- Seattle Channel
- While he's berating council members, Alex Tsimerman usually also does a Nazi salute because he's the worst.
Sometimes, being a member of the Seattle City Council is all kittens and ping pong and passing history-making minimum wage legislation. Other times it’s people yelling “The fuck are you doing?!” or calling you “gangsters” or “Nazis,” or “The Gestapo."
Those are all actual things Alex Tsimerman and Sam Bellomio—both members of the fringe activist group StandUP-America—have said to the city council during public comment periods over the last few years. In 2013, Bellomio used his public-comment tirades to attack Council Member Sally Bagshaw, against whom he was running in that year’s election, and got banned from speaking at the council for two weeks for calling now–council president Tim Burgess a “dick.”
Tsimerman, who’s filed to run against Burgess this year for one of two at-large city council seats, was banned from attending all council and committee meetings for a month on two separate occasions last year for shouting at council members and citizens. Here’s a gem from Burgess’s letter informing him of the exclusion in September: “You repeatedly use vulgar and offensive language that is unrelated to topics appearing on our agenda or made outside of your public comment period. For example, you repeatedly disrupt meetings with outbursts after the end of your public comment, by shouting such things as ‘you’re fuckers’ or ‘you’re fucking idiots.’"
Now, Burgess is looking for more ways to crack down on disruptions, but can he do it without suppressing protest?
The council already has rules defining what qualifies as a “disruption” during a meeting (outbursts, not following time limits, etc.), and defining when those can lead to temporarily banning someone from council meetings. Currently, citizens can be barred from council meetings for 28 days for disruptions. Burgess’s proposed changes would increase the number of days people could be banned for subsequent disruptions—first to 90 days, then to 180. The changes would prohibit disruptions before or after meetings and add this to the list of punishable disruptions: “Behavior that intentionally disrupts, disturbs, or otherwise impedes attendance or participation at a council or committee meeting.”
Not exactly specific.
“Even assuming the best intentions on the part of this resolution, I’m concerned that the language is written in such a broad manner that it could be used by future councils to attempt to silence protests that are such an important part of our democracy, especially in Seattle,” Council Member Kshama Sawant said at a meeting Monday.
The rule changes aren't a response to events earlier this month, when protesters against police brutality temporarily shut down a council meeting—Burgess says he first sent them out to the council back in October—but that protest loomed large Monday.
Sawant said she's worried the changes could have a chilling effect on public expression like the council saw at that meeting and at debates over the minimum wage and the budget.
“All of these vocal demonstrators were important for propelling Seattle to take some of the most progressive steps in our country,” Sawant said. “Sometimes protests need to be disruptive.”
A spokesperson for the ACLU of Washington says that group is "not objecting" to the changes, and Sawant didn’t find much support from the rest of the council. Council Member Nick Licata, often her ally, questioned the change allowing the council to ban people for their behavior before a meeting and called the number of days they can be barred “excessive.” But he’s supportive of the broad language Sawant criticized.
Disruptions like the one earlier this month, Licata said, are “sliding into a situation that allows other bodies to come in here and take over a public space that we the people of Seattle have designated as an area for the exchange of information and to have dialogue. If you can’t have a dialogue, it’s not a democratic process.”
After a little chiding from Burgess for not bringing up these concerns earlier, the council delayed voting on the rule changes until next Monday.
Burgess told me after the meeting that “all the examples Council Member Sawant gave are not what this is attempting to address.” Instead it’s about “one individual.” He wouldn’t confirm that that individual is Tsimerman, but, according to council staff, Tsimerman is the only person who’s been excluded from council meetings in the last year.