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Seattle businesses and politicians disagree. The new executive director of the chamber declares a ceasefire.

After years of escalating hostilities within the Seattle business community’s “political establishment,” at least one business leader says he is ready for a ceasefire.

Rachel Smith, the new president and CEO of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, says she will avoid the harsh propaganda tactics that the chamber sometimes used in previous elections.

“I think we really need to oust our dukes,” said Smith, who has chaired the House since January 4 in more than 15 years of nonprofit government roles, including King County No. 2.

Smith House will not support candidates in this year’s Seattle election for mayor or city council, and its Political Action Committee will not fund campaigns for or against any candidate. And so far, Smith and his colleagues have avoided the militant political rhetoric preferred by Smith’s predecessor, former Tacoma Mayor and now U.S. Representative Marilyn Strickland.

Instead, Smith pursues government-business partnerships on issues such as homelessness and public transit, which he helped marshal King County’s Sound Transit, which he sees as key to Seattle County’s post-epidemic recovery.

“I’m not here to teach anyone a lesson,” said Smith, 41, in a friendly but cautious tone to someone stuck in bureaucratic records. “I am here to work together, to show leadership, to address the toughest challenges in our region. Era.”

Smith’s more pragmatic, conciliatory stance may succeed, given the awkward position that the business lobby now occupies in Seattle’s politics.

The chamber, which includes some 2,500 members in the Puget Sound region, ranging from small restaurant owners to giants such as Amazon and Microsoft, is deeply distrusted by the vast expanse of Seattle’s political establishment. This is partly due to Seattle 2019. In an election where the House Political Affairs Committee has spent more than $ 2 million, most of it from Amazon, a brazen, unsuccessful attempt to accommodate left-wing City Council members.

The company – five candidates who had business support – were lost, angered the business community, some members of which reportedly blamed Strickland և Amazon. But it also raised questions about the political future of the business community in Seattle, the ability to shape politics in the city whose most visible politicians may no longer think about winning business votes.

“The day I get the House approval is the day I know I’m doing a terrible thing,” said Kshama Savant, a member of the Socialist Council, which is the main target of the House’s 2019 election strategy.

As the city moves toward new elections, one of Smith’s main challenges is to help Seattle’s business leaders “re-establish that they have some influence, some power, some capacity to help shape the results,” said political adviser Sapis Kaushik.

If anyone was going to restore the political modernity of business in Seattle, it would probably be Smith, say many political-business representatives.

The Oklahoma resident has been at the crossroads of Seattle’s advanced business policy since 2005 when she joined the Seattle Transport Elections Coalition, a Seattle Transit Advocacy Group. This was followed by shootings in Seattle, Sound Transit և King County. Smith began to become Deputy Prime Minister Dow Konstantin, Chief of Staff, and worked closely with the Metropolitan King County Council.

Smith gained a reputation for skillfully leading complex coalitions among businesses, government agencies, working groups, and nonprofits. He also established strong links between the political and business communities in the region. (His partner is the former deputy mayor of Seattle, who has become Tim Seiss, chief political adviser).

Smith also gained hands-on experience with government-sponsored government initiatives, such as the $ 54 billion Sound Transit vote in 2016 and the King’s Health Home-Based Housing Initiative for 2020, which homeless people in Seattle, according to for some, may still lead urban politics.

“We do not have to go so far back as to see areas where there was some kind of business, labor, growth-supporting coalition,” said Seattle Council member Andrew Lewis, who in 2019 employment support assistance. And, Lewis adds, “Rachel is very good at it. «

It is true that the prospects for such a partnership in Seattle seem far more bleak since 2018, when the House և City Council launched a scandalous fight for one councilor’s “home tax” to help fund homeless businesses with $ 20 million a year.

The chamber helped put pressure on the council to repeal the tax, in part by claiming that the city was not using the existing homeless funding effectively. But Lewis says the results of the 2019 election made some board members feel compelled to approve last year’s JumpStart tax for big employers with high-paying employees, which many critics say is aimed at tech companies like Amazon.

