by Kirby Lindsay, posted 19 April 2013
How many Seattle City Councilmembers do you know? How many would you feel comfortable calling with your concerns about your corner of your neighborhood of the City of Seattle? How many do you feel listen, and have an interest in finding a resolution for you?
In an attempt to create a more responsive, active and accessible City Council, concerned Seattle citizens organized to launch the ‘Districts Now’ campaign. Currently they’ve got petitions circulating – they expect to collect 50,000 signatures in support of a vote to amend the City charter. They want the Seattle City Council composition changed from 9 at-large positions to 7 district and 2 at-large.
‘Knocking On Doors’
Seattle stands as one of the very last city with a population over 500,000 without a council responsive to specific districts. Under our current system, our nine at-large council members all represent 616,500 citizens each.
This system requires any candidate for Seattle City Council to raise over $267,000 (the average from the 2011 campaign season) to run their campaign. That figure is likely to rise again this coming election cycle, and will make it even less likely voters will see candidates that are young, unaffiliated, local, and/or free from financial obligations to the well-funded special interest groups.
“You’ll see a whole new crop of people,” Eugene Wasserman observed, “as they see a chance to break through.” Wasserman serves as Campaign Coordinator for Districts Now, which would require that a district council candidate reach 88,000 citizens in their specific, geographic area. A grassroots campaign, run with energy, enthusiasm and a dedication to knocking on every single door in the district with their message could, in those numbers, overcome a well-funded one.
Under the current system, “you can’t work your ass off to beat an incumbent,” observed Wasserman, and he does know our system. Wasserman has decades of experience working with City government, and he can get in to see all nine current councilmembers – but he still sees a need to change the status quo. “I’d like to see more diversity of opinions in the Council,” he explained, “and more accountability to the person on the street. I want accountability to people other than me.”
“People feel unattached to their government,” Wasserman stated. “I think it will be different,” when the Council has reason to answer to constituents over the monied special interests. In addition, under a district system, the seven districted councilmembers will bring the issues of their areas and reflect the diversity of our city. All nine would then have to find ways to reconcile the needs of everyone.
“We are not doing this because the current order must be destroyed,” Wasserman explained clearly, “there is no self-interest for me in doing this.” Wasserman welcomes the change the election could effect – while aware that it could leave him out in the cold. The active residents and business leaders behind the Districts Now campaign represent the spectrum of political ideologies, yet all agree a change is needed – although Wasserman admitted, “we’re not going to be knocking on doors.”
“We started out because we wanted a better system,” Wasserman explained, “but it has worked out to encourage younger people.” Those supporting the Districts Now campaign generally have full careers behind them, and aren’t likely to reap the benefits like the next generation of candidates – ones with energy, passion and a new idea for how to make our city – or their district – better.
How It Works
“A group had been talking for a while, and working with [Professor Emeritus Dr. Richard] Morrill,” who drew up the map that breaks down Seattle by population into seven districts, reported Wasserman. Once they had a map, they felt ready to sell the idea to petition signers and then the voters.
The district map – which puts Fremont largely in district #6, with East Fremont in #4 and South Fremont in #7 – clearly delineates where the seven districted councilmembers will live, and whom they represent, and will be changed every ten years according to census figures. Efforts to put the city in districts before – in 1975, 1995, and 2003 – failed to get a majority vote, but “no one had a map before,” explained Wasserman. This will also offer voters the first proposed ‘hybrid’ system, with two councilmembers still being elected from the city at large.
In addition to creating the map, the campaign narrowly drafted the city charter amendment to accomplish only their specific objectives, including rapid transition. If Seattle voters approve the amendment during the 2013 November general election, in the fall of 2015 all City Council positions go up for vote.
The seven councilmembers elected from the seven districts, in 2015, will serve full, four-year terms, with the two at-large councilmembers to serve two years. In 2017, the two at-large councilmembers go up for election again, for full, four-year terms. This would establish the City-wide council election as part of the same ballot that contains the vote for Mayor and City Attorney.
Currently, the Seattle School Board, the King County Council, our State Legislature, and the United States Congress all represent specific districts. Only the Seattle City Council does not. For those fed up with the lack of accountability, and for those hoping to engage a new generation in our government, visit the Districts Now website to find out about the petitions circulating, how to support the November vote and, if you can, how to contribute funds to make this change a reality.
- Getting Out The Vote
- by Kirby Lindsay, September 8, 2004 in the North Seattle Herald-Outlook
- Let Your Dollars Vote
- by Kirby Lindsay, July 30, 2010
©2013 Kirby Lindsay. This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.