Jim Compton, chair of the Seattle City Council's Public Safety committee, called it the most important decision he would make in office. Community groups across the city watched the process with a wary eye. Now, Mayor Paul Schell has chosen Gil Kerlikowske from among three finalists to be Seattle's new chief of police.
All three finalists hailed from elsewhere: William McManus, from Washington, DC; Richard Williams, from Madison, Wisconsin; and Kerlikowske, a Justice Department official who formerly ran the police department in Buffalo, New York. Kerlikowske took himself out of the running for a job in Memphis presumably because the Seattle position was his for the taking, so it wasn't too much of a surprise when he was rapidly selected by Schell after last week's public session with the City Council.
The choice was a relief. McManus was the one who scared me. Much was being made of his role in handling the "Seattlelike" protests against the IMF and World Bank in April, and how early on the morning of April 16 he was part of the decision to let demonstrators keep intersections they had seized without interference from the police. I was at that scene and briefly interviewed McManus and DC chief Ramsey. The DC police did handle that scene well—the violence against protesters came mostly elsewhere and on the following day—but it was my impression that Ramsey made the decision to pull the police back, and McManus was simply following orders. McManus struck me as a RoboCop: too intense, too perfect.
Fortunately, McManus may have taken himself out of the running with a clumsy and astonishing answer to a question during the City Council session, in which he asserted that racial profiling was not a problem in his department because the department, and the city, was largely African-American. That misses the point by a mile. As community activist Tony Orange noted, under apartheid the township police in South Africa were mostly black. Black cops can use racial profiling, too; it's not simply a matter of conducting a racial census of patrol officers.
In any event, that left us with Williams and Kerlikowske. Williams is African American. His selection would have been just the sort of liberal gesture Seattle adores. Of course, we need only remember Norm Rice's eight long years as mayor. During that time, African-Americans neighborhoods fared no better than they had under white-led administrations; Norm's legacy, in fact, was building a glitzy downtown at the expense of poor neighborhoods. Meanwhile, it was questioned whether the jump from a relatively small city like Madison to the big-city policing problems of Seattle was too great.
So the de facto choice would appear to have been Kerlikowske, about whom nobody could seem to find anything negative to say. (No Buffalo jokes, please.) But then, public scrutiny of these three candidates was less than rigorous. Although the shortlist was the culmination of a six-month-long search process, the City Council event was the only chance the public had to see the three candidates in action. They also didn't have any kind of a formal meeting with rank-and-file officers. The search for a new police chief, and the department itself, was so politicized in the wake of the Walker shooting and the WTO debacle that public involvement and investment in the selection of a new chief should have been seen as essential.
Schell's failure to even make a token gesture toward involving the public in the investigative process for the finalists was a bad sign. It's also a measure of the sort of political bumbling that Gil Kerlikowske can expect. One of the biggest questions he faces is how well equipped he is to deal with the politics of the City Council, wariness from a wide swath of the community, and a mayor who sacrificed the last police chief as a fall guy for his own bad decisions. It's an unenviable situation to walk into, and I wish the new chief lots of luck. He'll need it.
Hard to believe
I've said a lot of uncomplimentary things, all richly earned, about Patty Murray, so when she does something right it's only fair that I note it. So hats off to her for a rare and proper break with the Clinton administration over the Senate's vote on Clinton's Colombia aid package. Murray joined Slade Gorton, who has compared the guns-for-thugs package to a new Vietnam, in voting against the $1.3 billion in military assistance for a regime with one of Latin America's worst human rights records.
This is a situation where America has got its bloody hands all over a quite unsavory mess, and Murray deserves credit for being one of the few Democrats with the guts to stand up to the parasitic arms trade lobby (yes, that's you, Boeing) and their champion, Bill "Draft-Dodger" Clinton.
Clinton has been as bad as any Republican during his eight years of military build-up and intervention. Unfortunately, if anything Al Gore is worse, and Dubya George is such an idiot that he's likely to involve us in any war his generals lobby for. At this dawn of a new century there are more wars raging around the world than at any previous time in world history, and the US has its weapons and money in most if not all of them. The next four years are likely to be long ones for human rights advocates.