With a record number of individuals running for Seattle City Council this year, at least a few of the 56 candidates must be wondering what it’s like to actually land on the council.
Running for office is one thing, an experience I talked about with Morgan Beach four years ago. But if you get this job, it'll present an entirely different set of challenges.
I would know. In April, I was appointed to fill out the remainder of Rob Johnson’s term representing north Seattle's District 4 on the council. After spending my 10 years in Seattle attending graduate school at the University of Washington's Evans School, working for the UW’s Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and the Seattle Police Foundation, and running (unsuccessfully) for office twice, I now have an eight-month window into the life of the council—until a new District 4 council member is sworn-in at the end of the year.
Constituents, friends, and strangers alike often stop me to ask, "How's it going? Are you doing ok?"
I usually laugh and say yes, I’m fine. My life was quickly turned upside down (in a good way) when I was appointed to the City Council in April, but the experience has now given me several months worth of insight into what works and what doesn't.
As the newest—and most temporary council member—here's what I'd tell all the people who want to sit at the dais like I do.
Get ready for long days
City Council is not an easy job. We face a housing affordability crisis, a climate crisis, and a homelessness state of emergency. I often work eleven or twelve-hour days to pack in as many meetings as I can. If a long night or a weekend visit to City Hall is needed, I make it happen. I fueled myself with coffee during those first weeks on the job and tried to remember to eat lunch or get a few hours of sleep whenever I could. When you’ve been dropped in the middle of several ongoing conversations, contentious issues, and important city business that must continue, you need to be ready to get to work.
Our leaders must work together
There are ten people responsible for providing leadership on our city’s most pressing challenges—nine council members and the mayor. From meeting with the mayor to individual one-on-ones with my council colleagues, I have prioritized building working relationships, irrespective of whatever differences we may have. As our city confronts serious challenges, Seattleites need their leaders to work collaboratively to provide good governance and effective solutions.
Don’t keep secrets
Just as our leaders need to foster collaborative relationships with their colleagues, we should be transparent with our constituents as well. As a Councilmember, everything you write is subject to public disclosure to ensure that we have full transparency among public officials and the people we serve. I make sure that I conduct myself in a respectful and transparent manner with everyone. A few years ago, while working at the UW, a boss taught me to treat every e-mail as if it was going to be on the front page of the newspaper. I carry this attitude today.
Trust your team
Public service is an increasingly demonized role in Seattle. Despite this, there are a so many dedicated public servants, from your team and council staff to the city clerks and department staff—all of whom work to make our city run. Your job is to trust their expertise as much as they trust you to provide leadership on the complex issues that our city faces as we grow.
If you have an opportunity to serve, and you approach it as I have, you'll probably find this role to be the most humbling experience you've ever had. Which is as it should be. Your job is to listen and lead with heart to make our city better, not only for current residents, but for the next generation of Seattleites as we seek to remain a vibrant and inclusive community. On the days you feel the pressure or the stress, remember to take care of yourself. Also, see below.
Get some thick skin
You will be criticized—both fairly and unfairly—on a daily basis. Some people will say racist or sexist things to you, and at times people will even cheer them on. On some days you may be overly self-critical about something you did, but you will learn to move on. Each of us carry different expectations and desires about how to address the challenges that our city faces. My role is to make the best decision that I can with the information before me.
If that doesn't leave everyone happy, well, here's my last bit of advice: let the haters be your motivators.