, reform advocates for the long-dismal, corporate-dominated Seattle School Board worked hard to get Marty McLaren in office in her West Seattle district. Now, they’re working to get her out.

McLaren almost immediately went over to the dark side, voting with the downtown cabal running the Glass Palace on issues as disparate as standardized testing, for-profit education, the district’s latest educrat superintendent, and the district’s war on alternative schools. And so, now, reform advocates have a new hope for someone to join the progressive rump of Betty Patu and Sue Peters on the board: Leslie Harris, whose campaign has targeted both the district’s testing fetish and its appalling lack of transparency and contempt for the public – a contempt McLaren, sadly, seems to share. Like city council, the school board could go either way this election, and the stakes are high and the differences stark- as articulated vividly by this year’s teachers’ strike and the district leadership’s retributions since. With Patu, Peters, and hopefully Geary and Harris, the educrats’ dominance of the Seattle School Board has a real chance to end this fall. Leslie Harris,


I-1366: As you read this, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson is deciding whether or not to follow the PDC Board’s recommendation to pursue felony charges against initiative profiteer Tim Eyman for laundering money and getting kickbacls on his signature-gathering drives.

Despite his long history of legally dubious relationships with the truth, incredibly, Eyman is still on the ballot again this year – even though I-1366 has likely enriched him in exactly the tame way. This time, Eyman is seeking to do an end-around to yet another state Supreme Court ruling that this initiative – in this case, the half-dozen or so the-legislature-can’t-raise-any-tax-or-fee-without-a-supermajority-that’s-impossible-to-get nonsense – by forcing various poison pills on the state legislature if it does not pass a constitutional amendment legalizing Eyman’s pet measure. In most civilized circles, this is called extortion, and it’s frowned upon.

Bottom line: A lot of people are dead because of Tim Eyman’s initiatives. For the damage Tim Eyman has done over the years to not only the state budget, but the many thousands of people whose lives have been altered or destroyed by the cutbacks his efforts (and lies) necessitated, Tim Eyman should be in prison serving life without parole. Hopefully, by the next election, Mukilteo’s loss will be Walla Walla’s loss, too. Meantime, as usual, Eyman’s latest initiative is a spectacularly bad idea. No.

I-1401:: This is the third issue for which local federal treasury outpost Paul Allen has attempted to buy statewide voter approval for a pet project. Unlike the first two – charter schools, and public funding to build a high-tech playpen for the Seahawks – Allen doesn’t directly, personally profit from voter approval. (In another case, Allen was a major donor to the campaign to block a state income tax on quintillionaires like…Allen. This time, it’s one of Paul Allen’s notorious hobbies. Thankfully, his pet issue in this case isn’t erecting a statue of himself playing next to Jimi or taking out a Romulan or something. Capricious or not, it’s actually a good public policy idea. I-1401 would crack down on people who traffic in the body parts of elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, sharks, rays, and pangolins (the latter a small mammal named after its native country in Central Asia.)

The risk, of course, is that if Allen wins this vote, next year we’ll be voting on giving Allen’s Vulcan Inc. the deed to every single family home in Seattle. (Working title: “Seattle Commons III.”) Yes.

Advisory Votes No. 10, 11, 12 & 13: Once again, a past Tim Eyman waste of time initiative requires that in the unlikely event a tax or fee increase does get bipartisan support and passes, voters must give their meaningless “advisory vote” opinions on each. Only four such items passed in Olympia this year, which is itself a symptom of the disease; But on general principal, you should support each. Maintained.

King County Charter Amendment No. 1: As with Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability. King County’s Office of Law Enforcement Oversight, which supposedly gives the rest of us some measure of control of the cops whose salaries we pay, is an ineffective, toothless agency. In large part, this is because in each case all the agency can do is review internal investigations – they have no ability to subpoena officers or compel testimony under oath. (Of course, cops can and do lie under oath, too. But at leasf it’s riskier when they do.) All they can do is take officers at their word, and ensure the forms were all filled out correctly.

Charter Amendment No. 1 would not change all that – because, as with Seattle, the county’s contract with unionized KCSO officers forbids it. But this measure would allow the county to insist on the provision when contract negotiations come up. (Would that Seattle officials gave enough of a fuck to do this.) The measure has the support of reformist sheriff John Unquhart, almost every county council member, and – hopefully – voters. And hopefully this can happen soon too the Neanderthals at SPOG, too. Yes.

King County Proposition No. 1: Don’t let the marketing of “Best Start for Kids” – and politicians’ tendency to invoke “kids” whenever they’re trying to sell a really bad idea – put you off. This is the county equivalent of Seattle’s pilot program for universal preschool; only County Executive Dow Constantine is going for a different, more comprehensive approach: early interventions in prenatal and postnatal care, nutrition, and other social services essential to healthy early child development. This is the sort of thing civilized societies do. Routinely. Approved.

