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Talk of the Town, Seattle Version

The cognoscenti are agog over Seattle. At least judging from the recent attention our city has gotten in the New Yorker. And we're agog over the attention. Locals were giddy over Jeffrey Toobin's lengthy August 6 article on the unsolved Thomas Wales murder.

I don't know if as many folks noticed the lead "Talk of the Town" item in the July 30 New Yorker, but it traipsed through Seattle as well.

Liberals across the land likely nodded and savored this dose of preach-to-the-choir journalism as regular New Yorker writer Nicholas Lemann lectured (3,000 miles away from Seattle) about Exhibit A in his argument that President Bush's legacy "[is] the construction of a distinctly right-wing Supreme Court." Lemann's case study came from Seattle: the Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District No. 1.

If Lemann had checked the facts on the ground (in Seattle), he might have thought twice about filing his knee-jerk column.

Lemann condemns the decision, citing it as a central example from "the landscape of the [Bush] administration's wreckage." As I'm sure you know, the decision rope-a-doped the Seattle School District's racial tiebreaker for student placement, declaring it unconstitutional.

Lemann argues that the 14th Amendment, the cornerstone of 1954's precedent-setting Brown v. Board of Education, was not a simple-minded endorsement for color-blind public policy (as Chief Justice John Roberts has it in the Seattle School District decision), but rather an effort to eliminate America's cancer of racism. Okay. Sounds good. And I nodded too. But I felt funny nodding.

Here's why: It's endorsement season at editorial boards in Seattle, and I met with the Seattle School Board candidates last month (bona fide liberals all): like candid African-American incumbent Darlene Flynn; challengers Sherry Carr, a brainy, pragmatic white Democrat who told us the racist military recruitment in Seattle's public schools is "criminal"; Maria Ramirez, who believes Rainier Beach High School is failing because it's facing a conspiracy of racism and greed; and Steve Sundquist, a businessman-turned-reformist do-gooder.

While all of these thoughtful candidates bad-mouthed the "awful historical symbolism" of the decision (Flynn's words), none of them seemed outraged or hung up on the reality of it.

The talk of the town (in Seattle) was about the misguided wisdom of ripping kids out of their neighborhoods; the talk was of taking this opportunity to institute class as a more just tiebreaker; the talk was of upending the nostrum of forced school integration and getting at real problems—inequity in housing and jobs.

The New Yorker can demagogue by using a decision that's loaded with jarring and easy symbolism, but here in Seattle, progressive school board candidates have moved beyond the platitudes and are talking about real issues. recommended

josh@thestranger.com

 

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