The Seattle City Council met Tuesday afternoon for the first time after the 2023 election replaced five of the nine council members in one fell swoop.

During its first meeting, the new council's messaging, leadership choices, and committee structures made it clear that they see themselves as the more responsible, and, yes, more conservative successors to the previous body.

Sara Nelson's Seattle

In its infinite wisdom, the new council elected Council Member Sara Nelson as president. That role sets the council’s agenda, assigns legislation to committees, and becomes Mayor when Bruce Harrell needs a sick day. So, after two years on the dais (and more than a decade working under former Council Member Richard Conlin in the early aughts), Nelson went from being an antagonist of the most progressive City Council in Seattle history (believe it or not) to the ring-leader of a group of centrist newbies eager to play nice with her and the pro-business Mayor.  

In her two years in office, Nelson’s crowning achievements include passing hugely wasteful hiring bonuses for cops, giving the Republican City Attorney the authority to prosecute public drug use, and endorsing a slate of candidates who will help her do more for business, landlords, and cops. 

As president, Nelson assigned and restructured the committees, most notably eliminating the Renters’ Rights committee, which former Council Member Kshama Sawant had chaired since 2019. The council’s spokesperson did not respond when I asked for comment about this decision, but it should not shock you that renters no longer get their own committee—Nelson used her own committee to host makeshift landlord support groups, and corporate landlords spent good money on the new council to do the same. 

Nelson said she made committee assignments based on who expressed the most passion for the area. Must have been a stiff competition for the Public Safety Committee!! 

New Committees, Who This? 

Queen of the landlords. Shitty Screengrab from Seattle Channel 

Nelson assigned Council Member Rob Saka to chair the Transportation Committee, which oversees policy related to transit, traffic, and pedestrian safety.

Saka is passionate about transportation alright—as Publicola reported, he sent a bunch of heated emails to the Seattle Department of Transportation asking the department to remove a road-divider near the preschool his children attended. SDOT put up the divider to decrease collisions between vehicles and cyclists, but Saka likened it to Donald Trump’s wall at the southern border. Glad to have this guy working on the Levy to Move Seattle, which provides about 30% of the City’s transportation budget. 

Nelson gave two-term Council Member Tammy Morales the Land Use Committee. The move gives her a powerful position in negotiating the all-important Comprehensive Plan, a once-in-decade opportunity to set allowances for growth throughout the City. Urbanists should celebrate this one—Morales is the only sitting council member to support Alternative 6, a community proposal to plan for more housing density. 

Nelson assigned Council Member Joy Hollingsworth to the Parks, Public Utilities & Technology. Conversations about public parks in Seattle usually involve sweeps or encampment removals. Hollingsworth, despite getting Harrell’s blessing, may not be as sweep-happy as the current administration. In a KUOW survey, she said she would ban sweeps in cases of extreme weather and that she only “maybe” agrees with Harrell’s approach to removals. 

Nelson gave Council Member Maritza Rivera the chairship for the Libraries, Education, & Neighborhoods Committee. Rivera marketed herself as a concerned mother of students who attend Ingraham High School, where a student shot and killed another student in the fall of 2022. 

Nelson assigned the Housing & Human Services Committee to Council Member Cathy Moore. Moore puts on an urbanist hat from time to time, but, according to an interview with Crosscut, she’s concerned tall buildings can disrupt the vibe of a neighborhood. Moore will play a key role in redefining the City’s relationship with the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, as some in the chattering class speculate that Harrell will try to defund the authority after its rocky start. Her committee will also have to decide the future of LEAD, a diversion program that will reportedly soon reach capacity under the new drug ordinance. 

Returning Council Member Dan Strauss will chair the Finance, Native Communities, and Tribal Governments. This fall, he will lead budget negotiations in the face of a gaping budget hole that the previous council failed to fill after a dramatic year of Seattle Processing. 

Strauss is not calling on anyone to eat the rich by any means, but he's not the worst ally for tax supporters. During his campaign, he advocated for progressive taxation more than any other current member besides Morales. However, that advocacy has not always translated to votes. In November, he voted down three tiny increases to the "JumpStart" payroll tax, including the one that passed, which bumped the tax rate by less than one-twentieth of one percent to pay for mental health counselors at public schools. 

Nelson assigned the coveted Public Safety Committee to Council Member Bob Kettle. Kettle wants the City to hire 1,400 cops that do not exist, crack down on public drug use, and increase the police budget, which takes up a quarter of the general fund and, by the way, never got defunded! You can count on him to be very friendly to his boys in blue during the police union's contract negotiations. 

Nelson will chair the Governance, Accountability, and Economic Development Committee. The committee title perfectly summarizes her belief that Seattle's 2019 voters elected a bunch of disagreeable children who spent daddy's money without a second thought, and now she’s here to fix it all with euphemisms for austerity and even more process. 

Job Opening 

After the meeting, Council Member Teresa Mosqueda resigned from her citywide position so she could take the King County Council seat she won in November. Nelson assigned whoever fills that vacant seat to chair the Sustainability, City Light, Arts and Culture Committee.

With Mosqueda’s resignation, the council now has until Jan 23 to appoint someone to keep the seat warm until the next election in November. If you're cool and happy to do The Stranger’s bidding, you can apply between now and Jan 9. Otherwise, there are enough schmoozers, ladder-climbers, and insiders already eyeing the opening. 

For example, during public comment Tuesday, a woman made the case for the council to appoint their buddy from election season, failed City Council candidate Tanya Woo. Woo fits in well with the new council—she's a cop-loving NIMBY who recoils at the thought of taxing the wealthy and large corporations. 

During the meeting, Morales, who beat Woo, seemed to at least indirectly advocate against her by saying she wanted to appoint someone with experience in making policy. After all, the new council may be the least experienced one we’ve had in the last 100 years. With big tasks such as passing the Comprehensive Plan, authorizing the Seattle Police Officer Guild contract, and filling the big ole budget shortfall ahead of them, Morales’s call seems wise. 

No one else weighed in on the qualities they wanted to see in an appointee. According to Nelson, the council will not host any committee meetings until they fill the vacancy. That reality sort of breaks the Council's get-shit-done messaging, but Strauss, the lil minx, found a positive spin. 

“I wanted to also highlight that we're on the second day of 2024, not even at the end of our first business day of the year, and it's because of [Nelson's] steadfast hard work and because of staff's steadfast hard work that we are in this position [to fill the vacancy] before this vacancy has been created officially… So thank you, council presidents. Thank you.”

All hail queen Nelson.