By now, many may have seen “open calls” for interested applicants to fill City Council Position 6. The last remaining woman on Tacoma’s City Council stepped down voluntarily to run for mayor.
The deadline to apply for the appointment process is January 6. The Government Performance and Finance Committee, which was appointed by the City Council, will narrow the candidates down on January 18 to no more than five, then the City Council will make the final decision on January 24. This is by no means an objective process and to pretend otherwise is a slap in the face of the community. The selected candidate will most likely already be friends with current council members, and less likely to voice dissent on topics that matter. This process ensures the continued homogenization of a city council out of touch with many of its citizens. The appointed individual will then have incumbent status, making a run in the general election that much more costly for opponents. Traditional successful campaigns for at-large Tacoma City Council positions have been around $60,000 for open seats. This kind of money is easily secured by those who grew up or run in wealthy circles, and widens the divide between the council and the people they are paid to represent.
In order to solve the community’s most complex problems, we need a wider range of expertise to serve on the council. Women make up slightly over half the population of Tacoma, and yet from the period of December 28 through at least January 24, there will be no women council members. So far, the ones who have most vocally and aggressively claimed the lack of women on the council is not an issue are men.
The predominately male city council has done nothing to address the wage gap or the burden of childcare costs on women’s careers. In fact, the current mayor and city council fought tooth and nail against raising the minimum wage to a livable wage despite the fact that research has shown that the typical minimum wage workers are women in their mid-30s (http://www.epi.org/publication/wage-workers-older-88-percent-workers-benefit/). Research has also shown that senior women are twice as likely to live in poverty as senior men due to the impact that the wage gap and unpaid care-giving duties have on lifetime earnings.
The current city council has repeatedly dismissed concerns regarding the Methanol Refinery (cancelled) and the LNG storage facility and accompanying pipelines (moving forward), claiming the need to be neutral. Meanwhile, documentation has since surfaced that certain council members and the mayor voiced support on video and in writing for both projects. While some may claim that LNG is a “cleaner alternative” fuel, the reality is that “[f]racking exposes children and mothers to chemicals and substances such as methane, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes), arsenic, radium, ozone, formaldehyde, radon, nitrogen oxides, methylene chloride, and silica sand. These substances are associated with low birth weight, birth defects, respiratory problems, cancer, and fertility problems” (Center for Environmental Health, 2013). As fracking takes place outside Tacoma city limits, this issue may be easier to sweep under the rug for local politicians. Forgetting for a moment that LNG is not as clean as Puget Sound Energy has advertised, the proponents for the LNG plant have framed the argument as if there were no other alternatives than to place a potentially dangerous storage facility in the midst of a populous city. What’s worse, Tacoma city council members gave their support without first demanding objective environmental/ health impact studies.
The City Council has done little to help homeless populations in the city, instead encouraging sweeps and pushing those in need farther from vital services. South Tacoma Business District members complained about a new at-risk youth shelter being set up at S. 54th and South Tacoma Way, but a local council member with “expertise” in the field supported its location in the middle of what is largely a bar district with inadequate bus service, schools, or nearby support agencies (Candace Ruud, The News Tribune). What the council member and the News Tribune failed to point out is the fact that downtown and Hilltop associations and individual business owners have actively forced relocation of homeless individuals through lobbying of council members with campaign contributions, and physical barricades referred to as “beautification efforts” (Adam Ashton, The News Tribune, April 6, 2016).
My hope is that new candidates will step up to protect our city despite the fact that
- disparate media coverage of male vs. female candidates continues to be a factor in campaign success (The Women’s Media Center’s Media Guide to Gender Neutral Coverage of Women Candidates + Politicians, Rachel Joy Larris and Rosalie Maggio, 2012)
- women receive threats and harassment online above and beyond what men experience (Soraya Chemaly, September 9, 2014, Time Magazine)
- women who may have the most to offer this city in terms of practical knowledge and expertise may have the least in terms of economic means to launch a traditional campaign (Allie Bidwell, October 31, 2014, US News).
It is unlikely for anyone not currently in the inner circles of the city council to win the appointment process, but it is not too early or too late to start campaigning for the upcoming general election. The offices of mayor and City Council Positions 2, 4, 5 and 6 are open in Tacoma. Those who may be dissuaded from running by the cost of filing fees ($910.42 for mayor and $412-$436 depending on council seat) should note that the fee can be waived with the collection of signatures equivalent to the monetary amount for the position sought. Other information required for filing for candidacy is available through the Pierce County Auditor’s website and the Public Disclosure Commission.
— Suzanne Skaar