Seattle I-122: This is the latest attempt by Seattle activists to impose some sort of sanity on local campaign financing. I-122 is rather ingenious – which is exactly the danger, that it would be too complicated for voters to trust it. The really unfamiliar part – beyond lower individual contribution limits, greater transparency, and other reforms of the existing system – is a property tax-funded program for something called “democracy vouchers,” in which each voter, in each regular election, gets four $25 vouchers to distribute as they like mong canidadates. The result is not only a reliable source of candiddate funding outside the maximum contribution downtown circui, but a democratization of who gives to local candidates. As we’ve seen with the Triad fiasco this year, that is by definition a very good thing. Yes.

Seattle Proposition No. 1: I wish that years of covering local politics hadn’t left me so cynical. (Who am I kidding? I was always this way…) But when I get a full color, eight-page fold-out poster-sized mailer – only a bit over a page of which is actual text – urging me to vote to send in my money, my first thought is going to be: To Whom? Followed closely by: For What?

For Mayot Muttay’s record $930 million transportation levy, these happen to be exceptionally appropriate questions. Because who, of course, is going to question a transportation levy? Everyone knows Seattle desperately needs to spend money, a lot of it, on transportation projects. Drivers are stuck in gridlock, and then spend the next month looking for parking. Pedestrians and cyclists fear for their lives every day. And public transit? In central neighborhoods, busses are bursting at the seams. Elsewhere, schedules, especially on nights and weekends, are a cruelly underfunded joke. Roads and bridges are falling apart. Who wouldn’t want a levy – a big one.?

The catch, of course, is that all these transporttation modes are truly dysfunctional precisely because of similar pitches made for previous pots of money. What happened? Virtually every discretionary dollar in Seattle’s transportation budgets for the last 15 years has gone to one of two real estate scams – either the Mercer Mess, aka the Paul Allen Beautification Project, which literally spent over a billion dollars to make traffic flow on Mercer worse but gave Allen’s South Lake Union holdings a nice boost in property value; and Mike McGinn’s vanity streetcar system, which doesn’t create any new transit riders but so far has only succeeded in, uh, giving Paul Allen’s South Lake Union holdings a nice boost in property value.

You can see why someone might wonder whether voting for this measure is simply going to funnel $930 million (give or take a thousand) to som licky pangolin somewhere. And, sure enough, although that poster-sized mailer waxes enthusiastic about all sorts of cool and necessary project, almost none of Proposition 1’s revenue is actually required to go to those projects.

We’ve seen this sort of shell game before – and in this time where local politics is clearly under attack from people who think they’re entitled to get richer from every source of public largesse they can find, it’s completely reasonable to demand a levy proposal where we can trust that the projects we’re being promised will actually get the money we want them to have. This is not that proposal. No.

Disclaimer: At various times over the past year, I have served as a paid consultant or advisor for a Port campaign that failed to advance beyond the primary, along with that of a city council candidate who later ended his campaign; and served without pay on the steering committees of Bill Bradburd and Kshama Sawant. As of this writing, the Sawant position is the only one I’m still involved with.

The Curious Case of the 37th District

This year will long be remembered as a milestone in local Seattle electoral politics, and not just because of the new district system of city council elections. The infusion of enormous wealth into Seattle’s economy – and especially the seemingly limitless corporate welfare enjoyed by real estate interests – has finally given Seattle big city politics. That is, politics in which large sums of money are spent, inside and perhaps outside the boundaries of the law, to keep well-lubricated the steady movement of money from local taxpayers to the very wealthy.

Most obviously, this has been seen in the unprecedented (at least since Prohibition days) allegation of Jonathan Grant, who appears to have gained enormous traction running on affordable housing issues against city council president Tim Burgress. Grant claims that a developer behind a $200,000 drop of soft money on behalf of the already well-funded Burgess campaign told Grant that the expenditure would disappear if Grant… cooperated. This is good old-fashioned big city shadowy mob politics, and it’s not because of Seattle’s transition to the oft-warned-of “ward politics” – the Burgess/Grant race is for one of the council’s two new citywide seats. No, this is about making money, and it’s about buying politicians for pennies on the megadollar.

Whether or not Grant’s allegations are proven, however, the transition of local politics into a Martin Scorcese script can be seen in far more interesting, and numerous, ways in a story that got less attention this month: the apparent hijacking of the endorsement votes of the Democrats’ 37th (state) Legislative District group in southeast Seattle.

