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Seattle Council candidate vows to give voice to frustrated locals

Seattle City Council candidate Charlene Strong (right) speaks to a potential supporter at a meet and greet in Maple Leaf Wednesday, March 22, 2017. (KIRO Radio, Josh Kerns)

Seattle native Kit McPherson has always kept a close eye on local politics. But the veteran real estate agent and owner of Maple Leaf Property Management generally kept her opinions to her self.

Until recently.

“I’ve always somewhat voiced my opinion but not publicly,” McPherson said. “Being a business owner, it wasn’t until this election that I decided I had to have a voice and I was going to use my company as a platform too.”

Related: A Seattle City Council candidate who could make history

So when her longtime friend, Charlene Strong, recently announced her candidacy for Seattle City Council, McPherson was all in.

On Wednesday, she held a meet and greet and fundraiser for Strong with a group of friends and colleagues at her office in Northeast Seattle.

But McPherson says it’s not about her friend, nearly as much as it is her frustration about the way the city council has seemingly turned its back and thumbed its nose at the concerns of many of the families and taxpayers in the city when it comes to homelessness, heroin and other challenging issues.

“I feel like, especially in the city of Seattle, our voices are not being heard,” McPherson said. “On a national level I feel like we’ve gone so crazy to the right, but in the City of Seattle I feel like we’ve gone so crazy to the left. And no one’s listening.”

Listen: Josh Kerns reports on the “moderates revolt” in the city of Seattle on the Ron and Don Show (starts at 9:14)

Strong agrees. The mother of two and small business owner says she’s frustrated by the lack of responsiveness from city leaders on a number of issues, and decided now was a time to do something about it.

“When I made a decision to run, it came from a very personal [idea] that we can make a difference, we can affect change,” Strong told the gathering. “And one of the things that I’ve always believed in is that it takes all of our voices working together to make things happen.”

Behind this Seattle council candidate

Unlike many politicians, Strong speaks from painful and hard fought experience.

If her name sounds familiar, it’s because the former designer became a headline when a flood engulfed her Madison Park home during a massive December rainstorm back in 2006.

Her partner, Kate Fleming, drowned in their basement studio as Strong desperately tried to save her.

When she rushed to the hospital to be by her bedside, she was denied entry because, at the time, our state didn’t recognize domestic partnerships.

Just one month later, she testified in Olympia in favor of a bill that became law, granting domestic partners rights that would ultimately lead to same sex marriage.

“At that moment, I realized this is going to happen again, and it had because people kept writing me and saying this happened to me, this happened to me, this happened to me. And I thought, ‘You know, I’ve got just enough of a voice that I can do this'” Strong said.

She agreed to accept an appointment by then-Governor Christine Gregoire to the Washington State Human Rights Commission – which she now chairs.

But it was seeing the growing problems around Seattle the last few years and the increasing divide between the city council and many Seattle citizens, that ultimately led to her decision to run for the retiring Tim Burgess’ at-large seat.

“And I think that one of the things I feel strongly about is that we’re not listening to our constituents,” Strong said.

That’s a growing sentiment among many voters and taxpayers in Seattle, who feel the council has repeatedly ignored them, while at the same time asking for more money.

Property manager McPherson says a perfect example is the council’s handling of housing affordability.

Council members recently rammed through Byzantine regulations that requires landlords rent to the first person who applies, limits deposits, and requires property owners finance deposits.

And this week the council created a tenants rights board, with virtually no consultation or inclusion of a single property owner.

“There’s absolutely no landlord representation whatsoever and now they’re in the ear of the council,” McPherson said. “Now they’re not being paid and they don’t have a vote … so I would like to see the same thing.”

“I would like to see a 15-person commission of small to large landlords that are also being heard.  Because we’re not being heard.”

In the past, people like McPherson would have shied away from criticizing the council out of fear of being labeled a NIMBY or heartless. But she and Strong both point out that they have voted for every levy and other tax hikes to help the needy and less fortunate, and have both have volunteered regularly for a number of causes.

An increasing number like them are standing up and taking action, forming groups like Safe Seattle – a grassroots community coalition that highlighted and eventually forced the city to do something about the heroin-fueled homeless RV problem in Magnolia and Ballard.

Even trade groups like the Downtown Seattle Association and Visit Seattle have grown increasingly vocal in their criticism of city leaders’ seeming unwillingness to consider the interests of the vast majority of people in the city.

Strong’s candidacy could be an important test of whether that dissatisfaction can translate into political action and people actually casting ballots.

“There has to be a balance in the voices in the city,” Strong said. “We have to be able to invite everyone to the table to sit down and talk about the issues.  It’s imperative.  Or we won’t be able to work as a city effectively.”

That could be hard on a council seemingly dominated by the extreme progressive policies of members who regularly refuse to even consider all of their constituents’ concerns before passing legislation like the renter’s rights regulations.

But after fighting for equal rights nationwide on the Human Rights Commission the past decade, Strong says she’s not about to back down now in the face of a screaming Kshama Sawant or anyone else who might try to shout her down .

“I’m an advocate, I’m not an activist,” Strong told the gathering. “You know why I’m an advocate?  Because it says you have to come along with me to do this. I can’t do this alone. So it’s going to take the voices of you and you and you to do this together.”

“So that is the difference, and maybe I will have to get an elbow out there every once in awhile,” Strong added.

“And she’s strong,” McPherson laughed.

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