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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 27, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 09
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Sally Clark
Section One
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Sally Clark

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Sally Clark is the third veteran Seattle City Council member to announce she will not seek reelection.

Clark and her City Council colleague Tom Rasmussen, who is also stepping down, were the openly LGBT members of the Council, and their retirement leaves a void in city government that may be hard to fill.

'I hope we see some compelling LGBT candidates emerge,' Clark told SGN. 'I don't know about this year, but by 2017, or even 2019. It's not too soon to be working on a run in 2019.'

Clark warned that potential LGBT candidates should be prepared for the rigors of politics.

'You have to make some sacrifices to run, and more if you're elected. What you say will be scrutinized more. Your brain will still be busy with City business when you're at home with your family.

'Some folks - it's just not for them. But it's really important to have our voices out there.'

In any case, Clark adds, LGBT activists are already engaged in local politics, whether they are in office or not.

'So many of our activists are from the LGBT community. Not just for strictly LGBT issues, but people who are advocates for housing, or human services, or transportation. Or geeky stuff like smart services.'

Clark says it's hard to foresee what the City Council will look like next year, with three veterans gone and Council members now representing districts rather the whole City.

'There are some really eager and smart people running,' she says. 'The new people will be focused on what policy means for their districts...

'But if you want a bigger thing done you have to look beyond your district boundaries. That's what takes time and effort - talking to people and figuring out what you have in common and how you can move forward.

'Let's say you're interested in public transportation. Can you meet with people in Kirkland and figure out how to design bus service that will benefit the whole region?'

Appointed to fill a vacant seat when Jim Compton resigned in 2006, Clark was elected for full four-year terms in 2007 and 2011. Asked what accomplishments she's most proud of in her nine-year career, Clark looks thoughtful.

'Tom [Rasmussen] and I were on the Board of Health - Tom's no longer there, but now it's chaired by [openly Gay County Council member] Joe McDermott - and we worked hard to ensure that the LGBT community got access to quality services.

'That health care providers met cultural competency standards. That there was outreach for HIV education and prevention. That Transgender healthcare coverage is appropriately addressed. That we have all-gender restrooms in City facilities.

'Housing affordability,' Clark continues. 'I've worked a lot on that.'

Asked if she saw so-called 'apodments' as a realistic solution to affordability problems when they typically cost more per square foot than standard size apartments, Clark replies that 'square foot cost is interesting but not compelling.

'The question is - does the unit match the occupant's life? And apparently they do match people's life choices because they're clearly not going empty. Five years from now will they still match people's needs? Maybe not...

'What we need is an array of choices. The really hard thing to find is an affordable two-bedroom unit. As far as the wood frame single-family home - and this is not going to be popular in a lot of meetings - they're going to continue to vanish, at least in the urban center.

'Another urban center issue is tenant parking - ooh boy! There's another fight.'

Asked about criticism that she's a go-along-get-along politician who tries to avoid fights - even necessary ones - Clark looks perplexed.

'People who talk like that aren't really paying attention to city politics,' she replies.

'I led the Council in revising the multifamily code - that was in '07, '08,'09 - and it's continuing to play out. I led on the expansion of incentive zoning to create affordable housing outside the central zone. I spearheaded permits for food trucks and outdoor cafes...'

Despite the many nine to nothing votes on the City Council, 'legislation is not consensus-driven,' Clark insists.

'Eighty percent of what we do is legal stuff the City has to do,' she explains. 'On other stuff, stuff we don't have to do, like minimum wage or parental leave, yes, it was nine to nothing, and I love to have the nine votes. But I only need five votes. I try to get more, but I only need five.'

Asked what unfinished business she is leaving to her successors, Clark says quickly 'Affordability.'

'The economy and development pressures have had a real impact on renters,' she explains. 'Council members Licata and O'Brien have introduced a tenant protection measure to give renters more time to adapt to rent increases, or when their building is sold.

'Foreclosure protection - it's turned out to be more difficult than I thought. Council member Licata and I introduced an idea for a rescue fund to help people avoid foreclosures, modeled on something they have in Oregon, but more ambitious.

'And last year Ed [Murray] passed his universal pre-K initiative. Which is awesome - but how do you actually do it?

'The business climate is also very important. We need [businesses] to be successful because they actually do hire people.

'But look, Amazon, for example, is astonishingly successful - but at the same time we have very high unemployment numbers. I'd like to see the Council fund training programs for people who historically don't get access to those jobs.'

Clark says that although she started her reelection campaign and 'it was going great,' her decision to retire at the end of her term was actually more than a year in the making.

'My partner and I talked about it last year,' she says. 'And we already made the decision. Twelve years [on the City Council] would be sufficient. So if I ran, I was faced with this choice: would I say the day after I win that I'm not running again?

'That just didn't seem realistic.'

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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: City Council member Sally Clark
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