The Faux Debate on Rent Control




WHO PAID FOR THE “FREE” EVENT: The event was sponsored by the Sawant campaign either directly or indirectly through the various radical groups, public unions and law firms who have been financing her campaign. Two thirds of her financing comes from outside of Seattle. So far they have spent $250,000 with the intent of overwhelming the candidates running from within the district and from within Seattle. Estimates of what the entire election may cost now run as high as $1 million dollars for a Seattle city Council seat. THE CAST: Kshama Sawant: incumbent and candidate District 3. Best known for her advocacy of the $15 minimum wage, she has remained a street level agitator. Dr. Sawant has her PhD in rural Indian economics and identifies with the “Socialist Alternative Party (SA)” SA members march in iconic red shirts and define themselves as “Trotskyite,” Other issues advocated by Sawant and he party are indeed Trotskyite including a worker take over of the Boeing plant, massive taxes of up to 30% on anyone buying a new home in Seattle, and support for Hamas. PRO RENT CONTROL                 Nick Lacata: incumbent. If he ran and was elected this time, councilmember Licata would have served five terms. His political party is not publicly identified but he is presumably a Democrat. Mr. Licata is known for very progressive stands and has allied himself with Sawant on the rent control issue. PRO RENT CONTROL.       Roger Valdez: community activist and lobbyist for development groups, especially those concerned with affordable   affordable housing. Mr. Valdez is presumably a Democrat. Valdes is an extremely well spoken representative whose meme has been that if well-planned expansion of the housing stock serves the poor as well as the wealthy. ANTI-RENT CONTROL    Matt Manweller. An accomplished academic with a PhD in economics, he holds an Associate Professor faculty position at Eastern Washington State University and is the author of several books, Mr. Manweller is a Republican representative in the Washington state house. ANTI-RENT CONTROL


The great debate over rent control turned out to be an amateurish production of the famous play “The Theater of the Absurd.”


The doors to Town Hall opened at 5 PM. By 6 PM the crowd overwhelmed the former church, extending out onto the sidewalk where I understand the real debate may have occurred. Those of us fortunate to be within the former church were lucky that somehow a breeze was alleviating the stifling heat.


To make matters much worse, the moderator, Peter Steinbrueck was terribly incompetent. He spent 22 minutes in a monologue. Perhaps this was to bore the crowd full of Sawant’s redshirts or acclimatize the rest of us to the lack of air conditioning. Whatever his purpose, Peter  lost control of the proceedings after that point.

After years of Presidential “debates” we have  gotten used to all kinds of things being called “debates.”  Still that term barely applied to this forum. There were four predetermined questions.  These questions were all of the ilk “resolved that rising rents are bad for people” or “resolved that rent control (or unregulated development) will solve the problems. ”

These superficial questions had been given to the four protagonists beforehand.


Sawant read scripted text  with only momentary bursts of enthusiasm for key phrases about “poor people,” “people of color,” or ” greedy developers.”  These catch phrase greatly excited the red shirts.

Licata and Valdez both gave impressive performances that went beyond whatever script they had.  However, given a need to define the sophomoric questions, neither  debater ever could get to telling us what “rent control” meant. Licata seemed to hedge his ideas with something he called “moderated rent control.”  Valdez tried to explain an existing program called “MFE.”  Apparently Seattle already uses city moneys to underwrite development of fixed income housing for homeless and low to moderate income people. He said that Licata had cut funding for this working program but, given the idiotic format, there was no time for a debate that might have discussed that rare bird  … the well feathered idea.

David Preston's photo.

Debatus Interruptus .  (David Preston) This pic was taken at the Great Seattle Rent Control Debate last night (see my earlier post.) Couple minutes into the show, the guy in front on the left stopped the proceedings by wandering up to the stage and addressing himself in a semi-lucid way to the speakers. Moderator Peter Steinbrueck was already messing up big-time when this guy happened along and this really put the flummox on him. . After the outburst Steiny admonished the guy: “Get back to your seat, sir. That’s your first warning.” Minutes later, the guy came up again, and after politely hearing him out, Steiny said: “That’s your second warning!”  A wag in the audience yelled: “How many warnings is he gonna get?” and a voice called out: “Seven! Give him seven warnings.” “No, twelve!” someone else said. . Steiny weighed the audience input and declared, “I’m gonna give you three warnings.” . From the audience: “Does that mean three MORE warnings, or three warnings total?” . In any case, the guy didn’t wait for a third warning. He shook a stern finger at Councilmember Licata – who hadn’t made a peep – and said,”Black lives matter, Nick Licata. Black lives matter!” . On their way out, the interloper and his girlfriend tried to get a Black Lives Matter chant going. A few people in the back of the auditorium took it up, but it soon fizzled. And then they were gone. . The dude sitting next to me shook his head wistfully and said: “I would never have the guts to do something like that. I’m such a rule follower.” . It was an authentic Seattle moment.

