Gimme that Old Permanent Forever Home

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The election for mayor of Seattle is a dispiriting affair. The sweet spot in Seattle politics is about two standard deviations to my left, so that once the primary election has weeded out the no-hopers, it’s a cinch that I will disagree with both of the survivors. And I do.

On September 29, the Seattle Times had a Q-and-A Zoom with the top two, city councilwoman Lorena González and former councilman Bruce Harrell. Both are progressives. Harrell is perceived as more to the center than González, but it is a relative thing. Neither would be considered anywhere near the center in many American towns.

The big issue in Seattle is the homeless encampments. González, a former civil rights litigator, flatly said that the root cause of homelessness is “poverty and inequality.” To address this, she said, the city needs “to seriously spend” more on “deeply affordable subsidized housing” so that every one of Seattle’s 4,000 homeless can have “a permanent forever home.” In fact, the city seriously spends a lot; recently it has been buying hotels, some of them fairly new, to house the homeless, many of whom have lived in the hotels for a while and then gone back to camp in the parks.

González also said she wants to “prioritize the needs of working people.” Not over non-working people; no one in Seattle politics would say that.

 

Our mayor, Jenny Durkan — the one who tolerated the “Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone” for a month last year until two men were killed — once had a team to sweep out illegal encampments. The campers would move somewhere else to set up housekeeping. To the progressives, who didn’t like sweeps anyway, this proved that they didn’t work, and the city council banned them. Lorena González denounced sweeps as “the forcible removal of poor people from public spaces.” When her critics say there should be “consequences” for squatters who refuse a free hotel room and stay in the park, González says, “I don’t want to tell people, ‘You’re going to suffer consequences if you don’t do what I want.” She wants to help them “for hygiene and to be able to toilet.” (A new verb!)

She accused Harrell of being for sweeps, and he did say, “It’s inhumane to allow people to stay in those spaces.” This suggests that he would remove them, but it is a suggestion only.

González also said she wants to “prioritize the needs of working people.” Not over non-working people; no one in Seattle politics would say that. She meant over rich investors and CEOs. She damned Harrell, her opponent, as being “cozy with CEOs and Republican donors” and for supporting “a corporate-funded Republican plan called Compassion Seattle.”

Harrell never came out and said that the homeless, even some of them, were responsible for their condition. No candidate would say that.

 

There aren’t any Republican plans here. “Compassion Seattle” was a plan, with some corporate support, to provide housing for the homeless.

Because he is about four inches to the right of González, Harrell does have some Republican donors. And there are differences in his rhetoric that someone on the right might notice. In the Times Q-and-A session, he did mention that any plan for homelessness should address “drug and alcohol issues,” and that the encampments are rife with “sex trafficking and other bad behavior.” He never came out and said that the homeless, even some of them, were responsible for their condition. No candidate would say that. But unlike González, he named as causes some things other than inequality and racism, though he named those, too. I also noticed that he listed “job services” when he was naming the services the city should provide more of. González never intimated — not once — the thought that gainful employment might be a good thing for the people living in tents. Neither candidate made reference to the labor shortage among Seattle businesses, and the “Now Hiring” signs all over town.

Asked to sum up his message, Harrell said his priorities were “homelessness, COVID-19 and the lack of public safety.” The Q-and-A hadn’t been about public safety, which is a big problem, but in his conclusion, Harrell made a point to mention it. González didn’t.

It is from such patterns in the rhetorical tea leaves that I decide how to vote.

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