OK, Seattle, that’s it. We’ve now pushed the story of Edith Macefield way too far.
The other night I was watching TV, flipping back and forth between a cable news shoutfest and a Mariners game (equally distressing), when an odd political ad popped up.
The topic was something I know a bit about, as I wrote the story back in 2006 that the ad was based on.
“Andrew Lewis grew up near Edith Macefield’s home,” a narrator said, showing the Ballard house of Macefield when the then 85-year-old holdout still lived there, tightly surrounded on three sides by 60-foot concrete walls of a new development.
“For Andrew, the people who live here are more important than cutting ribbons with developers,” the ad continued. “For Edith. For Andrew. For City Council.”
That was it, over in 15 seconds. That evening I saw the ad at least 10 more times.
That’s because, it turns out, it’s the largest ad buy on behalf of any candidate in this year’s City Council elections. It’s the largest ever by an outside group in a Seattle council primary – and the candidate himself had nothing to do with it.
The ad is also baffling. Jim Pugel is a rival candidate in the same council district, the 7th, which is downtown, Queen Anne and Magnolia. He first heard about the ad from a friend, who called him and asked: “Who is this Edith? Is she the incumbent, and is leaving office? What does she have to do with Andrew Lewis?”
Nothing, is the answer. She’s got zero to do with any of this.
Having interviewed her multiple times when she was alive, my sense is the lady of old Ballard who just wanted to be left alone would be hacked off to be used in a political spot like this.
Macefield became internationally known in 2006, when developers offered her a package worth around $750,000 to move out of her house. From that 2006 column:
“It’s the only house on the worst block. It’s small and 106 years old. There’s a chemical plant across the street, abandoned lots strewn with garbage on three sides. … But to her, the house everyone else wants to get rid of is priceless.”
She said no — and ever since, people have looked at her house and seen whatever they wanted. From a middle finger to developers to the premise for the Disney film “Up,” to now, apparently, a statement against gentrification and for a City Council candidate who was 18 when she died.
But she said right from the beginning, in that first story about her, that she wasn’t making any political statement, and had nothing against the developers.
When she died in 2008, her longtime friend and caretaker Charlie Peck said she was “never trying to stick it to The Man. Or to make any larger statement against development or money or anything else.”
She ended up willing her home to the construction manager for the development, so how anti-development could she have been?
“She wanted to die at home, in the same house, on the same couch, where her mother had died,” Peck said then. “That’s what she was so stubborn about.”
So why is she now in an ad decrying the ribbon-cutting of developers, on behalf of a candidate she never met?
The ad was placed by the political arm of the local hotel workers’ union, Unite Here Local 8. So far they have bought nearly $150,000 worth of video spots on cable and KIRO-TV, as well as Facebook and Google. The union PAC also bought online ads on The Seattle Times website and The Stranger.
Unite Here did not return a phone call. But Andrew Lewis did. He said he was as flummoxed as I was.
Lewis, 29, says he didn’t know Macefield. Also, the Macefield house isn’t in District 7 — it’s in District 6, currently represented by Mike O’Brien.
“I did grow up in Ballard, so the ad gets that part right,” Lewis said.
An independent expenditure committee can spend unlimited money on ads as long as it doesn’t coordinate with the candidate. So Lewis says he had no input on, and now has no control over, the message that is weirdly dominating his own campaign.
“When I heard from my campaign manager that Unite Here was dropping $150,000 into this race, for us, I texted back and said ‘you mean $15,000?’ It’s a crazy amount of money for one council district,” he said.
It’s nearly triple the amount that any District 7 candidate has spent. Pugel leads in candidate spending, through Friday, with $56,000.
Previously, an officer with Unite Here told The Seattle Times only that Lewis had impressed the members in a meeting, so it decided to back his candidacy.
The last time I spoke to Macefield, which was in 2006, she threatened to sue me for writing that first story about her. But then she invited me in to see a box of letters from people who had read the story and admired how she was staying put. When I asked her if she was still mad, she shrugged. It wasn’t personal.
“I really do just want to be left alone,” she said.
It was a simple request. But even a decade after her death we can’t seem to take her up on it.