Two years ago, the Long Winters’ front man John Roderick tried in vain to get elected to Seattle’s city council. He’s one of the rare musicians in town who have taken a serious stab at politics. This year, though, Keith Whiteman, former drummer for goth-leaning post-punks Grave Babies and many other bands, is audaciously—some might say quixotically—attempting to run for mayor. Now, Whiteman’s a strong timekeeper and he has great musical taste, but what does he know about running a major city? Read our interview with him after the jump to find out what’s driving the earnest political aspirant to potentially unseat Ed Murray come November.
The Stranger: What in blazes inspired you to try to run for mayor? Have your experiences as a musician played any role in this? (Corollary: Are drummers natural diplomats of music groups?)
Whiteman: I've been telling people I want to run for Mayor of Seattle for quite a while. I feel that participation in American democracy is the most important aspect of citizenship. I always make it a point to try and inspire friends to vote, be aware and participate in society. I am glad that is starting to become more commonplace among younger people these days. I suppose my main source of inspiration was just participation.
I won’t speak for all drummers, but I do believe that touring musicians need to have a diplomatic and “political” side to survive, and especially to thrive on the road. The ability to sit with three or four people in a van for half the day and not have consistent problems [requires a] certain kind of patience. We would meet strangers all the time who demand your attention and often wish to feel close to you. Every night you are dealing with staff (bartenders, sound persons, security, etc.) who you need to work with in order to have a successful show, yet sometimes they couldn’t care less about you (rightfully so, as well). I’m sure there are political situations akin to being in the middle of your set with the feedback just blaring out of control and looking up to find no sound person at the booth. You can’t just curse in the microphone and walk off stage. You have to work through it, by yourself, with your band mates and with the audience.
On a logistical level, I pretty much drove the van for Grave Babies the entire time when we were on tour. Not sure if that shows my true responsible nature, an overwhelming need for control, or a lack of trust. Maybe all three, but on all those tours, we never had one flat tire, breakdown on the side of the road or accident. I am proud of that.
What forces (books, films, experiences, etc.) led to your political awakening?
I have been politically woke since I was young. Growing up in the Washington, DC area, politics tends to be a way of life, at the very least, a Sunday family dinner conversation. Government service has been a constant theme within both sides of my family. Most of my personal beliefs and learnings have come by the way of studying history, political science and the human animal. I graduated with a BA in History from University of Mary Washington. Compiling the timeline of history into a linear narrative is where I discovered my views on right, on wrong, change and advancement in society. I am the type of person who thinks about the Treaty of Westphalia, the balance of power, and the ramifications of organized religion in politics when he can’t sleep.
The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris was one of the first books I remember reading that changed how I viewed human beings and how our individual actions (conscious and subconscious) along with the human ego, create and recreate our society. Once I was able to recognize the human being as a human animal, it opened up a whole new world view that I intend to take directly into politics.
What steps are you taking to get on the ballot for mayor of Seattle? I recall you mentioning something about gathering signatures to get on the ballot. How many do you need? Or are you going to raise funds to do so?
The filing fee for candidates running in Seattle is 1 percent of the desired position’s salary [currently $195,186.24]. You can also provide a signature for every dollar needed. To be on the ballot I will either need to provide 1,951 valid signatures of registered Seattle voters or an $1,951 filing fee. I feel that if I can't hit the streets and collect 1,951 signatures from people who want to at least give me a chance to be on the ballot, I don't deserve to be on it. I also see the opportunity to post up on a corner and earn signatures as a way to get my platform out to the people, register new voters, and bring awareness to some important issues.
That being said, I will be raising funds and asking for donations for my general campaign. You can donate online at www.mayorkeithwhiteman.com. I will not be accepting any donations from corporations, LLCs, or businesses of any nature and I will be only raising $5,000 in total donations. I would like to hold events, shows and parties for political movements, allies and friends in the political realm, but would not want them to be fundraising initiatives.
Many people are going to view your mayoral bid as a gimmick. How can you persuade them that you’re utterly serious about this?
I only hope that people will read my platform, ponder my thoughts and plans, take my lack of experience into consideration and vote accordingly. I would be lying if I said that the idea of being elected Mayor doesn’t scare me. It does. But, I believe that often, the things worth trying and doing are those which scare us the most.
In this climate of political uncertainty, I understand, accept, and applaud caution for a candidate with no previous experience. I do feel a bit hypocritical for adding to this political uncertainty by running for mayor with no previous experience. I believe that judging candidates’ qualifications versus their ability and desire to lead is the citizen's prerogative and responsibility in a democracy. We recently have seen what happens when that responsibility is taken lightly or seen as secondary to fear and anger. Purity of the heart is hard to determine, but my intentions are clear, my desires transparent and my words sincere. I know I can do the job as Mayor of Seattle and would love the chance to prove it.