To my pleasant surprise the most detailed response was from the Republican, Matt Manweller. He came well prepared with numerous statistical studies of failed efforts to implement rent control in other cities. Licata made efforts to rebut, however the best that Mr. Licata could do was to cite anecdotal studies as compared to the rather thorough material presented by representative Manweller.


Perhaps the debate didn’t matter. Whenever anyone but Sawant, and perhaps Licata, was talking the room was filled with the sound of snakes. sssssssssssssssssss.  Various levels of amplitude of this noise were Animals Angry animated GIFinterrupted occasionally by yells and screams when the redshirted Sawantists became particularly excited. Steinbrueck, as one might have expected from his bizarre, long-winded monologue, was quite ineffective in dealing with this. Both Valdez and Manweller were only able to speak for a few tens of  seconds at a time before they were interrupted.

Beyond that, Mr. Steinbrueck seemed to feel that moderators serve only as timekeepers. Other than reprimanding to particularly vociferous audience members, Peter Steinbrueck never attempted to rephrase the question or response in some way that might have led to a more useful discussion.


As pure debate, the winners were Nick Licata and Matt Manweller.  Sawant came across at best as a vociferous demagogue and at worst as a mindless cheerleader for her crew of redshirted followers. I would’ve liked to have heard more from Mr. Valdez but I got the impression he needed more time to explain his ideas. Perhaps he would’ve had that time if Mr. Steinbrueck were not so incompetent.

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  1. Observer #

    Ah, yes. Licata is running for re-election? Your blog truly does come with the most fascinating and unexpected facts. As is the idea that Socialist Alternative would self-describe as “Trotskyite” or indeed that they support Hamas. All equally true. That is to say, all pure nonsense and anyone with even an inkling to look into it could find that out.

  2. theaveeditor #

    Sorry for the error on Licata. I had not paid attention to his District and did not realize he was not running. The other facts are well described and documented.

    On the rest the Sawant stuff, that I am somehow angry or trying to get Sawant, Why in all hell would I do that? Yet, this seems to have become a Sawanti talking point. I have now heard nearly identical things abut me from a number of folks in her campaign. This is typical propaganda, right out of Goebells, perhaps Stalin and certainly the Koch machine.. Tell enough big lies and the truth does not matter.

    The truth is I voted for her election last time and did so with enthusiasm. I expected to vote for her again. My opinion changed 180 degrees when she began demeaning fellow council members and lying abut her opponents’ having corporate supporters while, according to sources in her campaign, she expects to bring in $400,000 from her campaign with only a tiny contribution from her own district.

    The most disgusting tactic has been the patently false claim that she s living on $40,000. The same her close ally of hers tonight attacked me on that, saying she had not said she was living on that amount. That might be literally true in the same sense that Bill Clinton denied having sex with Monica Lewinsky. I simply referred him to the Voter’s Guide where she compares her income of “$40,000” to the “120,000” she says her more greedy colleagues earn.

    As for whatever she means by “Socialist Alternative” you can go to the SA site yourself and see that it describes itself as Trotskyite or Trotiskyist. To be fair this may just be nutty rhetoric. Based on a conversation with the man who tells me he runs the site, SA seems to think Trotsky was a “democratic socialist.” That might surprise the Kadets and the Menscheviks.

    The support for Hamas is from the SA support for the BDS movement. (The “boycott” movement). BDS condemns Israel while describing Hamas as a defensive group. Israel does have a bad government, however the reason that Israelis elect Likud is because no one has proposed an alternative that can deal with Hamas and its demands for destruction of the Jewish state. You can also listen to the comments one of their major leaders and close allies of Sawant has made. Chris Hedges is a star amongst Sawant’s supporters. Like Steve Salaita, another major figure in BDS, Hedges claims to “only” want peace but the terms he supports mean the end of Israel. Just this evening the same Sawant adviser I referred to above made disgusting claims that Israel is a “racist” state.

    Again if you have trouble with this comment please read the declaration she tried to get through the City Council.

    Of curse, none of this would be an issue of she were running against Jim McDermott. At least that would be running for Congress. She is running to be the City Councilor for those of us who live in District 3. Frankly, I know folks all over this district … in the arts, the wealthy communities along the lake, the Central District … ALL these people tell me the same thing … she has never reached out to the communities and, before the election did not respond the their cries for help. Her proponents justify this be bragging abut her being their knight in shining armor fighting the demons of corporate greed. I do not need a vainglorious savior.