From 1978 through 1997, there were THREE people of color on the Seattle City Council and it’s never been close since. Take the Seattle City Council:
1968 – 1973: Liem Eng Tuai, the first Asian American and Sam Smith, the first African American.
1978 – 1991: THREE people of color, Dolores Sibonga and Norm Rice joined Sam Smith. All three became President of the City Council. In 1990, Rice left the Council to become the first person of color to become Mayor of Seattle. In 1990, Cheryl Chow joined Sibonga and Smith on the Council.
1992 – 1995: Sherry Harris and Martha Choe joined Cheryl Chow as part of a female majority on the Council.
1996: Charlie Chong joined Choe and Chow on the Council; Harris did not win re-election.
1997: Richard McIver was appointed, joining Chong and Chow; both left the Council by 1998 and McIver was the lone person of color for six years.
2004: David Della was elected and joined McIver.
2008: Bruce Harrell joined McIver; Della lost his bid for re-election.
2009: McIver retired; Harrell is the lone person of color on the Seattle City Council.
This is not about quotas. This is about electing officials who reflect the diversity of Seattle. Other Puget Sound communities are electing people of color from Marilyn Strickland, Mayor of Tacoma to Conrad Lee, Bellevue City Councilmember. Progressive Seattle is lagging behind and we’re losing ground in the state legislature, too.
So, why is this happening? Certainly not because of a post-racial society! First, running for office costs a lot of money and requires time away from work. Second, running for office is an increasingly nasty business. With the speed of the blogosphere, folks traditionally discriminated against are reluctant to go public.
But, those issues face any candidate. The third reason, is increasingly demoralizing to communities of color: the political parties are not encouraging first time candidates of color. Take for example, the situation in the 46th District: when Senator Ken Jacobson decided not to run for re-election. A series of coordinated press releases came out without the prior consultation with the senior member of the delegation, Rep Phyllis Gutierrez Kenney. Across town, the 34th District is known for annointing people, thus excluding newcomers especially people of color in the second most diverse district in the state.
There are lots of bright and dedicated people of color who would be excellent public officials.
My question is: where are the political parties? They come to us for money and votes every election cycle. How about sitting with our leaders and asking who the future leaders are, who should be introduced, who should be on that all important farm team? Decades ago, it was the Republican Party that recruited Uncle Bob Santos and Michael Ross. That old GOP of Dan Evans hardly exists any more. Nationally, Democratic presidents Clinton and Obama hired dramatically more people of color to cabinet level positions and throughout their administrations. And, there’s no question that communities of color, especially new Americans, gave Mike McGinn his victory last year. But, there’s no evidence that the Democratic Party has a real diversity strategy.
It’s our time … and it just may be that we have to implement our own plan, our own Political Action Committees and send our ballots in by November 2nd. Voters of color can be the margin of difference on who wins two weeks from now. MAKE OUR VOTES COUNT!