Defying expectations that the city council would choose a woman of color to replace Jim Compton, who resigned from council position number nine in December, the council overwhelmingly chose former Tina Podlodowski aide and current Lifelong AIDS Alliance community resources director Sally Clark, one of six finalists for the position.
Even as council members were absorbing the news about Clark, who is only the third openly lesbian council member in the city's history, the landmark gay rights bill passed in Olympia, prompting Council Member Jan Drago, who was talking to Podlodowski on her cell phone, to shout, "Oh my God! What a day!" Drago then dashed down the hall to the office of Tom Rasmussen, currently the council's only gay member, to tell him the news.
A few hours later, at a celebratory rally at the Paramount Theatre, Drago, Rasmussen, and Richard Conlin boisterously feted legislation sponsor Ed Murray and their newest council colleague, who stood on a platform behind the speakers' podium, wearing a mid-length bowl haircut, a navy V-neck sweater, khakis, and a wide grin. After pumping Clark's hand vigorously in the air, Drago told the crowded room, "We elected Sally Clark at about 10:30 this morning, and as I sat at the table I kind of teared up, and I asked myself the question, 'What's happening in Olympia now?' When I got back to my office I got the good news. This is a historical day. It's a day I will never, ever forget."
But although Friday's events did have a certain undeniable kismet, it's unclear how much impact a "lesbian perspective" will have on the council's agenda. After all, everyone on the council already supports gay rights, and antidiscrimination rules have been codified in city law for years. Clark's agenda, similarly, is less a gay agenda than a moderate/progressive one.
Sitting in her tidy Lifelong AIDS Alliance office Monday afternoon, a hastily assembled lunch in front of her on the table and her arm in a sling (the result of a rowing accident earlier in the day), Clark gamely discussed her agenda. Clark, who has a prim, plain style of dressing, was chatty and relaxed despite being in the midst of what may well be the busiest month of her life.
First, Clark said, she wants to focus the newly restructured neighborhoods and economic development committee, which she will chair, on "economic development that leads to jobs that people can actually get. We talk a lot about how manufacturing jobs are going away, but what are those people doing? They're not taking jobs in biotech." Sound Transit's Rainier Valley Community Development Fund has funded "pre-apprenticeship training" for 57 Rainier Valley residents, Clark says; she'd like to see similar programs attached to other capital projects, like the redevelopment of KeyArena.
Second, Clark says, she wants to reach out to neighborhoods, resurrecting Podlodowski's practice of holding committee meetings throughout the city and improving services to neighborhood businesses. "The city doesn't control whether enough people walk in the door [of a business], but we do decide whether the city has the zoning to allow an apartment building that would create the density you need to sustain a business district," Clark says. Finally, Clark hopes to increase funding to preschool, mentoring, and after-school programs through the city's families and education levy.
Clark's agenda, though ambitious, is sufficiently vague to leave many wondering where she will fit in on the council's left (Nick Licata)/right (Jan Drago) spectrum. Clark herself is circumspect on this point. On one hand, she points out that the business-backed Alki Foundation agreed to interview her, but did not endorse her, and volunteers that she thought the monorail "was a terrible idea." On the other hand, Clark calls affordable housing a "non-negotiable" facet of the city's upcoming downtown height and density increases, and goes one further, arguing that developers should have to pay for increased open space as well. And she's given money over the years to both liberals and moderates, including Conlin, Licata, and Richard McIver.
Clark's brief tenure on the council should give voters some sense of her political leanings in time for next fall, when she'll have to run for reelection. Already, Clark was preparing to file election papers with the state public disclosure commission, and she says she expects a real challenge in November. "I don't think I get to sit around too long," Clark firstname.lastname@example.org