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Is Kshama Sawant pushing rent control for political gain?

Kshama Sawant, who is running for reelection, introduced a resolution for rent control not for the good of the city, but the good of her campaign, council member John Okamoto told KIRO Radio's Jason Rantz. (AP)

It may seem like a worthy cause, but the only reason at least one Seattle City Council member is pushing for rent control is for her own political gain, according to another council member.

Kshama Sawant, who is running for reelection against Pamela Banks, introduced a resolution for rent control not for the good of the city, but the good of her campaign, council member John Okamoto told KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz.

The resolution, which did not pass through the Committee on Housing Affordability, Human Services, and Economic Resiliency, is not genuine, Okamoto said. Proponents speak of it as an urgent issue, however, it creates more restrictions. Sawant and Nick Licata were the sponsors. Okamoto is “all about” more affordable housing, and believes the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee came up with recommendations that should be focused on.

“I think this is politically motivated,” Okamoto confided to Rantz.

It’s all about taking advantage of people’s emotions during a time when the city is in a housing crisis, he added.

“People being pushed over the edge; I think that’s why it’s gained traction and attention,” he said.

So, should we read into that? Is he referring to Sawant? Rantz wanted to know. After all, Sawant has been the voice of rent control.

“I believe it is,” Okamoto responded. “I believe there is a distinction between what’s good policy, and there’s good politics.”

Does that mean Sawant is doing this purely for good politics, or does she believe rent control actually works? Is this purely about pushing her own “brand?” Rantz asked.

“I think you need to speak with her about that,” Okamoto responded. “I think we agree there is a housing crisis and rental rates and affordability is an issue for all. We have disagreements about effective tools. I don’t believe rent control is an effective tool.”

The three who did vote “yes” for the rent control resolution are not up for election, Rantz pointed out. He said there is added pressure for those up for reelection to make the more popular decisions. For Okamoto, who was appointed to Position 9 after Sally Clark resigned in April and is not running for election, the focus is on good policy.

Related: Mike McGinn on why Seattle council members are calling it quits

With that in mind, does Okamoto notice people changing their positions to improve their chances of being reelected? Rantz asked.

“I don’t have a good baseline to compare,” he responded. “What I hear from colleagues is they approach these issues with a great deal of thought and anxiety. So I have to believe that their political aspirations have an effect on the business of the council.”

That has to be worrisome.

“Yes and no,” he said. “It worries me if it means that we enact what I believe to be bad policy for good politics.”

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