The pitch: Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle chief executive officer Pamela Banks presents herself as a homegrown, handshaking alternative to city council District 3 incumbent Kshama Sawant. Where Sawant grandstands, she’ll coordinate; where Sawant lambastes, she’ll collaborate. The fourth candidate to register in District 3, Banks describes herself as a progressive technician who can fine-tune the gears of city machinery, and she says her three decades working for the city and three years at the helm of the Urban League make her the candidate who can get things done.
And she’ll return phone calls.
“In order to be an effective city council person in a district system, you have to be accessible,” Banks told CHS.
“Accessible” is not a word she’d use to describe Sawant, who Banks says was the only council member she wasn’t able to meet with as CEO of the Urban League, a historic black advocacy group. Banks isn’t alone: The Stranger’s Anna Minard wrote back in November about Sawant’s two-week wait time for interviews. CHS has also had trouble getting in touch with Sawant’s camp in the past.
Banks said while she briefly met Sawant face-to-face at two different public events, they’ve yet to have a conversation. “I don’t know her, I don’t know how different we are,” she said. But while she may not know her competition, she does feel that she knows her district. “I’ve lived here [in the CD] for 20+ years, I’ve lived in Seattle for 37 years,” she said. “I have a different frame because I live here and I’ve been embedded in this community.”
Not the anti-Sawant
But Banks doesn’t want to be shoehorned as an anti-Sawant candidate. She’s running on a four-tier platform: income inequality, affordable housing, education, and public safety, all of which she puts under the umbrella of “quality of life” issues.
“We have the $15 minimum wage,” she said, and she “gives credit” to Sawant for turning the heat up on that issue last year, “but what do we do to create jobs and support small businesses in order for them to pay that living wage?”
The rocky bottom of Seattle’s wage and housing woes is, of course, burgeoning homelessness, which Banks ascribes to poverty and lack of education. Banks described the problem like this:
Yesterday I watched the state come and clean off Yesler, the Yesler overpass…[State workers were] cleaning [homeless people] out. People were packing their stuff and moving. When I came back later that evening, the people were back. So we’re spending resources moving people that are turning around and moving back.
Banks pointed to the 1811 Eastside building, which houses and provides services to alcohol addicts, as an example of a solution. “We have documented how many millions of dollars it saves on medical care, people going to Harborview…I ’ve asked several people: If we know it works, why did we just build one and stop?”
For residents slightly higher on the income ladder, Banks said she would work to lower property taxes in order to lower the cost of living and slow gentrification. She doesn’t consider rent control (AKA “rent stabilization”) viable as long as it’s prohibited by the state.
On police reform, Banks said it “absolutely” has to happen. Police violence against black Americans, she said, isn’t “new, it’s just been exposed” through social media and camera phones. “So through that exposure, we’re able to force reform.”
She thinks Mayor Ed Murray’s appointment of Chief Kathleen O’Toole is a step in the right direction — “In order for reform to happen, it had to come from the top. It could not come from the bottom” — and said that continuous staffing at different precincts could be one step toward getting residents and their local cops to know each other.
Policy specifics aside, the District 3 election might well turn into a referendum on Sawant’s presence in the community and accessibility — not so much a four-way race as Sawant vs. everyone else. The councilor is a polarizing figure with popularity measures that show her with some of the strongest levels likes and dislikes in city hall, but her signature issues — the $15 minimum wage, corporate taxes, police brutality, and rent control — are not necessarily local.
“You go out, get arrested in SeaTac — but does that help us in Seattle?” Banks asked. Sawant is a lone ranger on policy, Banks added, and “You can’t do anything alone in this city.” When asked if Sawant could pull the entire council to the left and create elbow room for progressives like Mike O’Brien, Banks said that that’s fine for a citywide position but deadly for a district.
“If she’s a district person,” Banks said, “and she’s creating that elbow room, and we need something to happen in our district, and she can’t pull the votes to make it happen — what happens to us?”