(WSB photo: Lisa Herbold, during our interview with her on Sunday night)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The recount is officially over, and Lisa Herbold has won the election to become the first-ever Seattle City Councilmember representing District 1 (West Seattle and South Park).
Hours before King County Elections made the announcement this afternoon, we sat down to talk with now-Councilmember-elect Herbold, who as a result of the required-recount election has a weeks-shorter transition time than she would have had otherwise.
Since she has worked at City Hall for more than a decade and a half, as an assistant to retiring Councilmember Nick Licata, that’ll be less of a challenge for her than it might have been for someone else.
Licata will administer the oath of office to her during the January 4th ceremonies that will also install three other newly elected councilmembers. That’s just one symbol of what she calls the “circularity” of what has happened; another came Sunday afternoon, before our evening conversation, when she joined the Women’s Political Caucus in honoring “heroines of the campaign” – hers was treasurer Jeanne Legault. And, she explained, she received that same award 18 years ago for her work on Licata’s campaign.
Now, the campaigning is over, and it’s on with preparation to serve West Seattle and South Park in a historic role – the area’s first-ever district councilmember.
Our first question:
Back on Election Night – when we covered her party at Highland Park Improvement Club (not far from her house), at which time the first-night results put her behind opponent Shannon Braddock by more than six points, she looked a little dejected to us, though supporters urged her to keep the faith. “I had consulted with people about what percentage … would be too much of a hill to climb. Everybody kept telling me, don’t do that, it’s the number of votes. My number was five percent. So I went with that as my anchor … and when it was six and a half percent of difference … according to my analysis, it was going to be too much to overcome. It’s nice to be wrong sometimes!”
While she wasn’t planning to be at King County Elections HQ today for the official announcement, she spent Thursday there as an observer of the official ballot-recounting process. “I felt it was the only place for me to be that day,” Herbold told us, marveling at the process, “so incredibly well-organized” that the observers seemed “kind of redundant.” At more than 20 stations, she explained, teams of staffers counted the ballots, checked their work, raised their hands to summon a runner who took each batch of ballots away, bringing in a new one. “You can’t talk to the people counting – (you’re to) raise your hand if you see anything unusual.” With each batch’s recount compared to the original tally sheet, there was no grand moment, she explained, when they knew she had maintained the lead, so there were “hugs and high-fives throughout the day.”
(According to the information released this afternoon, her 39-vote margin of victory was unchanged; the only changes involved nine “write-in” votes for which no name was written in.)
Now, she gets to invent the job of district-representing Seattle City Councilmember, we observe.
“Some of the stuff i’ve talked about on the campaign trail relates to really making sure that we’re delivering good constituent services to the district – by having office hours (in the district), and not just being in a single location (all the time), rotating .. people need to know where you’re at … I want to do what I’ve talked about, having at least one committee meeting a month in the district where people can attend. We really need to come up with new mechanisms and structures to communicate with voters in this district.” As an example, she brings up a story broken here on WSB in October, the latest delay in the Fire Station 32 rebuild, now nine years behind the original schedule. She recalled being briefed on the situation, but “if you don’t hear (constituents) telling you it’s a problem, it becomes less of a priority” – and that, she said, needs to change, by proactively updating constituents, rather than waiting to hear complaints, or waiting for them to even discover there’s a problem. “I’m interested in a District 1 Capital Projects Oversight Committee, where the different agencies would come out and regularly brief people on the status of the different projects.” If citizens are informed on what’s going on, she theorizes, they can help their representative(s) prioritize, and ensure that “things don’t keep falling through.”
What advice has outgoing Councilmember Licata given her? “I’m working on a document called, ‘What Would Nick Do?’,” she smiles. “I told him last week that I would give it to him to finish for me,” since, she explained, he told her he wasn’t really sure how to explain what he does, so if she started it, he could at least offer advice in “a couple scenarios.” Overall, though, she said, “What I’ve learned from him is to be really open with your decision-making process; even when people don’t necessarily agree with you, they understand where you’re coming from and how you came to that decision (and) how they might get you to come to a different conclusion.” That’s “more than transparency,” in Herbold’s view, it’s “trying to be open to who you are as a person.” And in that respect, she said, Licata has always been “somebody who reminded us to have a sense of humor – our work is important but don’t take it too seriously; (also) always be intellectually curious and don’t assume you have all the answers.”
Also to prepare, she and other councilmembers have been meeting – they’re discussing committee assignments, among other things – and she has a meeting scheduled with Mayor Ed Murray as well.
In addition to the work of getting ready to take office, she also has to deal with the fact she wasn’t elected in a landslide, as commenters here on WSB have pointed out, and was almost not elected at all. Herbold says she is well aware of that: “I’m focused on bringing the district together, making sure people know who I am, (especially) people who might have assumptions about what I’m about. The thing that I think creates great opportunities for unity is that, even though the district was divided in who they want to represent them, there was a lot of agreement in what the important issues are. People are concerned about transportation and housing affordability,” in particular.
Regarding those “assumptions,” she refutes the “meme” that was in circulation during the campaign, “that I was running to promote a (particular ideology),” while she was actually “running because I wanted to pass good policy. I understand that to be a good legislator, you have to get to five (votes on the 9-member City Council). I’m pragmatic and politically realistic, and not going to take a stand just for taking a stand on an issue. I don’t think that necessarily inspires unity and progress.”
Will she have enough of a focus on neighborhood-specific issues? some asked during the campaign, concerned she was focusing more on citywide issues. Herbold says she has more of a background in neighborhood-oriented issues than many might think: “I staffed the Parks Committee and the Libraries Committee. … You have to work on the issues that people care about where they live, if you want them to be involved in the bigger-picture issues. My training is about trying to focus on building leadership, inspiring people to get involved, (which they will) when they have a sense of their own agency.”
So what does Herbold plan to propose, legislatively, first? “Depends on which committee assignments I get – that puts some logistical and practical constraints (on what a councilmember can propose). … I’m going to be watching the development of the city’s studies on impact fees, and pushing real hard to make sure those studies actually result in legislation.” She also mentions “an idea people really liked on the campaign trail .. an ‘observer’s bill of rights,’ related to police. The other issue i think is going to come up really soon is (related to labor standards) … paid sick and safe leave, minimum wage, job assistance.” She also plans to keep close watch on the SODO arena proposal, insistent that it can’t be built “hockey-first.”
But that’s all still four weeks away.
P.S. We received this statement from Shannon Braddock this morning:
I congratulate Lisa Herbold on her election win to represent District 1 on the Seattle City Council and wish her the best in her new role. This was a very hard fought campaign, as demonstrated by the extremely close election results. I am immensely grateful to the campaign volunteers and supporters who have stood with me throughout this prolonged election. It has been a privilege to be a candidate to represent West Seattle and South Park and I will continue to be engaged in our community in my professional and personal life. I have always been proud to be a part of this community and I am all the more so after this campaign. Thank you.