Your party is the Common Sense party. Common sense in politics is a recipe for failure, because the majority is too foolish or too selfish/greedy to comply with those seemingly obviously beneficial tenets. Some would argue that this makes you an incurable optimist. True?
I have the ability to view humans, politics, and optimism in separate spheres. I generally have a very realistic viewpoint of the world and politics (read, not optimistic). Yet, I have an entirely optimistic viewpoint of human beings as individuals. Sure, human beings disappoint me on a regular basis. I disappoint myself on a regular basis. The point of optimism in life is not to avoid disappointment, rather what you learn from it. I try to motivate individuals on all occasions and love to see people succeed.
I wouldn't necessarily say the majority are too foolish or greedy to comply with what would be the common sense of the common good (that might be the optimist in me). I think a lot of the time, the majority of the public base their poor decisions too much on fear. Fear of losing their savings, fear of losing their job, fear of random crime, fear of what they have not experienced or do not understand. Those fears might be common, but they are not sensible. They are only the individual’s fear. The more we discuss our individual fears in an open and willing way, the easier we will form a common sense and a common bond.
Part of the Common Sense Party is the practice of recognizing what one does not know, aka learning. Saying I don't know is a human success, not a human flaw and in the mouth of a politician it should celebrated, questioned and appreciated. Doubt is what drives thought, science, discovery, and innovation. I find importance and earnest in being able to tell the public I don't know. I am eager to listen, learn, and participate. I am after the truth, the objective truth and in order to do that we all need to earnestly ask more questions. I want to listen to people who are, at the worst passionate and at the best experts in subjects that I am not learned enough to make decisions.
The Common Sense Party’s name is meant to be part non-sequitur and part inspirational. I hope it would allow each person to pause and think what is common, then reflect and think out of that commonality, what is sensible to them. The idea that a party's name can be thought-provoking, rather than provide the traditional biased thoughts of devotion or hatred, is wholly inspiring to me. Plus, I am a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt and I feel that in my small way it is a nod to his Bull Moose Party.
Your views are rather leftist, and that’s generally an advantage in Seattle. But a candidate surely needs to make overtures to big business leaders to gain traction. Do you have a strategy for that?
I am all over the map in terms of locations of my beliefs; left, center, right, as above so below. Is that how that phrase goes?
I love the entrepreneurial spirit and certainly wish to foster new, old, simple, elaborate or emerging business plans. I am 100 percent in favor of the need for more support for small and local businesses, especially retail and manufacturing. These small businesses are on the forefront of creating culture and life that is unique to Seattle.
Also important is the role small to medium-sized, private companies that are creating jobs in a corporate culture that is in line with our beliefs as a city. I will do my best to support, encourage, and motivate those types of businesses.
All that being said, I might be one of the most anti-large public corporation candidates in the race. I do not see growth for growth’s sake as a benefit or a good problem to have. I see organic growth as the key, but I do not see the current model of development and growth as organic. I see it as expansionist, [careless], and never have I seen it so good for so few and so hard for so many in Seattle. My strategy is to say what I believe in.
I believe that governance and the businesses should be all encompassed by the Community. I believe that government and business depend on the community to survive and thrive, and therefore should work together to hold each other accountable to produce a city that the community wants. A city that is not made in image of business or government, but by the eyes, ears, and minds of the community. We owe nothing grand to businesses for simply being businesses in Seattle. We must all work together, for one cannot exist without the other.
I will investigate and propose how to re-start and increase a version of the Employee Hourly Tax on the largest employers in Seattle. This yearly fee will tax employers with over 1,000 employees working in the Seattle City limits, a sliding scale of 1-3% of the salary based on income of the employee with the tax starting on employees making $82,000, and gradually increasing to 3% with no cap on the income. Exempt are schools, city employees, healthcare providers, Boeing, and non-profit employers. This is a tax the employer will pay, not the employee. This money will be used in ways to support local and small businesses, ease the exploding housing crisis, and support small, local landlords. More about this can be read at mayorkeithwhiteman.com
Realistically, what do you think your chances are of getting on the ballot and challenging Ed Murray?
I believe that my chances of being on the primary ballot are 93.3 percent (R.I.P., KUBE). As for challenging Ed Murray, I believe that we as a city need to challenge any mayor on every corner. Seattle has always been good at doing that, more so recently. I do respect and commend Mayor Murray’s response to those challenges. I think he is stepping up and despite having limited powers (as a Seattle mayor does), he is getting the information out there. He is listening and attempting to address the needs of this city. There is still much to be done and plenty of people to help.
In terms of challenging Ed Murray on the ballot and winning, I’d probably put that down somewhere near 0 percent. This realism does not deter me; sometimes simply challenging can be important to the greater good movement.