As we close out the year here at The C Is for Crank, here’s a look back at the year’s most widely-read posts—the ones that grabbed readers and got them sharing and talking.
Although the year’s most popular posts span the gamut of topics—from a local media scandal to the legal battle over the Showbox to efforts to track homeless people using biometric scans—one theme that unites almost all of these posts is that they were reported exclusively here at The C Is for Crank. In most cases, if I hadn’t reported these stories, no one else would have. That’s one reason I urge you to support this site by kicking a few bucks a month to help me keep doing this work. When you provide a financial contribution to keep this site going, you’re directly supporting an independent media outlet free from ads, sponsored content, or influence from corporate backers.
In addition to helping me make a living as an independent journalist—a rarity in today’s contracting media landscape—your contribution today will make it possible for me to expand and improve the site in the coming year. (More on that soon). So if you’re one of the thousands of readers who visit this site regularly and if you learned something you wouldn’t have known otherwise, consider taking the next step and becoming one of the hundred of individual contributors who make my work possible. Just $5, $10, or $15 a month—or a one-time contribution—makes a huge difference.
Thanks for your support, and happy 2020.
Earlier this month, King County’s coordinating agency on homelessness, All Home, hosted a topless drag performance by a formerly homelessness trans woman at their annual conference. The performer, who came to Seattle from Spokane to speak about her experiences as a formerly homeless trans woman of color, did not get paid, although an emcee encouraged conference attendees to throw dollar bills at her as tips. The show raised questions about consent (some attendees said they were not warned about the overtly sexual nature of the performance) and what All Home had been thinking. Participants at the midday conference included representatives from both Muslim and Christian religious groups that provide services to homeless King County residents.
Since this story ran on December 12, All Home acting director Kira Zylstra stepped down from her position. According to King County, an investigation is ongoing.
Richard Schwartz, a perennial public commenter, broke a basic city council rule when he used the council’s public comment period, at which comments are limited to items on the council agenda, to rant about cyclists going “too fast” in the bike lane on Westlake Ave. Council member Debora asked Schwartz to stay on topic, but he refused, demanding extra time and assailing the other council members for failing to pay rapt attention to his off-topic rant. The video went viral on right-wing media, which portrayed Schwartz as a victim of an imperious council woman who thought she was too good to pay attention to the common man.
What happened next was predictable: Emails and calls poured in from across the country, unleashing a torrent of racist and sexist abuse against Juarez and every woman of color on the council, including women who were not even at the meeting. More hateful emails were addressed to Teresa Mosqueda, who was not at the meeting, than to Mike O’Brien, who was.
The fate of the Showbox in downtown Seattle was a recurring theme this year, as the owner of the building duked it out with music fans who opposed plans to redevelop the building as a 40-story tower. Although the city council had just adopted new zoning rules intended to encourage precisely this kind development—dense housing—downtown, the council became the club’s most ardent defenders, “saving” the nondescript two-story building by including it in the Pike Place Market Historic District and subjecting it to the same strict controls designed to save the farmers’ market across the street in 1971.
The owners of the building sued, noting both the zoning change that made their planned development possible and the fact that the building had only been a rock club for short stretches of its existence, mostly in the 1990s. A legal battle is still ongoing, but in the meantime, the owners announced that they would terminate the lease held by Anschutz Entertainment Group, the multinational entertainment corporation that actually owns the Showbox brand, when it ends in 2024.
As Mayor Jenny Durkan ramped up homeless encampment sweeps and directed the Navigation Team to shift its focus toward removing “obstruction” encampments (eliminating the requirement that the team provide advance notice or offers of shelter and services), the city’s longtime nonprofit outreach partner, REACH, decided it could no longer participate in encampment removals. Among their reasons: Homeless encampment residents had begun associating the outreach workers with the police who lead encampment removals, making it difficult for these social-service workers to develop trust with encampment residents.
After the story ran, REACH implemented a geographically based approach to encampment outreach, and Durkan expanded the Navigation Team to include two new “system navigators,” city employees who are supposed to take the place of REACH workers by offering shelter and services to encampment residents during sweeps. Judging from the tiny percentage of Navigation Team referrals that actually lead to shelter, and the even tinier number of Navigation Team contacts that lead to referrals in the first place, the “outreach and engagement” part of encampment removals has a lot of room for improvement.
Mayor Durkan asked the Human Services Department to study mandatory biometric screening of homeless shelter and service clients, using fingerprints or other biometric markers to track the city’s homeless population as they move through the homelessness system. The idea, the mayor’s office said, is to create “efficiencies” that improve on the scan cards currently used by some Seattle shelters, and to reduce duplication of data across various shelters.
