Districts as Gatekeepers

Are City Councils A Relic of The Past?

by Rob Gurwitt | April 1, 2003

You notice two things right off about the 19th Ward in St. Louis. The first is that pretty much everywhere there’s construction, there’s also a large sign reading, “Assistance for the project provided by Michael McMillan, Alderman.” The second is just how limited Alderman McMillan’s domain happens to be. Walk a few minutes in any direction, and you’re out of his ward. You don’t see the signs anymore. You also don’t see as much construction.

Within the friendly confines of the 19th, St. Louis looks like a city busily reviving. There are new high schools being built, scattered apartments and loft projects underway, efforts to rejuvenate the historic arts and entertainment district, and a HOPE VI retrofit of an enormous public housing facility. While all this activity has some powerful people behind it, just one person has had a hand in all of it, and that is McMillan himself. Only 31, he has been on the St. Louis Board of Aldermen for six years, and in that time has made it clear that his ambitions for his ward–and by extension, himself–are high. “I don’t have other obligations,” he says. “I’m not married, I have no kids, I have no other job. It’s one of my competitive edges.”

Cross the ward boundary, and you find out what “competitive edge” means in St. Louis politics. North of the 19th, and for some distance to the east, stretch a series of neglected, depopulated neighborhoods that do not in any way suggest urban revival. This is, in part, a consequence of private market decisions: These neighborhoods don’t have much clout within the corporate suites where such decisions are made. But equally important, they don’t have much clout in local government, either–at least not when it comes to large-scale development projects.

That’s because in St. Louis, each of the 28 ward aldermen is the gatekeeper of development in his or her little slice of the city. If they’re shrewd and well connected, like Michael McMillan, the ward does fine. If they’re inattentive, or maladroit at cutting deals, or on the outs with local developers, or just plain picky, which is the case in more than a few wards, hardly anything gets done. “You don’t see a Mike McMillan coming out of some of these devastated wards,” says one City Hall insider. “They have a voice, but if it’s weak, what do they really get?”…



Voters’ Pamphlet Statement

Voters’ Pamphlet Statement for November 2013 election

Politicians get to serve at large regardless of whether they are elected at large or by district.  It is only We the People who have our jurisdiction restricted by districting.  In comparing the city and county councils, the King County Council is also comprised of nine members, and all nine have jurisdiction over you as a resident of this county, yet you are prohibited from participating in eight of their nine elections because the King County Council is elected by districts.  BUT CURRENTLY, NO ONE CAN RUN FOR CITY COUNCIL WHO IS BEYOND YOUR REACH AS A VOTER.  Let’s keep it that way!

Districting also causes elections in which incumbents run unopposed: e.g. in 2009, 4 of the 5 districts electing someone to the King County Council had no challenger: only the incumbent’s name on the ballot.

City council members should be accountable to all of us.  Districts pit the interests of one geographic area against the others rather than addressing the common good.  We need to elect the best qualified candidates who will work for the common good, regardless of where they live in the city!

The districting advocates’ argument is that geography trumps freedom of choice.  Their argument is that you are better off to have to vote for someone you may not like who lives in your district than to have the freedom of choice to vote for the candidates of your choice regardless of where they live in town.  Just because someone lives in your part of town doesn’t mean that he/she shares your political ideologies.

And city council members are under oath to represent the entire city, not just their neighborhood.  For neighborhood politics you should go to your neighborhood councils.  This is why we have neighborhood councils.

If Charter Amendment 19 passes, in the future most city council candidates will be off limits to you: beyond your reach as a voter.  Protect your choices: Vote NO on Charter Amendment 19.

Note: A wealthy Seattle business person financed the districting campaign by paying for signature-gatherers to collect the necessary signatures to put districts on the ballot.  Don’t let money dupe you into forfeiting your choice of candidates.

Statement prepared by Marjorie Rhodes, Choices Not Districts

206.600.0141 voice mail

Email contact: choicesnotdistricts {a*t} gmail {d0t} com


REBUTTAL of FOR Districts Statement

(also see Extended Rebuttal page)

Amendment 19 will restrict us to three councilors. Currently, we each get nine councilors to lobby.

Councilors take oath to represent the city, not just a slice: public safety and utilities are citywide issues. We don’t need councilors with tunnel vision.

Retaining only two at-large councilors will not ensure that citywide needs are met; it takes five for a majority.

“[L]egwork” is fine in sports but the political playing field should not discriminate against physically handicapped candidates.

And, doorbelling works for well-connected candidates. Bob Ferguson, first running for county council, took a year absence from his law practice to doorbell his district. Few have the financial independence to do that.

With decennial redistricting, taxpayers will incur costs; and many will be bumped into different districts.

Pro-districting’s supporters are incumbents elected by district. No surprise!

In 1975, 1995 and 2003 Seattleites rejected districts. Let’s do it again.

by Marjorie Rhodes, Herm Ross


Endorsements of NO vote on 19

CHOICES NOT DISTRICTS has been endorsed by the Municipal League, better known as the ‘Muni League.’

Other familiar names include:

  • Larry Phillips, King County Council member (Magnolia); it takes courage for an incumbent elected by districts to endorse our side.  Thank You, Councilmember Phillips.
  • Jim Street, former City Council member (Capitol Hill)
  • Krist Noveselic, who was bassist with the popular band, Nirvana.  He has long been involved with election reform and is on the board with Fair Vote, a national, non-partisan, election watch-dog group (though this endorsement comes from Krist, personally, and should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from Fair Vote, which does not have endorsement status).

