in this issue:
City Council Race: Who's Talking About Women?
by Adriene Sere
Not anyone, really. And when it comes to political campaigns, that matters.
This year's city council elections campaign is an especially important one. It carries the possibility of a shift in the council from a corporate rubber stamp majority to a progressive majority. There are several open seats held by corporate supporting councilmembers who decided not to run again, and there is one healthy challenge to one who is trying to keep her seat.
Progressive groups such as the Seattle Progressive Coalition, formed earlier this year with the goal of winning seats for progressive candidates, and the Green Party of Seattle, are doing an impressive job of running strong candidates in fairly strong campaigns. Important issues are being raised by these candidates: transportation, housing, protection of the environment, and rights of the homeless. At the debates sponsored by district Democratic parties, interesting questions are asked about medical marijuana, rights of downtown t-shirt vendors, and pesticide use in public parks.
But nothing is being asked--or answered--about women. Why not? Are women's issues and I mean issues specific to women some kind of taboo these days? Are leftist issues, minus women's issues, easier, cleaner, more "dignified" to talk about in mixed company?
Well, Said It, which cares little about "socially dignified," has taken it upon itself to raise some questions with the candidates. The issues that get raised during an elections campaign are the issues that are likely to be advocated by elected officials. The candidates are making their promises now, and the media is making a record of their promises. What the candidates say they will do isn't necessarily what they will do, but it is far more likely they will do good on issues they discussed as candidates and it is not likely at all that they will prioritize issues they never mentioned.
I called each of the candidates, and asked them 1) what's is your history, either in office or through activism, in fighting for women's rights? and 2) what will you do to advocate women's issues if elected to city council?
Well, to tell you the truth, most candidates were disoriented by the question. Most needed reminders and hints as to what the issues are. When I informed them about some hard and ugly facts--for instance, the fact that battered women's shelters must turn away 16 battered women who need to go into hiding for every woman they have room to shelter--they had had no idea. This isn't entirely their fault. It's up to us regular citizens--both women and men--to make noise so they pay attention.
So here's some noise-making. And here's for the record. Hang onto it--it might come it handy during and after the campaign.
Progressive candidates Dan Norton and Judy Nicastro are up against former councilmember Cheryl Chow for this seat.
Judy Nicastro is a 34 year old activist who seems to have lots of specific facts as well as the big picture in her head. She majored in women's studies, and then went on to get her law degree. As a student at the University of Washington, she was a leader with UW- NOW. She co-founded UW-NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League), and helped create CORE (Committee Organizing Rape Education).
This past year, she has been a strong advocate for renters' rights. If elected, she plans to push for affordable housing which, she says, "affects women tremendously." Darlene Borland of New Beginnings, one of only two battered women's shelter in Seattle, backs her up here. Affordable housing is key to independent and dignified lives for women and their children. Women cannot escape abusive situations without it.
Judy also said she wants to see women and people of color in high positions in city government.
Dan Norton is a longtime democrat and peace activist. Back in the 70s, he was active in the women's movement and helped fight to get the ERA passed. When state legislators refused to meet with the women activists, Dan arranged meetings with these snools, and then brought the women activists to the meetings. He has also had the honor of being called "faggot" by none other than Phyllis Schlafly at a pro-ERA rally.
His agenda for women's issues if elected to the council? He wants the city to support and contract with women-owned businesses, despite I-200, by using certain economic criteria. For instance, women-owned businesses tend to be smaller, newer, have less of a track record, and have less capital to work with, making it difficult to get bonds and insurance.
Dan supports a living wage for city employees and the employees of companies that contract with the city. Requiring a living wage for employees would disproportionately affect women, since women are disproportionately employed in poverty-waged jobs.
Like the other candidates, Dan didn't know how bad the situation was regarding the lack of emergency shelter for battered women. "It's imperative that anyone who needs shelter gets it," he said. He also stressed that there needs to be an adequate system for transition for those escaping abusive situations--affordable housing and resources for ongoing support. If elected, he plans to advocate for a specialized response to domestic violence, in which experts in domestic violence accompany police on all emergency domestic violence calls in order to help with intervention, and to offer support and resources for the victim.
Cheryl Chow is one of the "downtown" candidates that progressives are keen on keeping off the council. She's gotten loads of business-interest contributions for her campaign because she votes for giving public money to big corporations, as an "investment" for our city.
As for women's issues? Her heart is in the right place in a lot of ways, but women's issues are not as high a priority with her as, for instance, buying Nordstrom a parking garage. Cheryl "gets it" when it comes to violence and discrimination against women and girls. She stresses the fact that public action needs to be taken to end it. She has organized educational campaigns around these issues, urging high profile officials to write editorials addressing the problems. She also took an admirable stance when former councilmember John Manning was arrested for domestic violence. One of the members of the council bought a card for Manning, and passed it around for signatures! Cheryl refused to sign, and told the other councilmembers that they should instead buy a card for Manning's wife.
At least someone spoke up. But women of Seattle need more than minor educational campaigns on our behalf. Public money must be invested in order to create gender equality and safety for women and girls. It's going to take more than well-meaning words to make this happen.
