One of the biggest names in Seattle tech is a founding member of a new political action committee that wants to see fresh faces on the City Council this fall.
Tom Alberg is part of a broad coalition of business and community leaders that launched People for Seattle this week. The group is raising money to back City Council candidates who are “more focused on solutions and more responsive to public.”
Alberg is the co-founder and managing director at Madrona Venture Group, one of the largest venture capital firms in the Pacific Northwest. He was an early investor of Amazon and sat on the company’s board for more than two decades before recently stepping down.
Beyond his work in the tech industry, Alberg plays an active role in civic affairs in his hometown. He is the co-chair of ACES, a group working to make the Seattle region a hub for autonomous vehicles, and he sits on the board of Challenge Seattle, an organization dedicated to addressing the region’s affordable housing crisis. Alberg’s advocacy has touched the highest levels of government; he was a member of President Barack Obama’s National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Now, Alberg is turning his attention to the contentious Seattle City Council elections in which seven seats are up for grabs later this year.
“It’s frankly unclear what is motivating some of these council members,” Alberg told GeekWire. “Some of them are more philosophically-driven than being interested in finding solutions for some of the practical questions in their own districts, as well as citywide issues like homelessness.”
People for Seattle launched with more than $120,000 in donations and the political action committee is actively raising more. Alberg said the organization hasn’t identified which candidates it will back yet but says they are looking for solutions-driven individuals.
“The Council is not providing the right kind of leadership or follow-through on these issues,” Alberg said. “We only need to look around to see that.”
During an April interview with GeekWire, Seattle Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda took issue with the claim that she and her colleagues are not focused on solutions. She said the Council is making “huge inroads” in its shift to a more outcomes-based approach to Seattle’s homelessness crisis.
“The first month I was here we rolled out the new RFP to have greater accountability and transparency,” she said. “But you know what’s not working? It doesn’t work to serve anyone when we are out of shelter beds. We are at capacity. There is no place to put people who are outside so when neighbors and businesses complain or are concerned about people living outside, there is not a place to move them indoors right now.”
People for Seattle plans to stay active in local politics after the City Council elections in November by backing candidates for other offices.
“The city faces some really difficult issues but they should not be impossible to solve,” Alberg said. “Seattle is economically doing very well and we want to continue to support policies so people have jobs in Seattle but at the same time, we need to also figure out ways to provide smart solutions and to take some innovative actions.”
It isn’t the only organization raising cash to unseat the current City Council. The Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s PAC has more than $500,000 on hand, thanks largely to a $200,000 donation from Amazon. The Chamber hasn’t announced its endorsements yet but the tense relationship between the current Council and business community means the PAC is likely to support new blood.
Last summer, the City Council passed a per-employee tax on large businesses to fund affordable housing only to repeal it a few weeks later amid opposition from the business community. One of the most polarizing councilmembers, Kshama Sawant, led marches on Amazon’s campus demanding higher taxes on the e-commerce giant.
But People for Seattle doesn’t just represent the interests of the business community. Its members include former City Councilmember Tim Burgess and other former government officials, as well as neighborhood and community leaders. Small business owner Taylor Hoang is the PAC’s co-chair and she co-chairs Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council.