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September 18, 2013 at 12:15 PM

Seattle City Council right to opt out of fight over Russian anti-gay laws

Seattle City Council President Sally Clark

Seattle City Council president Sally Clark

It’s mystifying to see Seattle City Council President Sally Clark’s Twitter account has blown up with criticism from gay activists, thanks to an off-hand comment from Mayor Mike McGinn. Mystifying, because Clark, the first openly gay council president, co-sponsored council resolutions in support of same-sex marriage in 2012 and donated to the campaign to affirm its legality. Her record on LGBT issues is rock-solid.

But she became a target nonetheless when she declined McGinn’s offer to sponsor a city council resolution denouncing Russia’s retrograde law criminalizing “homosexual propaganda.” (For background, read this New York Times story).

McGinn suggested the resolution in response to a letter from the Seattle Russian Consul General Andrey Yushmanov, who criticizing the mayor’s participation in a Sept. 3 protest outside Yushmanov’s Madison Park home. “… I would appreciate if you could clarify whether such your (sic) support of the protesters reflects the official position of the authorities of Seattle,” Yushmanov asked in a letter.

When McGinn, in an interview with The Stranger, said Clark had declined to sponsor a council resolution, editorial director Dan Savage (who has 167,000-plus Twitter followers), pounced on Clark as hypocritical.

Clark, in an interview, sounded conflicted about her decision, praising McGinn’s letter to Yushmanov as “fantastic,” and acknowledged that the Russian anti-gay law is something “a lot of people care passionately about.”

But the council in recent years has tried to save its voice for “Seattle-specific” issues, she said. Clark also acknowledges that’s subjective — she sponsored a 2010 resolution denouncing Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law. The council has also passed recent resolutions condemning the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, coal trains and against genetically engineered salmon. 

Seattle City Council was once famous for far-afield resolutions over the decades — condemning the treatment of circus elephants, calling for removal of Eastern Washington dams, condemning Burma and apartheid — and got rafts of justified criticism for being distracted from its core work.

I assumed the mayor was trying to pick a fight with the council to fire up LGBT activists, just as he did when he sided with union supporters in the recent Whole Foods dispute. (See my earlier blog post on that debate.) A majority of the council has endorsed McGinn’s opponent, state Sen. Ed Murray. And the council, in a recent poll, had an even lower favorability rating than McGinn.

Mayor Mike McGinn

Mayor Mike McGinn

Sen. Ed Murray

Sen. Ed Murray

It seemed like an odd fight, because the council is strongly LGBT-friendly. But Seattle politics, especially this election season, is full of fierce fights over nuanced differences of progressive issues. It’s also fight without consequence: is Russian President Vladimir Putin going to reverse course, cowed by the Seattle City Council?

“It’s a little specious to suggest that because we didn’t want to engage in foreign policy, we’re insensitive to our LGBT community,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess, a Murray supporter. “It’s ridiculous.”

“This is a mayor who does a great job of finding wedge issues and pushing them,” said Clark. “That is not constructive for a working relationship with me.”

McGinn, in an interview, disputes that interpretation. “(Yushmanov) asked if it was the official city policy? Good question. I don’t get to make city policy,” said McGinn. He asked, Clark declined, and relayed that information accurately to The Stranger.

“It is what it is. I would have been happy to stand with them. It would have been a stronger letter with them signed on,” said McGinn.

Better yet, the council should stick to it’s core work, which currently includes writing a budget. 

Comments | Topics: lgbt, mike mcginn, Seattle City Council


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