As I wrote yesterday, Seattle's socialist city council member Kshama Sawant is pissing off some people (and rallying others) with her public takedown of new council appointee John Okamoto and her battle cry for rent control.
Add the Seattle Times editorial board to the list of people feeling uncomfortable with confrontation in city hall.
They posted this editorial last night scolding Sawant's “slash-and-burn style” for being “as unbecoming as it is ineffective.” (I’ll take this moment to direct you to this argument from my predecessor Anna Minard that it was Sawant’s willingness to fight that actually got Seattle the minimum-wage increase.)
In particular, the Times thinks Sawant made an unfair connection this week between Okamoto, who worked as the chief administrative officer at the Port of Seattle from 2003 to 2008, and the port’s string of scandals during that same period. In two of the most visible scandals—a plan to give an outgoing CEO his salary for a year after his retirement, and an investigation showing the port was royally fucking up its construction contracting process—Okamoto was not directly implicated. And by calling the port a “cesspool of corruption” during his tenure, Sawant sort of implied he was part of those scandals.
I’ll give you that, Seattle Times.
But what about the investigation where Okamoto was actually implicated?
In a 2007 Port Commission report (uploaded by the Seattle Times, by the way), Okamoto’s position—chief administrative officer—is called out specifically as one part of port leadership that provided a “lack of adequate oversight” by allowing the port police to investigate themselves over racist and sexually explicit e-mails.
As Kristen Millares Bolt wrote in the Seattle P.I. at the time, one of the executives who was criticized in the report, deputy chief Linda Strout, “apologized on behalf of herself, [general counsel Craig] Watson and Okamoto, claiming the majority of the responsibility for herself but also saying that as a group ‘we did not acceptably discharge our executive responsibilities.’”
When I talked to Okamoto about this last week, he blamed the port CEO at the time for ignoring warnings Okamoto had given him about the port police. In an e-mail response to follow-up questions from Council Member Tom Rasmussen after Okamoto’s interview for the council spot (which Okamoto handed out to reporters after he was appointed), Okamoto acknowledges that the 2007 report exists, but simply says that during his time at the port, “the police department did not report to me.”
There's a valid debate to be had about how big of a deal this is. In comparison to the port's other scandals and those port employees who actually did have direct oversight of the police at the time, maybe it's not much of a deal. For someone serving on the council in a city whose police need their share of oversight, though, it's a debate worth having.
At the same time, it's clear that for a majority of the city council, this incident doesn't matter much at all. And to the Seattle Times editorial board, it doesn’t even warrant a mention. But if you’re going to say Sawant was being unfair to Okamoto and, as the Times argues, owes him an apology (ha-ha-ha), at least acknowledge all the facts.
About that apology: Okamoto will be sworn in at Monday's city council meeting. He'll give some sort of speech, which will likely be full of pledges to work together for, as he awkwardly put it after he was appointed, "those that on a daily basis live with realities that are challenging and unpleasant." But he's also likely to call for civility on the council, maybe even mentioning Sawant by name. And his colleagues—other than Sawant—can be expected to praise his long career in government.
For her part, Sawant told me Monday: "If he is indeed willing to really advocate for affordable housing and represent the interests of tens of thousands of people in this city, then I'll be delighted to work with him."
While we wait for what happens this coming Monday—an abject apology from Sawant? A repeat of her colleagues' criticism of her? Both?—here's a legally binding Slog poll to help her figure out what to do.