"A nascent urbanist supercity is right behind the gauze, and we just need to pull the curtain back."
That was one of the many things Western State Hurricanes/Long Winters frontman John Roderick told me about Seattle over a three-hour discussion yesterday, during which he confirmed the rumors. Roderick is indeed launching a campaign this week for city council position 8, the citywide seat where current council president Tim Burgess is also facing challenges from former Tenants Union director Jon Grant; longshoreman John Persak; activist, performer, and psychic David Trotter; and fringe council gadfly Alex Tsimerman.
Along with his music career, Roderick, who’s 46 and owns a house in Rainier Beach, is the son of a former state legislator, cohost of the podcast “Roderick on the Line,” and a current member of the city’s Music Commission. He's been open about his past substance abuse and is somewhat of an amateur local historian.
Roderick is campaigning on his profession as an artist, but he’s not pushing a purely arts-focused policy agenda, at least not yet. Instead, he talks about the same big issues all the other candidates do—housing affordability, transportation, homelessness—through the lens of “inspiring” people in the city to rally together to fix these problems.
"We have this consensus," Roderick says. "We’re all progressives, we’re all urbanists. That consensus is an incredible opportunity. We need to turn that into collective action, and the way you do that is you inspire people… To say, 'I can hear a lot of different people’s visions and then excite people to work collectively to achieve those visions'—that is inspiration and that’s what artists excel at."
In the new city council system, where seven seats will be elected by district and two citywide, Roderick says the at-large positions are “a chance for there to be somebody advocating for kind of a bigger picture, a broader scope.” But Roderick says he’s also a “super nerd for the actual nuts-and-bolts operation of the city,” from sewer systems to land use and zoning codes.
He praises the work of socialist city council member Kshama Sawant, who he says “revealed to us that there is a vein of populism that was dormant or did not have an expression." But he also warns against Seattleites viewing wealthy people as "the enemy." He argues there's room for the city to encourage all the massive tech companies reshaping Seattle to chip in to fund improvements to housing and transportation.
"We took over while nobody was looking," Roderick says of progressives, "and now it's time to implement our values, and you can't do that from a standpoint of permanent opposition."
He thinks the city should prioritize making broadband internet a public utility, paid for by a combination of city, state, and federal funds, along with private funding from companies like Amazon and Microsoft.
The city should take ownership of abandoned or dilapidated houses, Roderick says, and operate them as low-income housing. In the meantime, he supports allowing homeless encampments, which the current council recently voted to do in a limited way. In stark contrast to Grant, he’s skeptical of rent control, but says he supports micro-housing and thinks the city should make it easier for people to rent out mother-in-law-style apartments.
To improve community relations with the Seattle Police Department, Roderick says the SPD should have more bike cops and should “incentivize the police to live in the neighborhoods they police,” and that Seattle police should be trained at an academy inside the city.
As for his take on the city's uninspiring transit system, Roderick says regional transit agencies like Sound Transit and King County Metro aren’t creating sufficient public transportation within the city’s densest areas, so the city should consider creating its own transit agency to work with those other authorities but focus on the urban core.
"I'm a nontraditional candidate for office, even in a city like Seattle that embraces nontraditional candidates," Roderick says. "Usually Seattle embraces nontraditional candidates that come from an activist background. I am an artist, and there isn't a lot of precedent for that."
But, he adds, a career as an artist, rather than as a politician or an activist, "is a credible résumé to be engaged actively in civic life."