What's Tony Thinking

One Way to Read the Council Turn Around on Jobs Tax


There are a lot of possible ways to read today’s Seattle City Council decision to repeal the jobs tax enacted just last month.

Council members Sawant, Gonzalez, O’Brien and supporters will declare that this is a victory for evil corporations.

Business leaders will declare victory for economic good sense.

Some will see it is a loss for the Seattle Council, suggesting that the Council appears indecisive and easily cowed.

I tend to see this repeal, with the accompanying commitments of the business community to join others in addressing homelessness, as a win. Here’s why.

In recent years, the Seattle business community, which is an important part of the mix in this town, has been a.w.o.l. in terms of city politics. They haven’t even taken the field when it comes to identifying and  encouraging able people to consider running for Council. They show up too late to make a difference in supporting candidates who have put their hats in the ring for Council races. Business has been outflanked by labor and a host of community activists.

Why has the business community been so laissez-faire? Perhaps with so many of the big companies being global powerhouses, paying attention to little old Seattle seemed unnecessary or beneath them? In this, they reflect a trend that may come back to bite us in Seattle. In our eagerness to be global players, we sometimes forget to be local ones.

Or maybe, like many Seattle voters, business hadn’t noticed until now that the City Council has verged pretty far to the ideological left and away from the longtime, work-together, get-things-done culture of Seattle.

The recent debate on the jobs tax appears to have awoken both the business community and a wide cross-section of Seattle voters. That is a good thing.

But as with so many things in life, follow through is now required.

Businesses should follow Starbucks lead in getting seriously engaged on the homeless issue. It is a tough issue and will require non-ideological and open-minded (and open-hearted) approaches. We may not be able to “solve” homelessness, but we can do better. And we may need to be content with doing better and letting go of more messianic designs.

But the business community and Seattle voters who have been galvanized in recent weeks also need to take an interest in upcoming Council elections. As many as four incumbents may retire at the end of their current terms. Serving on the Council has become grueling and thankless, as the Council meetings have taken on the nasty circus atmosphere that used to be the norm at Seattle School Board meetings. It’s time to address that situation so that serious people will consider serving.

The larger context for the current sturm and drang of city politics is the rapid change that has been going on in Seattle in the past decade. This has created an identity crisis for Seattle. We’re not sure who we are or who we want to be.

This seems to me where Mayor Durkan has a real opportunity. Seattle is at the edge of a new chapter. Her leadership could help write that new chapter in ways that are balanced and build on Seattle’s best civic traditions while recognizing that this isn’t the same town that hosted the 1962 World’s Fair or even the same city that struggled with the WTO events in 1999.

Jenny Durkan, and not Kshama Sawant, needs to be setting the agenda and direction for Seattle.



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