Email to Sawant Kshama Sawant

During the 2013 campaign, I asked “Socialist Alternative” Seattle City Council candidate Kshama Sawant for a clarification of her position regarding “corporate welfare” via Twitter, and ended up sparking a contentious debate. I sent her the following email in followup. I did not receive a response. She later won the election against 16-year incumbent Richard Conlin.

Since being elected, she has suggested Boeing workers “take over” the factories, opposed a proposal to save Metro bus service, and argued against rideshare companies like Uber (where I’ve since started working) because she doesn’t like that the list of investors includes Goldman Sachs and Jeff Bezos. After hearing about all this, I thought I’d post my letter.

Subject: Following up on Transit & Affordable Housing

Date: 10/11/13

To Kshama Sawant,

A few weeks ago a tweet from me sparked a contentious debate about your position on transportation issues. I wanted to follow up because I don’t feel that everyone was able to correctly express their opinions 140 characters at a time, and it seems the conversation ended with a lot of confusion and incorrect conclusions. I also hope to clarify my understanding of your position on these important topics. Please note I will likely publish this letter and your reply.

I’d first like to explain why I consider your comment calling the First Hill Streetcar project a product of the “political establishment” and “not real transit” to be incorrect, starting with some history:

In 2007, a group representing what I consider the “political establishment” created a proposition known as “Roads and Transit”. This was basically huge highway expansions coupled with some transit projects. We were told it was the last opportunity to expand the subway system anytime soon, and many pro-transit and environmental organizations supported it.

Not everyone bought the argument that transit funding had to be coupled with highway expansion. The opposition was lead by the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Sierra Club, where current City Councilmember Mike O’Brien was chair at the time. To much surprise, the measure was defeated.

Despite grim warnings that “There is no Plan B”, a grassroots campaign with little funding (that I volunteered on) successfully won a transit-only package just one year later. This major victory challenged all long-established assumptions regarding voters and transit (at least until voters approved the tunnel a few years later).

Part of this package included funding for the First Hill Streetcar, which was created after a subway station on First Hill had to be ruled out due to extremely high construction risks.

In addition to the primary goal of connecting First Hill with the subway system, the streetcar will also serve the Yesler Terrace public housing community, providing a significant transit boost for this lower-income area of the city. The statement you referenced about streetcars serving “only rich parts of town” is incorrect, and also ignores the vision to build a city-wide network. Because the First Hill Streetcar project was funded by Sound Transit after being approved by voters, it is incorrect to assume money was directly repurposed from Metro bus service.

On the topic of affordable housing and density, your opponent Richard Conlin has been supportive of two issues I have personally been involved with: Microhousing and the Capitol Hill subway station development agreement.

Microhousing provides an option for people who don’t need a lot of space to live in the city near employment instead of driving in. The cost of these units are significantly less than market rate for an average studio, and are successful without the direct subsidy from a housing authority.

The Capitol Hill subway station development agreement is a groundbreaking achievement that will require over 30% of the units to meet affordability standards and provide a public plaza to be used as permanent home for the Broadway farmers market, among other community benefits.

I would like to know if you disagree with your opponent’s position on these issues and what you would have done differently, if anything.

I disagree strongly with your support of rent control. Two recent articles in The New York Times explain the problems rent control systems have caused in both New York City and San Francisco: reducing the supply of housing (driving rents up further), and subsidizing apartments for the wealthy. One alternative option for Seattle is adjusting the income requirements of the existing MFTE program, and I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Finally, back to my original tweet, you talk on your website about “ending corporate welfare” and “tax freeloading corporations”. Could you please provide specific examples of this?

I look forward to hearing from you.

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