Longtime Seattle politicians are deciding to retire rather than face reelection under a new district-election system that requires them to talk to voters instead of just raise money.
This is great news. City hall will get new talent and may ultimately be more responsive. There’s at least a chance for smarter transit and other policy that reflects the more urban city Seattle is becoming.
I’m excited about the news elsewhere this week, too. In New York the longtime assembly speaker Shelly Silver is finally on his way out after being charged with $4 million in shakedowns – an open secret that everyone in local politics there long suspected but wouldn’t mention. In my current home, Mexico City, local elections got underway, less than 20 years after residents were first given power to directly pick their mayor. The energy at the local level seems in contrast to frustration with state and federal corruption and crime.
Seattle thinks it’s more innovative than either of those places. But in fact its council mostly represents people who benefit from the status quo. There’s been only one upset in recent years. Most of the time incumbents raise so much money that they scare away most challengers.
The new system leaves two of nine council seats electable citywide, a constituency of 640,000 people – the size of a congressional race – that costs serious money to reach. As a result they’re in hoc to the several hundred mostly conservative donors who can write the maximum $700 check for their campaigns. These donors were largely behind the disastrous downtown tunnel project since many of them stood to gain.