In December, the court sued the city over the JumpStart tax, claiming it violated Washington state constitution. But even if the chamber prevails in court (Smith refused to comment on the lawsuit, rather than say it “precedes me”), the 2019 election results show a more fundamental issue for the chamber և business community, some observers say.

Where many local racial candidates usually sought business and labor support, today it is less so, say some politicians and advisers. On the contrary, as a result of the recent success of many progressive candidates, some Seattle politicians realize that “the palace is not needed. In fact, the chamber can be held accountable, “said Mike O’Brien, a former board member who is a frequent target of the chamber. anger

Some observers say it’s partly a legacy in 2019, when a last-minute $ 1.05 million investment from Amazon to the House’s Political Action Committee quickly turned into a progressive one like Savant. (He still calls the chamber’s strategy “a direct attempt to capture the business of the municipality”). Some political observers believe that the donation helped Savant win over others.

But even without Amazon money, Seattle’s business lobby faces a difficult political landscape. The city’s younger, more progressive demographics are simply less sympathetic to business, says Ben Anderstown, a political consultant at Progressive Strategies NW who has done some work with the House.

If “you’re just thinking about the ordinary voter you need to win [in Seattle] “There is no election where it is not a progressive Democrat, perhaps even more progressive than the national average,” Anderstone said.

“I think the chamber really needs to understand the arithmetic on it,” Lewis added.

Some business leaders, however, say that political arithmetic is not so white.

Seattle’s business community has long supported progressive goals, says Anderstone and other political observers. The House itself ousted the US Chamber of Commerce in 2011 because the national organization opposed climate policy, working for a long time with former Democratic activists and staff.

In addition, many progressive Democrat voters share some of the concerns of the business community in Seattle, political observers say.

According to an October poll by EMC Research for the Downtown Seattle Association, homelessness, job loss / business closure are the top two concerns for Seattle voters. According to the poll, a majority of voters (62%) believe that the City Council’s “lack of action to combat homelessness and public safety is driving businesses out of Seattle.”

Voters also have a fairly favorable view of Seattle business, even of the big tech companies that some politicians have criticized. Asked if the jobs created by companies like Amazon are good for Seattle, “everything was taken into account,” according to 80%,% 44% agree, և only 20% agree. no, according to 2020 May EMC survey.

Some sentiment leaders say the sentiment opens this year ‘s campaign for business initiatives on issues such as homelessness and public safety.

For example, Smith – a group of business leaders, moderate political and non-profit social service organizations – recently drafted a county ballot this month that would change Seattle’s charter and require the city to build 2,000 housing units for vulnerable people in 12 months. և Help fund drug treatment և Mental health services.

Although the House has yet to formally approve the proposal (it fully supported Smith’s involvement), political observers expect it to affect the November election before the public debate. Some observers believe the chamber may try to use the measure as a “wedge problem” among left-wing “moderate city voters”.

Political observers say the strategy poses some political risks. The proposal of the charter is contradictory. Among other things, it requires the city to clean up the homeless camps when an apartment is purchased, լինի uncertain about funding.

Some political observers have questioned whether this is possible without another business tax hike. But business leaders such as DSA President Jon on Scholes believe the measure could be funded in part by using the “significant federal dollars” that Seattle will receive under the Biden administration’s new epidemic.

The proposal also engages the business community, possibly the chamber, in a divisive debate, especially within the business community, as it did during the 2018 main tax campaign. Although business leaders will generally be “cautious” about how they publicly talk about changing the charter – homelessness, O’Brien predicts, “they will have members who say offensive things that will take them back … mess »:

Chamber officials are already closely following the amendment to the charter, in part because it is not yet the official policy of the chamber, they reject the idea that it will be a wedge.

But Smith does not lead business leaders who want homelessness and public safety to be a priority in elections, such as economic recovery, racial justice, and access to housing.

“I want to see how the candidates talk about what they are going to do [those] problems, ”says Smith. “And I want to see that from every candidate.”


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