Kate Martin has never held a publicly elected office, but she’s no stranger to the public eye.
She’s the stubborn former school-board candidate who did a stand-in at Roosevelt High School to demand her son be transferred to a better math teacher’s class. She’s the guitar-playing mother of two who spent thousands to install a skatepark in her front yard, only to have the city order that she take part of it out. She’s the longtime Greenwood Community Councilwoman who loves taking jabs at former member, Mayor Mike McGinn.
Now she is one of eight challengers for McGinn’s job, and says she wants to use her background in community activism and land-use design to pursue a long list of ambitious ideas.
They include transforming the top deck of the Alaskan Way Viaduct into a park, spreading social services throughout the city so they aren’t concentrated in downtown, addressing expensive pension and overtime policies for police and firefighters, and creating a citywide youth-apprenticeship program.
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Despite Martin’s unique ideas, her odds are long. She’s polling at just 1 percent, and has raised about $7,000 from fewer than three dozen donors.
She blames media, in part, for her lack of momentum.
“There’s a groupthink about money. Once one media outlet excludes you because of it, the rest start to — it’s like a contagion,” Martin said. “Then you have to claw your way back to get any visibility.”
And the coverage she does get, she says, is negative and exaggerated, such as of her Roosevelt High stand-in.
Martin, 55, said the day after police peacefully escorted her off-campus, the math teacher who would play movies instead of helping struggling students resigned. Martin had called him and said she’d continue protesting his employment on the sidewalk outside the school every day until he did.
The protest was a complete victory she received praise for, Martin said, until she ran against incumbent Sherry Carr for a school-board position in 2011.
A news release from Carr’s campaign said that incident was an example of Martin’s inability to calmly resolve disputes; the school’s security report of the incident said she was “extremely angry and very rude.”
Martin denies that characterization.
When The Seattle Times in its online guide to the mayor’s race this month wrote that a reputation for abrasiveness was a hurdle she would have to overcome to make it to the general election, Martin called to protest, then wrote to the newspaper:
“When women defend children or defend themselves from being run all over by the schools, the press or whoever, they’re labeled abrasive — the ready-for-prime-time version of the B-word. Abrasive. Lovely.”
Former PTSA president of Roosevelt High, Melissa Westbrook, said no one would think badly of Martin’s protest if she were a man.
“Here’s a parent who stuck up for her child,” said Westbrook, an education advocate who writes for Seattle Schools Community Forum. “People can disagree on how she did it, but I completely understand why she did it.”
As much as Westbrook admires Martin’s tenacity and several of her ideas, she thinks it’s too soon to support her for mayor.
“I would like to see her get elected to City Council and see how she does there, personally,” Westbrook said. “But running for mayor is a big step.”
Martin said that while she never expected her campaign to raise much money, the foundation for her hope of being the first woman to make it through a mayoral primary in Seattle since 1926 was based on these numbers:
In an unsuccessful 2011 school-board election, 70,826 people voted for her. In 2009, 39,097 votes were enough for McGinn to make it past the primary and eventually become mayor.
The current race, though, is against more and higher-profile opponents. In a recent KING5 poll, Martin was tied for last with two other candidates, just behind businessman Charlie Staadecker and socialist Mary Martin, and well behind the four leaders.
In the same poll four years ago, McGinn was also way behind, but rallied to become mayor. That’s about the only inspiration Kate Martin can take from McGinn.
She views her style of running things as much more organized, collaborative and focused than the mayor’s.
Martin pulled public budget records for the Seattle Police Department and Seattle Fire Department to analyze millions of dollars spent on pensions and overtime.
“They have all these lame excuses for these huge percentages of overtime,” Martin said. “When you add these together, it’s about a half a billion dollars every 10 years. Think of what we could do with that!”
And, preferably, she’d like you to think about what she’d like to do with that money: invest in youth development by connecting them with job apprenticeships in high school; clean up downtown and Pioneer Square; and make Seattle’s future waterfront better by preserving the viaduct and its beautiful views.
She says that although the viaduct has been deemed unsafe for vehicular traffic, it would be able to handle pedestrian traffic with some structural reinforcement.
“I think it would supercharge downtown to have a ¾-mile-long park there,” Martin said. “It would be so exciting.”
But, today, her mission at every forum, cafe, concert or sidewalk corner is to convince people who voted for her in the past that she is ready to lead the city.
As for other campaign strategies that might help her rally before election day Aug. 6, Martin says she’s still figuring them out.
“I have to sharpen my elbows and get through it.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.