Calling John Roderick the “arts candidate” for City Council would be somewhat limiting unless the definition includes a candidate who sees affordability and transit as part and parcel to supporting the arts. As the front man for Seattle indie rock band The Long Winters, Roderick says he knows first hand that it takes a village to raise an artist.
Roderick officially announced his candidacy Monday for Council Position 8, one of two at-large seats up for grabs this November. Also seeking the seat are current council president Tim Burgess, former Tenants Union director Jon Grant, activist David Trotter, longshoreman John Persak, and City Council agitator Alex Tsimerman.
Roderick, 46, lives in Rainier Beach, is a founding member of the Seattle Music Commission, co-host of a weekly podcast, and a former Seattle Weekly music columnist.
Having spent 17 years living on Capitol Hill as a working musician before moving out of the neighborhood eight years ago, Roderick sees himself as belonging to a belated awakening of 90s rockers who squandered an opportunity to get political when the iron was hot.
Imbued with the sense of “we’re in charge now,” Roderick said this year’s switch to district elections opened a window for non-traditional candidates to run for office.
“To keep arts out of public life and reserve City Council for a professional class of lawyers and activists is to miss an opportunity to build a civilization here rather than just a municipality,” he said. “We’ve lost sight of what makes American democracy fantastic, which is that citizens can participate in the political process.”
Roderick, a self-described urbanist and public works nerd, said he’s always been interested in politics and public policy (his father was a state legislator). On the Music Commission, Roderick said he’s worked to get arts and music classes back into the city’s poorer public schools — work he wants to continue on City Council.
While he doesn’t share Council member Kshama Sawant’s political views, Roderick commended the council’s socialist member for inspiring people to get active in city government. He said his background as a musician and lyricist also gives him a knack for capturing imaginations through language (when speaking with CHS, Roderick described the Alaska Way tunnel project as “a way to get our horse carts moving pumpkins from one side of the city to the other” on its way to becoming “the coolest skate park that ever was.”)
Roderick’s plan to elevate arts consciousness through city government could be seen as naively optimistic. To that, he says politics couldn’t be worse than the years of greed and backstabbing he’s experienced in the music industry, an industry he said he will eventually return to.
Capitol Hill has been a constant for Roderick during his time in Seattle, from working as a busser in a gay bar to his long stint at a Broadway newsstand. “I was infused with Capitol Hill values at the time 20 years ago,” he said. “I couldn’t distinguish myself from Capitol Hill in a way… months would go by when I wouldn’t leave.”
Since moving off the Hill in 2007, Roderick says he’s been frustrated by the city’s inability to create more affordable housing and better transit in the neighborhood. In the 1990’s, Roderick said he rented a Capitol Hill apartment and garage practice space for under $600. “The solution isn’t to stand at 12th and Pine and cry,” he said.
Some solutions Roderick proposes are easing the regulations on detached guest houses and basement units, as well as having the city purchase vacant and derelict housing to turn into affordable housing. On the issue of improving transit, Roderick supports the creation of a city-run transit authority instead of the current county and regional ones. He also wants Seattle to provide Internet service as a public utility.
When asked about other specific policies he’d support, Roderick said he plans to do more listening than telling in his campaign. You can start giving him something to listen to on Tuesday when Roderick hosts a public meet-and-greet at E Pike’s Capitol Cider from 6-8 PM. It probably won’t be his last Capitol Hill event.
“Upper Rainier Beach is my home, but I feel like Captiol Hill is my neighborhood, and that will never change,” he said.