Coming off a disappointing 1999 city election campaign, the Civic Foundation is looking to make a comeback. Leading the charge will be Angela Toussaint, a former aide to then-state Senator Dwight Pelz and vice chair of the King County Civil Rights Commission.
She takes over as executive director from Brian Livingston, who has shepherded the Seattle government watchdog group since its creation in 1996. The selection of Toussaint, a prominent African-American activist and former campaign manager for Dawn Mason's 1999 city council run, should help in the foundation's continuing struggle to project a public image as an inclusive, broad-based political organization.
Formed shortly after the neighborhood political group Vision Seattle crumbled, the foundation picked up many of that organization's former members. But, Livingston and his fellow board members weren't eager to acquire Vision Seattle's public image of being a bunch of white folks sitting around talking about zoning. From the start, the foundation has taken a special interest in campaign money—both in analyzing where it's coming from in several citywide studies and in using it to support its own candidates. In each city election the group's membership dues fund an independent expenditure campaign benefiting two selected candidates. Last year, the group spent $60,446 promoting the city council candidacies of Mason and Charlie Chong. Neither was elected, although the foundation did back Chong in his successful 1996 race and Nick Licata when he was elected the following year.
Toussaint says officeholders are dependent on in-house analysts and well-funded special interest lobbyists for much of their information. Groups like the foundation add another voice, she says. "It's important that there be something out there for regular folks."
The foundation's efforts also educate the public, she notes. Reports such as the recent studies of campaign giving in Seattle let people know "who's influencing their public officials," says Toussaint.
The foundation presently has about 200 members (its membership peaked at about 250 during the last campaign) and is preparing for a major fundraising drive armed with a new slogan: "Populist Leadership for a New Seattle." Toussaint will make her first appearance as foundation executive director at the group's May 23 forum on transportation at the Center for Urban Horticulture.
Expect many challenges ahead. Tireless promoter Livingston has been the public face (and prime mover) of the group since its formation and the 2001 city election will probably include few open seat races. The next year and a half should be a good test of the Civic Foundation's longterm future as a player in City Hall.
Are independent expenditure committees the good guys or villains of the campaign financing world?
Folks who wanted to raise the donation limit for Seattle city races certainly saw independent expenditures as a threat to democracy (although they haven't been quite as big a threat as the current proposal to double the $400 contribution limit). Allowed under a 1992 statewide campaign financing initiative, independent expenditure committees allow unlimited spending on candidate races as long as the official campaigns aren't involved. They've only seen limited use in Seattle city races: Mayor Paul Schell was able to get newspaper coverage in 1997 by simply griping about an independent expenditure committee formed to support his final election opponent.
And, although there's been some similar complaints about the Civic Foundation, which amasses its war chest $9 at a time from monthly membership dues, it's important to note that the foundation's $60,446 outlay was countered by $43,270 from two last-minute big business-funded independent expenditure committees. Factor in the independent money and the campaign haves and have-nots don't change places.
If nothing else, a higher contribution limit may slow the growth of independent expenditures in Seattle. That is, until an outsider candidate shows signs of being able to win his or her race.
WTO: Traffic hazard?
Boy, here's a case of looking on the bright side.
It seems that the Govlink WTO Traffic and Transit Alert program won a national award from the Intelligent Transportation Society of America. The partnership of Seattle, King County, and Washington state transportation departments used e-mail and pager alerts to help drivers steer clear of those nasty protesters during WTO week.
Nice work, but doesn't that mean the people served didn't shop at downtown businesses all that week? Maybe The Seattle Times and the Downtown Seattle Association can get that award rescinded . . .
Police chief available
As long as Seattle is still seeking its dream police chief, how about William O'Brien?
Miami's top cop quit his job late last month because Mayor Joe Carollo was enraged at the chief's failure to let him know the feds were coming to spirit away young Elian Gonzalez. Given Carollo's shameless pandering to Miami's Cuban community, this was clearly a wise move, if not a politically beneficial one. Can you think of a more impressive r鳵m頩tem than being an experienced big city police chief who put duty before politics even at the cost of his job?
Monorail goes to court
As promised, Seattle activist David Huber has sued the city of Seattle for its alleged failure to implement the Monorail Initiative.
At issue is the definition of the word "shall," as in "the City Council of Seattle shall make funds available" to the monorailbuilding Elevated Transit Company. Huber thinks "shall" means you have to do something; the city is expected to counter by questioning the definition of "having sex." No, wait, that's a different case. The first hearing in the monorail suit is set for May 30.