Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s slash-and-burn style unfairly scorched the reputation of her newest colleague.
KSHAMA Sawant owes her newest colleague on the Seattle City Council, John Okamoto, an apology.
During a special selection process for a vacancy on the council, Sawant, the socialist firebrand, said it would be “scandalous” for Okamoto to be picked because he participated in a “cesspool of corruption” while he worked at the Port of Seattle.
On the facts, that suggestion is unfair and unsubstantiated. An investigation by the state Auditor’s Office in 2007 blasted the Port for lax oversight of construction projects, including no-bid contracts, that wasted millions of dollars. Okamoto, the chief administrative officer, was not directly implicated in the audit or in a federal grand jury investigation that closed without charges.
Nor did Okamoto have any say over the overly generous salary and retirement package of his former boss, despite Sawant’s implication in her rant from the council dais.
Sawant was disappointed. She had her own preferred alternatives for the vacant council spot. But she scorched Okamoto’s distinguished résumé as a career administrator in state and local government as it became clear her preferences would not get the nod.
Sawant’s slash-and-burn style is as unbecoming as it is ineffective. Her fellow Councilmember Tom Rasmussen called her comments “odious,” and lamented that she “would stoop so low.” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw described them as “exploitative and mean. And, worse, untrue.” Councilmember Bruce Harrell was campaigning the next day for Sawant’s opponent in November, Urban League President Pamela Banks.
Her colleagues’ reaction sent a clear message: Good luck getting votes for your next legislative priority, Councilmember Sawant.
That’s too bad, because Sawant can add a productive, populist voice to the council, as she did warning about the effects of rising city utility rates.
Okamoto, who previously served as the city’s interim Human Services Department director, said he shares Sawant’s emphasis on addressing Seattle’s increasingly unaffordable housing. With that experience in city government, and his pledge to be a caretaker of the council seat until the fall election, Okamoto was the right pick.
But unlike Sawant, Okamoto said he would emphasize “civil dialogue” on the council. That should start with an apology from Sawant.