Last week, State Rep Mary Lou Dickerson (D, Beloved) announced that she’s retiring from office after representing Seattle neighborhoods for the last 18 years, including Fremont, Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Magnolia, and Queen Anne.
And the city wept and rent its nontoxic, REI-issued rain gear.
Since then, local politicos have been in the throes of armchair ecstasy, speculating on who will seek her seat this November. For the most part, they’re progressives you’ve probably heard mentioned: Current Seattle Port Commission Gael Tarleton (who we endorsed in her bid for re-election) and John Burbank, head of the progressive think tank known as the Economic Opportunity Institute (which helped draft the city’s paid sick day legislation).
Sahar Fathi: Behind her sunny smile is a big brain.
But here’s a name you're probably not familiar with: Sahar Fathi, the 28-year-old legislative aid to Seattle City Council Member Mike O’Brien. She’s young, Iranian American, and she’s considering running for Dickerson’s seat because, among other reasons, women and people of color are woefully underrepresented in state politics.
“Twenty-seven percent of residents in the 36th district are people of color,” she says, “and the policies we’re adopting at the state level disparately impacts them.” She cites our state’s gross misdemeanor statute, which prompted the automatic deportation of immigrants and refugees for infractions like reckless driving (while Washington residents were issued jail time), basically because it was thoughtlessly written.
“Criminal justice has to happen at the state level,” she explains, "because cities mimic what happens there.” Nevertheless, Fathi worked with City Attorney Pete Holmes's office to change the policy in Seattle. The change was later adopted statewide.
And Fathi may be young but her resume exhausts me.
Before ending up in O'Brien's office, she earned a law degree from UW (as well as a masters in International studies). She also has a diploma in International and European Law from the Sorbonne Université in Paris, and has worked as a lawyer for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in Rwanda.
“I wanted to help women in the Middle East and I was convinced that working on a war crimes tribunal was the way to do that,” she explains. “Once I did it, though, I realized the real work had to be done at the city and state level because that's where the policies affecting these populations are being made, and they’re being set by people who don’t have a background in law.”
So she left Rwanda to return to Washington, where she co-founded the Middle Eastern Legal Association—the first nonprofit in the U.S. devoted to providing a legal voice for the Middle Eastern community (she currently chairs their legal clinic). She’s also a board member for both the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project and the Washington ACLU.
Through O’Brien’s office, Fathi has also been integral in launching Seattle’s Safe Parking program, which connects homeless people living out of their cars with social services and safe places to park, so they can avoid being ticketed or harassed by police. The program is slated to start any day now in two Ballard church parking lots and, if successful, it will expand to other neighborhoods next year.
And again: She’s 28 fucking years old*. Fathi says she'll decide by next week whether or not she's gunning for Dickerson's seat. It's bound to get competitive but I can’t help but think, win or lose, she’d be a great addition to the race.
*I am 28 fucking years old and most days I can’t even be bothered to brush my hair.