Now, local Democratic LD endorsements get an enormous yawn from everyone except political insiders. They help, but they rarely swing elections on their own. But they’re coveted by campaigns, not just for a line in direct mail ads, but because the local Democratic LDs have something not many campaigns themselves have a lot of: volunteers. Get endorsed by the 37th, 43rd, or any other local LD, and their stalwarts will go door to door telling their neighbors to vote for you. That’s a far more effective way to influence voters than postcards or prerecorded calls.

In the primary, the 37th didn’t get the 60 percent needed to endorse Burgess. In the two new council districts the 37th overlaps with, members also could not agree to endorse incumbent Bruce Harrell and voted not to endorse in the Pamela Banks/Kshama Sawant race – a victory for Sawant, who as a non-Democrat wasn’t eligible for the endorsement.

Last month, the group endorsed in all three races – by only one vote in its Burgess and Banks endorsements. What changed?

It was the electorate that changed. Only district party members, with dues paid 25 days before the election, are eligible to vote. On the final day to join in late August, a member of Harrell’s staff called the chair of the 37th, asking if it was legal for the campaign to purchase bulk memberships. A few hours after Harrell’s staff got their answer – no, it’s not legal, because it runs afoul of campaign finance laws – an anonymous caller arranged to run out to the house of the group’s treasurer at 10:30 PM to present 15 sequentially numbered and separately signed money orders for new members.

The new members turned out to be employees of Eastside for Hire, a cab company whose owner, Abdul Yusuf, made the anonymous call. Yusuf has also been an outspoken opponent of legislation before the council that would allow cab drivers to unionize. And come the night of the endorsement vote, there was the cluster of East African cab drivers, huddled with Tim Burgess and Bruce Harrell, who, according to witnesses, were instructing them as to how to vote in the Burgess, Harrell, and Banks races. Supporters of those candidates were so loud in their heckling and jeering of statements by opposing supporters that those statements could not even be heard.

As it turned out, some of the 37th’s new voters shouldn’t have voted. At least five voters lived outside the 37th District or otherwise weren’t eligible. Those votes almost certainly swung the one-vote-margin Burgess and Banks races.

Supporters of the losing candidates cried foul, but the 37th’s executive committee, under heavy pressure, declined to rescind the endorsements or have a re-vote. And the winning campaigns – all sharing the same consultant, Christian Sinderman – went on the counterattack. Sinderman’s office sent out a press release claiming critics of the vote were motivated by racism against East Africans.

(Ironically, the same week, Banks gave an interview in which she questioned Sawant’s ability to understand civil rights issues since – referencing the fact that Sawant is an immigrant – “If you’re not from here and you don’t understand the history of this country…” In 2013, East Africans overwhelmingly supported Sawant.)

Sinderman, it should be noted, is also Mayor Ed Murray’s campaign consultant. This year, Sinderman’s company, Northwest Passages, represents candidates in an unprecendented eight of the nine council races – Burgess, Harrell, Banks, incumbent Sally Bagshaw, and open seat candidates Lorena Gonzales (citywide), Shannon Braddock (West Seattle), Rob Johnson (University District), and Sandy Brown (Northeast Seattle). All of these candidates are broadly understood as favorites of Murray, the developer lobby, and the local political establishment. So far no non-Sinderman candidate in the general election has received any of the unprecedented flood of corporate soft money. Burgess, Banks, Braddock, and Johnson – the four candidates facing the most progressive challengers, all thought to be in close races – have received the bulk of it.

And those ineligible voters in the 37th? Four of the five, it turned out, weren’t from the Eastside for Hire contingent at all – and one, Maggie Thompson, works as a policy advisor in Mayor Ed Murray’s office.

So, in this incestuous little tableau, we have at least the appearance of the following: A possible quid pro quo of Harrell’s opposition to unionizing cabbies in exchange for endorsement votes; coercion of employees by their boss to mobilize for the boss’s preferred candidates; the bulk purchase of qualifying memberships by a campaign (a SEEC complaint on this item was rejected for lack of evidence); coordination between the mayor or his allies and a supermajority of council campaigns; the cabbies being instructed how to vote on allied campaigns; use of illegitimate endorsements by at least the Banks and Burgess campaigns; and bullying, threats, and race-baiting to intimidate and discredit critics.

That smells like a whole lot of ugly dealings for one simple endorsement meeting. But when so much money is riding on getting the properly pliant people on Seattle’s city council, you can bet that we’re going to see more, not less, of this sort of strongarm politics in the future. Welcome to the big leagues.

[Note: An initial version of this post incorrectly characterized the LD’s primary endorsements. The post was changed to reflect that correction – gp 10-13 11 AM]