Disappointing early turnout didn't discourage aspirants to Seattle City Council position 9, the post being vacated by Jim Compton. The applications poured in to City Clerk Judith Pippin's third-floor office right up until the close of business last Friday, the deadline to apply. Among the 98 who turned in apparently valid resumés (one candidate, Helen Nowlin-Chantreau, had to pull out because she lived in Maryland), at least a dozen—among them 2003 council contender Darryl Smith, King County anti-smoking czar Roger Valdez, and onetime legislative candidate Alice Woldt—will likely make the shortlist for the position.
Among the more-prominent contenders, besides Smith, Valdez, and Woldt: Dolores Sibonga, who served on the council in the late '70s and '80s and was the first Filipina-American lawyer in Washington State; Ed Pottharst, a thoughtful city neighborhood coordinator who ran against King County Council Member Larry Phillips in November; Sally Clark, a former aide to ex-council member Tina Podlodowski; Stella Chao, executive director of the International District Housing Alliance; Sue Donaldson, another former council member; and Harriet Walden, a civil rights and police-accountability activist.
But what the list demonstrated, more than the qualifications of the top contenders, was the shortcomings of a council-appointment process that is simultaneously as democratic and undemocratic as possible. Democratic because literally anyone who meets the minimum qualifications (18 or older and a resident of Seattle) can apply by submitting a resumé and letter of intent; undemocratic because the council, by law, has just 20 days to choose someone to fill the vacancy, which it does by consensus with minimal public input. The process, many fear, will lead the council to choose a lowest-common-denominator candidate who meets council members' basic criteria (easy to get along with, politically unambitious, preferably a woman or racial minority) who would not be able to win election on his or her own. (Asked to identify his most-important criteria in choosing a council colleague, Richard Conlin said, "It's our first chance to actually select somebody instead of waiting for 200,000 voters to decide for us. We're going to pick somebody we like.") Council members are generally cagey about what other criteria will factor into their selection, unwilling, perhaps, to acknowledge that they might want someone who will serve their political interests.
Perhaps because of the low bar for applying, Friday's list includes dozens of political unknowns and applicants whose resumés are off-point (one aspirant says he hopes to "make a career transition from corporate MIS to web development") or incomplete. The applicants will have an opportunity to make their cases before the council on Thursday, January 12, when each candidate will get three minutes to speak. Even Conlin, no enemy of process, acknowledges that "three minutes is unlikely to influence the council if you don't have a really solid resumé to begin with."firstname.lastname@example.org