Anyone hoping to see fireworks, a red flag unfurled or a revolutionary cri de coeur at Kshama Sawant’s first council meeting would have been sorely disappointed this morning. The routine Monday briefing, during which council members discuss their upcoming business for the week, was short and about as sweet as a council meeting could be.
Sally Clark, the outgoing council president, welcomed the group’s new, socialist member, whose celebrity status was cemented with a recent New York Times profile , and asked whether she had any opening remarks. “I am happy to be able to serve the working people of Seattle,” Sawant said, and kept it pretty much at that.
While some of her remarks after getting elected suggested she might have a combative relationship with other council members, she smiled and shook hands with her new colleagues this morning. In person, Sawant comes across much more warmly than she sometimes does on stage. We’ll see more of her stage persona later, when she delivers a speech at this afternoon’s inauguration, an affair that is expected to pack City Hall.
In politics, though, some of the most crucial events happen behind the scenes, and that is already true of the new council. Most importantly, committee assignments have been lined up—a somewhat informal process that involves negotiation among council members and, ultimately, a set of recommendations by the outgoing council president. Sawant, it emerged this morning, is expected to chair the City Light committee.
That sounds, well, a little dull, or at least an unlikely perch from which to sow the seeds of a working class uprising. Sawant wasn’t taking questions this morning and so didn’t address how she felt about that. But Alternative Socialist party spokesperson Philip Locker, who served as Sawant’s political director during the campaign and continues to work closely with her, confirms that the newbie council member had wanted to chair a committee that incorporated her signature issue: raising the minimum wage.
Instead, Sally Clark will get that job, as chair of the economic resiliency committee, although Sawant is expected to serve as a member of that committee. (The council will formally vote on committee assignments at a 2 p.m. meeting today.)
Still, if Locker is any guide, Sawant is making the best of her assignment, which often falls to a junior member of the council. He calls City Light an example of how the “public ownership of resources” can work well, and a case in point against “free-market fundamentalists.” Sawant, he says, is “excited” to work on issues like “energy efficiency, renewable energy and empowering workers.”
“She intends to really listen to them,” Locker says, adding that he’s sure City Light workers will have suggestions about how to improve the bureaucracy and possibly their own working conditions.
In other words, if there’s a socialist agenda for City Light, Sawant will find it.