It’s true that Seattle and I have had a complicated relationship.
I first fell in love with Seattle in 1981, when I strolled through Pike Place Market and visited a small coffee roaster called Starbucks. Not long after, my wife, Sheri, and I drove across the country with our dog Jonas so I could work for that small business. We never left.
Sheri and I raised our two children here and made lifelong friends. Seattle is where Sheri continued her career, and as a volunteer began her work to help homeless youth and where she continues to grow our family foundation. It is also where I helped build Starbucks thanks to the hard work, the trust and the support of countless Seattleites who were investors, employees and customers. It is here that I also led a group that bought, and sold, the city’s NBA team, the Seattle SuperSonics.
In this city, I have realized dreams and made mistakes.
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It’s true that Seattle and I have had a complicated relationship. So when I made it known this week that I am seriously considering running for president of the United States as a centrist independent to remove President Donald Trump from office and to help fix our broken two-party system, reactions were mixed. I heard support from Starbucks shareholders, baristas, customers and people I have never met. People also expressed outrage and fear that my running would lead to Trump’s re-election.
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Seattle is my adopted hometown. I grew up in Brooklyn public housing, and my father was a working-class guy who never made much money. My mom believed that her son could build a better life, and I was able to do that in Seattle and bring many people along with me. Starbucks was perhaps the first company in America to give part-time employees health-care coverage and stock ownership. The company pioneered a program that lets all its employees get a college degree, tuition free.
Starbucks has never been perfect and neither have I. My biggest mistake still reverberates in the city. In 2006, I sold the SuperSonics franchise to new owners who were not from Seattle and moved the team to Oklahoma. The loss of the beloved Sonics devastated thousands of fans. Many rightfully blame me.
In a new book I try to shed light about what went into my decision to sell when we did and the lessons I came away with. The truth is that I wish I held on to the team until someone local wanted to buy it. But after five years as an owner, I was so focused on getting myself and others out of a money-losing situation that I made a bad choice and failed to follow a principle that helped me grow Starbucks, which is to try to balance profit with humanity.
Selling the Sonics is the biggest regret of my professional life. Few things are more human than the bond felt among family, friends and in communities when cheering on a hometown team. Sitting at Yankees’ games in the right-field bleachers with my dad was among the few happy moments we shared when I was a kid. Selling the Sonics ultimately denied that bond to thousands of people in Seattle. I do not expect my actions to be forgiven or forgotten. I created a wound I cannot heal, and for which I will always be deeply sorry.
My decision to consider running as a centrist independent reflects Seattle’s influence. Here, we have diversity of thought and a pioneering spirit. We nurture innovative ideas. Here, we encourage dissent but foster civil conversation. Here, the private and nonprofit sectors work together to help those in need and to experiment with groundbreaking solutions.
The prospect of a third choice among candidates has potential to resonate. Sixty-six percent of likely voters already say “neither party is really representing my needs or interests.” Gallup reports 39 percent of Americans identify themselves as independent, and 57 percent of Americans now believe a “major third party is needed.” It’s even higher among millennials.
This moment in history is also perilous. The toxic mix of social and fiscal challenges, extreme ideological divisions and political dysfunction threatens to deteriorate the greatest democracy in human history. How can elected officials solve complex problems like unaffordable health care, a crumbling national infrastructure, a debilitating national debt, unequal access to education and employment, and disappearing middle-class jobs if our leaders cannot hold a productive conversation — or keep the government open?
Americans are tired of the partisan fighting, and are suffering because of it. This next election can be a vote for collaborative governing. We can do better.
The re-election of Donald Trump also poses a grave threat. He has inflicted great harm and must not serve another four years.
These two problems — our broken two-party system and the reelection of Trump — are not mutually exclusive. I promise to spend the next few months listening to supporters as well as critics of a third-choice candidate, and weigh all threats to our democracy with the utmost seriousness.
As I embark on this journey, I take with me all that I have learned in this magnificent city, and the pioneering spirit that compels so many of us to live, work and think here, independently.