I'm sitting in a coffee shop near Amazon's South Lake Union campus, listening to the first of many stump speeches Brian Carver will make this year. Carver currently manages the Kindle's self-publishing platform for Amazon, but on April 29, he announced his bid for another job: Seattle City Council Position 2, a seat held by four-term incumbent Richard Conlin.
"I'm a new dad, and I'm a little younger, so I think I'd bring a new perspective to the council," 33-year-old Carver tells me.
Among the reasons to oppose Conlin, the Wallingford resident ticks off Conlin's muddy leadership as a two-term council president, his lone "no" vote on Seattle's paid sick leave legislation, and Conlin's lip service to environmentalism, which Carver says has produced no substantive support for transit. "Transit is now just getting into the planning phase, and that's mostly thanks to Mayor Mike McGinn," he says.
Carver hopes to bring a more progressive voting record to the council, starting with Seattle's contentious South Lake Union redevelopment. Although Conlin voted in favor of legislation to leverage development in the booming neighborhood to support more affordable housing, Carver says Conlin has been "shortsighted" in suggesting the city invest in low-income housing in far-flung areas like Rainier Valley, where it's cheaper to build, instead of neighborhoods where new jobs are being created, like South Lake Union.
"We need to ensure people can afford to live where they work," Carver says.
Carver strikes me as a soft-spoken, unassuming guy—the kind of guy who tweets about transit, nonviolence, and the weather with equal fervor, and the kind of guy who, I suspect, would happily tattoo a heart with the word "bureaucracy" on his chest if it wouldn't hurt his chances of being a blood donor.
Conlin is kicking off his reelection campaign with 16 years of name recognition and more than $40,000 cash on hand—a substantial war chest. Meanwhile, Conlin's other challenger, Kshama Sawant, is a full-throated socialist and economics professor who dominates debates (but who has only $1,767 cash on hand, according to recent Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission filings).
Carver enters the race with $25,000 cash on hand, but his relative youth and soft-spokenness could make him into the forgotten third wheel if he's not careful. It's happened before: In 2009, Carver ran for the council's open seat against Sally Bagshaw and three others, but even he admits that he was forgettable. "I didn't have a strong idea of what I was doing and what I would do on city council at that time," he explains. "When I joined the race, it was my entry point for getting involved in the community."
Since then, he's worked hard to improve his political chops as the chair of the King County Democrats' Voter Outreach Committee. He's also volunteered on numerous campaigns, including those of Sylvester Cann, Sahar Fathi, and Governor Jay Inslee, and Mike McGinn's first mayoral race. Now, four years later, Carver says he's prepared to tackle Conlin head-on.