‘Old White Woman’ Carries the Load for District Elections

“You know, if I were Schultz or Gates or Allen you guys wouldn’t think a thing about it,” says Faye Garneau, when asked why she has pumped $233,000 of her own money into the district elections campaign.

“I don’t have a hidden agenda,” she stresses. “There’s no nefarious plans on my part. I’m too darned old to run for anything.”

How old are you?

“I’m not saying. Just put that I’m over 65. Like they say, I am just an old white woman.”

And well off – at least with enough disposal dough to almost single-handedly bankroll an effort to drastically alter the method in which Seattle voters elect their city council members. If passed, Charter Amendment 19 would mean seven members would be elected by district and two at large.

A Seattle native, Garneau is a Garfield High graduate and longtime executive director of the Aurora Merchants Association. Now widowed and living in the Broadview neighborhood, she and her husband made their money in the automotive repair business. She’s also done quite well as a real estate developer.

She’s a conservative Republican -- a Mitt Romney supporter in 2012 -- and veteran neighborhood activist who is against just about any tax, or zoning restriction or parking change that might mess with the interests of business owners she represents along Aurora Avenue, where a good number of Seattle District Now yard signs can be spotted.

She’s never voted for Obama, but likes Mayor Mike McGinn and is leaning toward voting for him, as she did four years ago. (McGinn favors district elections.)

“I’m not the topic here,” Garneau insists. “I’m just doing this because the job is too big for someone to be able to represent all 600,000 people in Seattle. I’m not saying any of them [council members] are crooked. They’re just overworked.”

Marjorie Rhodes, co-chair of the No campaign, worries that district elections will lead to “pork-barrel politics” and would give voters less say in city leadership. “This is on the ballot because of one wealthy woman,” she complains. “I don’t like the idea that rich people can be able to buy the election process. Their campaign is anything but grassroots.”

Other critics of district elections are concerned that the new electoral scheme is weighted toward the North End and would push most of Seattle’s minority community into one district, leaving the rest of the districts even whiter.

Still, Seattle , which has rejected city council districts repeatedly, is only one of three cities with more than 500,000 people that elects its council at large, the other two being Portland, Ore., and Columbus, Ohio.

Garneau’s contributions , meanwhile, comprise more than 85 percent of all the money raised to back Charter Amendment 19 – a percentage so high that, by state election law, she had to list herself as the sponsor of the campaign, now known as “Seattle Districts Now Sponsored by Faye Garneau.”

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