Privacy and homeless advocates recoiled at the idea of digitally tracking homeless people, on the grounds that biometric scans are invasive and likely to keep some potential clients (or, as the city calls them, “customers”) from seeking shelter and services—particularly people with mental illnesses that cause paranoia, domestic violence survivors, and undocumented immigrants. Internal memos indicate that HSD staffers are also skeptical; one staffer suggested that Durkan had “probably just heard about a cool thing” and was not trying to solve any actual problem. I’ll be following up on this story in early 2020, when HSD sends its report on biometrics to the mayor.
This story was based on a public disclosure request I filed about Durkan’s cabinet-level “director of mobility operations coordinatigron,” Mike Worden—a retired Air Force officer who insisted that city employees refer to him as “General Worden” or simply “The General.” Worden was a runner-up for the job of Seattle Department of Transportation director, a position filled by a series of interim leaders through most of Durkan’s first two years and finally filled by Sam Zimbabwe from Washington, D.C.
City insiders questioned why Durkan needed both an SDOT director and a mobility operations director, and city outsiders wondered what it was, exactly, that Worden did. The answer, according to his schedule? A lot of “out and about time,” much of it apparently riding buses and trains around the city. In addition to “rid[ing] buses, light rail, or the [S]ounder to talk to transit drivers and riders,” a Durkan spokeswoman told me, “Sometimes Mike goes to traffic pinch points or other points of observation to watch traffic, incident responses, traffic clearing, traffic officers, etc.”
After I broke the story about Worden’s schedule, the mayor announced he had “completed the foundational work” of coordinating post-viaduct traffic operations and removed funding for his position from her 2020 budget.
This year’s city council elections were notable not only for the astonishing amount of outside money spent to promote a mostly unsuccessful slate of candidates, but by the emergence of new independent groups attempting to influence Seattle races. In the August primary, Moms for Seattle and People for Seattle stood out for their willingness to mislead voters with manipulative mailers. Moms, whose largest contributor was a Bellevue charter schools advocate, was busted for running Facebook ads that violated the company’s (ostensible) ban on political advertising, and for Photoshopping trash and tents into images of playgrounds in an effort to scare voters into choosing law-and-order candidates. People for Seattle, founded by former city council member and mayor Tim Burgess, bombarded the city with mailers associating the candidates they opposed with socialist firebrand Kshama Sawant, targeting candidates in every race (including Burgess’ former colleague Lisa Herbold) with incendiary rhetoric.
In the end, the only Moms/PfS-backed candidate who won was Alex Pedersen—Burgess’ former council aide.
After right-wing radio host Dori Monson and former city council candidate Ari Hoffman encouraged listeners to make a point about homeless people living in RVs by buying up derelict RVs, filling them with trash, and parking them, locked, in front of council members’ houses, it appeared that someone had done just that, parking a trailer in front of council member Lisa Herbold’s West Seattle home. Without bothering to look into the details, Monson assumed his listeners had heeded the call, and encouraged them to show up at Herbold’s home to join the “protest.” Monson singled out one man who vandalized the trailer with “Dori for President” graffiti for particular praise, running video of the vandal in action and praising the “protest.” His station, KIRO Radio, also sent a reporter, Carolyn Ossario, to the scene. Upon arriving at what she also called the “protest,” Ossario entered the trailer and posted video of herself commenting snidely on its contents.
Within a day, it became clear that the trailer belonged to a family who had planned to move into it until it was broken into and vandalized. They had not realized that Herbold lived in the adjacent house. Instead of apologizing, Monson doubled down, inviting the family onto his show and handing them a “hunski” from his money clip that he said should take care of all the damage. The station fired Ossario for entering the family’s trailer without permission; Monson suffered no apparent consequences.
This Morning Crank grab bag featured the news that Mayor Durkan’s communications director, Mark Prentice, was leaving the city; an effort by Durkan’s office to justify spending $195,000 on Worden in the 2020 budget (among his listed job duties: Implementing a “Lean/Six Sigma initiative throughout the city”); and news about significant delays to human services contracts after HSD decided to disband the office that ensured that contracts were accurate and legally compliant earlier in the year (a story I also reported exclusively).
When a New York-based freelance writer published a series of sexually explicit (and unsolicited) Twitter messages she received from Seattle Times real-estate reporter Mike Rosenberg, the Times limited its comments to a brief statement and did not assign a reporter to cover the allegations—a break in longstanding media tradition of newspapers reporting on themselves. The paper’s silence led to weeks of internal and external speculation that Rosenberg would not face serious consequences for his actions. Finally, on June 11, I learned that Rosenberg had resigned. The Times confirmed his departure with a statement calling his actions an isolated case that was “not reflective of our culture.”