Despite opposition, John Okamoto squeaks into new Councilmember seat
John Okamoto has been selected to replace Seattle City Councilmember Sally Clark, who vacated her position earlier this year to take a job at the University of Washington.
Okamoto will see out the remainder of Clark’s term, which ends this year. Clark will be director of regional and community relations at UW, a job that pays $155,000 a year. Her last day on the city council was April 12.
Okamoto has a long civic career. He previously headed the Washington Education Association, the state teacher’s union, and prior to that, he was the chief administrative officer at the Port of Seattle.
In 2014, he temporarily headed the Seattle Human Services Department (HSD) while Murray sought a permanent director. Okamoto left that position earlier this year when Murray appointed former deputy director Catherine Lester to head HSD.
Okamoto’s appointment shifts his role within the city, but he will be working on some of the same issues. He’ll chair the Committee on Housing, Human Services and Economic Resiliency, which oversees housing.
Right now the city is considering HSD’s “Homelessness Investment Analysis,” which assesses the city’s current funding structure and makes recommendations for changes to how funding is allocated. Okamoto was directly involved with the creation of that report. Now he will legislate on the same topic as Mayor Ed Murray makes recommendations for how to revamp the city’s investments in homelessness programs.
Okamoto narrowly won the appointment in a five-to-three vote. Councilmembers Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant voted for Sharon Maeda, founding director of
21 Progress, a social justice leadership development nonprofit.
Sawant was openly opposed to Okamoto taking the position, citing his time at the Port of Seattle from 2003 to 2008. The Port was embroiled in controversy at the time when a retired CEO was paid an extra year’s salary, and a report found that executive staff did not effectively oversee the port police, among other problems.
Sawant said the council needs a candidate who will take a strong stance on rent control and O’Brien’s proposed linkage fee, a flat fee charged to all residential developments to pay for affordable housing. Okamoto did not take a clear stance on either topic, arguing that he needed to know more about each.
“I do have concerns about the unintended consequences of the use of any of those tools,” he said in a press conference.