With Seattle Mayor Ed Murray stepping aside amid allegations of sexual abuse that he denies, the city’s mayoral race is anyone’s game.
More than a dozen contenders have announced their candidacies. Lawyer, poet, and activist Nikkita Oliver, city planner Cary Moon, newly announced candidate State Sen. Bob Hasegawa, and former Mayor Mike McGinn all believe they have a shot at Seattle’s top executive office. What’s more, several candidates and their supporters think an outsider has a real chance.
It begs the question: will a tech candidate ever get in the race?
Probably not, says Heather Redman a Seattle tech investor and lawyer with close ties to the city’s business and political communities.
“I think maybe tech people are too smart to run — the job is too hard,” she said.
There’s a distinct chasm between Seattle’s tech community and lawmakers — despite being two of the most influential groups in the city. Seattle’s elected officials are among the most liberal lawmakers in the country and tend to focus on issues of affordability, social justice, and strict business regulation.
Not all of those goals run counter to the ambitions of the tech and business world, but the public and private sectors have been known to clash. The city’s attempts to regulate Uber and Airbnb are just two examples.
In a scathing, satirical guest post, Pioneer Square Labs co-founder Greg Gottesman exposed this ideological divide:
Two years ago, after the Seattle City Council voted 9-0 to cap the number of UberX, Lyft and Sidecar drivers on our streets, I wrote that the City Council might consider other caps on technology to protect the legitimate interests of Seattle residents. Even though the city eventually removed caps on ridesharing companies, thankfully we didn’t have to wait long for our intrepid city leaders to suggest another new cap on disruptive technology.
Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilman Tim Burgess are now proposing to cap, at 90, the number of nights that some property owners can offer on sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO to address the shortage of long-term rentals for families, improve housing affordability and support our hospitality industry.
Frankly, I don’t understand why the City Council would stop at just limiting the number of nights Seattle property owners can supply online, when there are so many other pressing issues we could solve by regulating new technology.
Sarcasm aside, Gottesman’s comments reflect growing anxiety among the tech community that Seattle’s politics may stifle innovation. That anxiety is hardly one-sided. The city’s elected officials are just as nervous about the impact that the booming technology industry will have on the city. Shouldn’t someone step in to bridge this gap?
There are lawmakers from Washington with backgrounds in tech. For example, Washington State Rep. Zack Hudgins previously held roles at Amazon and Microsoft and U.S. Rep Suzan DelBene is a former Microsoft exec and tech CEO. Washington State Senator Reuven Carlyle also has ties into the tech world, previously working for McCaw Cellular and Xypoint Corp.
But on the whole, Seattle tech leaders are reticent to step into the political arena.
Plus, finding someone who wants the job is only half the battle. The other half is finding the right person for the job.
I asked Redman who might be Seattle’s Michael Bloomberg and she was, admittedly, stumped. We bounced ideas off each other. She floated Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden for his deep Seattle roots and philanthropic work. I offered up Nick Hanauer because he’s already steeped in Seattle politics and has been a longtime advocate for economic justice. Neither seemed very realistic to Redman or me.
“There are just so many things that are initiative-driven or candidate driven that we don’t have enough information on,” she said. “I think rather than looking for a tech candidate, we should understand the facts driving the issues that tech cares about and get active about supporting candidates that agree with our analysis of the facts and the preferred solutions. Right now tech’s not really at the table, with the exception maybe of Microsoft and Amazon.”