Rantz: Seattle homelessness in-fighting pits Sawant vs. Durkan and they’re both wrong
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office is having problems with Councilmember Kshama Sawant over who will lead the city’s homelessness advocacy efforts and, the truth is, both are in the wrong.
Here’s some quick context: Durkan tapped Jason Johnson to lead the Human Services Department, the city agency tasked with helping get the homelessness crisis under control. Sawant is stalling the nomination process in her committee because she’s unhappy with the way Durkan chose Johnson, claiming it was too secretive and didn’t included community buy-in.
Here’s a promise for this blog: to be blunt, I won’t present a single solution to this in-fighting; only observations. It’s political for both sides and, as a taxpayer and Seattleite, I’ll always lose out here.
And now, here’s the reality: Durkan is ridiculously secretive, and one of the least transparent Seattle mayors in recent memory. She frequently works behind the scenes where she can push her agenda without (and doesn’t want) community input because, it appears, she’s stubborn and thinks she has all the answers. For all the shaming she does of President Donald Trump, Durkan acts a lot like him. She wants to be the only one in charge and, I’m told, surrounds herself with easily agreeable sycophants that don’t seem to challenge her. Sawant telling her no is not something she’s used to.
Durkan is also as thin skinned as former Mayor Ed Murray, getting visibly annoyed when she’s questioned by the press, while doggedly sticking to political answers instead of answering questions directly and honestly. She also stays away from talk radio where she’ll encounter strong opposition (she won’t come on my show, even when I agree with her, which is fine; but she should consider actually talking to people who disagree with her).
But here’s another reality: Sawant doesn’t get to pick these positions; it’s the job of the mayor, as stubbornly secretive as she is. And Sawant doesn’t want public input. She wants Socialist Alternative (SA) input. They run her office (which has lead to an ethics complaint). She wants these discussions public so she can have her professional activist SA supporters take over the process with disruption, bullying, and shouting. Sawant doesn’t care what Steve in Northgate or Stephanie in Queen Anne has to say unless they’re dues-paying members of SA. She wants this in the hands of a Capital Hill or Central District activist who makes a living pushing Socialist propaganda.
Do not buy Sawant’s call for transparency in any process. Rather ironically, Sawant keeps much of her operations and decision-making a secret, choosing to use personal email accounts for city business, which is subject to public disclosure, but impossible to fully track whether or not she’s turning over documents as legally required.
And one final reality: If we’re judging by results — and we should — HSD is poorly managed and any insider, like Johnson, will deliver more of the same. We waste millions on solutions that somehow create more problems. We ignore common sense recommendations from actual experts and pretend to know more than people on the ground.
We have a City Council that is mostly pushing ideas that let them check off their progressive bona fides on a checklist they keep on their phones. Others on the Council are too lazy to do the hard work — and make hard decisions — required to get people off the streets, so they come up with solutions like harm-reduction (via heroin injection sites) that completely ignore the root causes of the problems. Still, others try to gut the programs that work because they’re just not progressive enough. Then they blame literally anyone else when the problem gets worse.
Political infighting, indeed.
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