Progressive candidate Curt Firestone is trying to unseat incumbent Margaret Pageler
When Margaret Pageler was first elected to the city council, she was backed by progressive groups who liked her promise to try to limit the height of downtown buildings. She did some good work for women during the late 80s and early 90s. During her first term, she said, she supported women in the fire and police departments, helping to make sure the departments were effective in outreach to women, and fair in their promotions. She worked with police to encourage them to crackdown on johns, not just prostitutes (though she did not try to get the police to leave prostitutes alone). She also advocated for ethnically sensitive care at the state board of health.
What will she do for women if re-elected? She didn't have any plan or any particular ideas. Progressives are upset over her treatment of ordinary citizens these last few years--her support of the poster ban, her willingness to sacrifice Cedar River Watershed for slightly lower utility bills, her support of the Parks Exclusion Ordinance, her support of channeling public money into huge buildings like Key Arena and the Convention Center. Margaret has received more PAC money from downtown business than any of the other candidates, local papers report.
Curt Firestone has been an outspoken advocate for choice. Many years ago, he helped raise money for a battered women's shelter. As an executive in the mental health field, he successfully initiated the annual convention's boycott of Louisiana in response to Louisiana's failure to pass the ERA. More recently, he initiated requiring a gender balance on the coordinating council of the Green Party. He's been a longtime activist on progressive issues that affect women, though he has not recently focused on women's issues in particular.
If elected, Curt promises to push for a living wage. He believes child care workers should be well paid and treated as children's teachers and role models. He proposes making city facilities available for a nominal charge so daycare centers will have more money available to pay child care workers. All large businesses should have daycare onsite or in close proximity, and city government should set an example. Curt wants to see the city provide start-up grants for new battered women's shelters. He emphasizes the importance of providing adequate homeless shelters for women.
Heidi Wills and Charlie Chong vie for this open seat
Heidi Wills assured the crowd at the Green Party endorsement gathering (which I attended) that she was a "strong feminist," and I was impressed. No one was asking. I like a woman who embraces the F word in public without being asked.
When I called Heidi to hit her up for some campaign promises, she was the only candidate who didn't need a bit of prodding as to what issues needed to be addressed. She said that one of her top priorities is to create high quality pre-school and child care centers, and make them part of children's entry into education. She emphasizes that small business as well as large businesses can move toward providing daycare onsite or nearby, through coming together and pooling resources.
She sees public transportation as a women's issue. "Not everyone can afford a car." She envisions having small buses as "neighborhood circulators." Currently the bus system is designed around getting people to and from downtown, ignoring our needs for grocery shopping, daycare stops, etc.
Heidi brought up women's right to breastfeed. Right now, breastfeeding is considered indecent exposure in Washington. She believes breastfeeding should be supported and encouraged by society, and wants the city of Seattle to make sure that women have the facilities to breastfeed safely and privately.
Charlie Chong is the one candidate I wasn't able to get a hold of. But this is what his campaign literature says:
As a city councilmember, Charlie "strengthened the city's policies on sexual harassment by increasing supervisor responsibility and accountability." He also "filled long-standing vacancies on the city's Human rights Commission, Women's Commission and Commission for Sexual Minorities."
Former state legislator Dawn Mason and investment banker Alec Fisken compete for this seat.
Dawn Mason has a lot of conviction, and that makes me like her. She stood up against the public funding of the all-male sports palaces, while most of the rest of the democratic party caved. When I asked her about women's issues, she said that all issues are women's issues. I didn't necessarily like this. Of course all issues are women's issues, but there are also issues that are specifically women's issues. But Dawn did end up talking about issues specific to women, and she does seem to see "all issues" with a woman's perspective.
We need good lighting for pedestrian sidewalks, she said, which affects women's safety. We also need to deal with lack of affordable housing creatively, with women in mind. For instance, older women now living alone could, with help from the city, convert their homes to bring in renters, such as a single moms with children. That way, the women would be able to offer mutual, intergenerational support, the moms and children would have safe, adequate housing, and the older women would have extra income.
When Dawn served on the Trade and Economic Development Committee, she supported women-owned business. As a city councilmember, she wants to expand opportunities for women to work for themselves. She also expressed concern for the growing number of HIV positive women of color over 40, and wants to make sure that educational campaigns and services include them. "We need to care about poor women and marginalized women," she said.
Alec Fisken looks like your typical conservative at first glance, but his stated politics aren't entirely bad. He does not seem to have a handle on the issues the way Dawn Mason does, and he doesn't communicate with much conviction. But he is supportive of certain aspects of progressive politics, including issues that affect women. He also favors corporate welfare. He said he would have voted for the public funding of the Pacific Center Parking Garage if the plan had been presented in a more straightforward manner. And he is ignorant of some social issues and recent local controversies, such as the proposed Burma Selective Purchase Ordinance, which, if passed, would have required the city to refuse to contract or purchase from businesses with ties to the brutal Burmese government.
Alec says he supports city support of child care, but that child care is ultimately a state-wide issue. He says he is not opposed to a higher minimum wage in the city. Not a very impassioned way of saying it.
Primary: September 14, 1999
General Election: Top two primary vote-getters face off on November 2, 1999
Copyright © 1999 Adriene Sere - All rights reserved by author.
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