[Community residents who oppose districts listed below …]

Here are more people who endorse the NO vote on districting.  We thank you for letting us post your names:

  • Charles Bagley, Queen Anne resident
  • Nancy Bagley, Queen Anne resident
  • Sally Bagshaw, Downtown resident
  • Karma Bradley, Rainier Valley resident
  • Herb Bridge, Downtown resident
  • Nancy Eitreim, Mt Baker resident
  • Barbara Evans, Co-founder Poets West
  • J. Glenn Evans, Co-founder Poets West
  • Jody Grage, Ballard Community leader
  • Andy Noel, Queen Anne Resident
  • Margaret Okamoto, Queen Anne resident
  • Marjorie Rhodes, writer, Maple Leaf resident
  • Robert Rhodes, Rainier Valley resident
  • Herm Ross, Licton Springs resident
  • Ann Sandstrom, First Hill resident
  • Wayne Sandstrom, First Hill resident
  • Barbara Sarason, LakeCity resident
  • Steve Selter, Maple Leaf Resident
  • Nancy Smith, Downtown resident
  • Lucy Steers, Mt Baker resident
  • Cary Thomas, West Seattle resident
  • Art Waller, Maple Leaf resident
  • Laura Wells, Laurelhurst resident
  • Reid Yamamoto, Laurelhurst resident


Campaign expenditures not reduced by Districts

Charter Amendment 19 proponents claim …

“Under the Districts 7-2 proposal, an energetic candidate can communicate directly with the people he/she will represent instead of raising hundreds of thousands of dollars. Elections will be significantly cheaper.”
(source: Seattle Districts Now website, Sept 5; color emphasis added)

This is a false claim.

This press release, Oct 2012, from the San Francisco Ethics Commission, shows that campaigns in districts (and with public financing) continue to balloon to higher expenditures. Look at the amounts, and their increases, and ask yourself: Is this cheaper?


Extended Rebuttal


Currently, no one on the City Council represents your specific neighborhood or community and each Councilmember has to represent 630,000 people.

This is very misleading.  Seattle has nine council members, dozens of districts and hundreds of neighborhoods.  And even if your neighborhood is one of the nine with a council member, this council member may not be your political soul mate. 

Also, “each Councilmember has to represent 630,000 people” fails to take into consideration that currently there are nine council members representing 630,000 people, not just one.  Currently, we each get nine council members to lobby.

Under Charter Amendment 19, there will always be at least one member of the Council ensuring your neighborhood gets a fair share of resources such as parks, community centers, libraries, public safety, human services, pedestrian improvements, and road maintenance. A YES vote on Charter Amendment 19 means you will finally have a Councilmember advocating for the specific needs of your community.

Council members take an oath to represent the city, not just a slice: e.g. public safety and utilities are citywide issues.  We don’t need council members with tunnel vision.

By retaining two “at-large” Councilmembers and the Mayor representing the whole city, Charter Amendment 19 ensures regional and citywide needs will have a voice.

Retaining only two at-large council members will not ensure that citywide needs are met; it takes five for a majority on the council.

Each district under Charter Amendment 19 will have about 88,000 residents, meaning a grassroots candidate can win against an incumbent using good old fashioned legwork and people power. Under the existing system, candidates must use expensive mailers and television ads to reach hundreds of thousands of voters. A YES vote on Charter Amendment 19 opens the door for qualified younger or less well-connected candidates.

This is an extremely weak argument on their part.  It is a well-established fact that districting protects incumbency: in congress, in our state legislature, and in the King County Council elections.  In fact, in the 2009 elections, 4 out of 5 King County Council districts had no challengers.  And two incumbents are running unopposed in this year’s county council elections. 

If by “legwork” the districting advocates mean doorbelling, this is an unsafe and discriminatory method of campaigning.  Many property owners have stairs without railings.  And doorbelling turns political campaigns into athletic campaigns that discriminate against handicapped candidates.  A candidate in a wheelchair or a mature candidate with arthritis in the knees is at a disadvantage if the litmus test for candidates is how many stairs they can climb.  Legwork is fine in sports, but the political playing field should not discriminate against physically handicapped candidates.  Political forums make much more sense than “legwork.” 

And, doorbelling works for well-connected candidates: e.g. (no offense intended) Bob Ferguson, first running for county council, took a year absence from his law practice to doorbell his district.  Most Americans don’t have that kind of job security or financial independence.

Of the 50 largest U.S. cities, Seattle is one of only three still electing all its Councilmembers citywide. When San Francisco adopted district elections in 2000, the cost of an average Council campaign fell from $188,000 to about $74,000.

Maybe we are smarter than other cities.  As for the San Francisco election, much more information is needed here before a judgment can be made; but generally speaking, districting has certainly not kept big money out of congressional races or state legislative races.  And it’s important to mention here than candidates running by districting don’t get to choose their opponent.

NO NEW TAXES are needed for Charter Amendment 19.

Not true!  With decennial redistricting, taxpayers will incur costs.

Join 45,000 of your friends and neighbors who helped place this measure on the ballot.   Vote YES on Charter Amendment 19 to ensure elected Councilmembers and future candidates are more closely engaged with you, your neighbors, and your community.

Join your friends and neighbors who defeated districting in 1975, 1995 and 2003.  Let’s do it again.

Charter Amendment 19 is a good-government proposal with strong bipartisan support, including the Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, the King County Republicans, 46th District Democrats, Senator Adam Kline, Senator Jeanne Kohl-Wells, Senator David Frockt, Senator Sharon Nelson, Senator Maralyn Chase, Representative Gael Tarleton, Representative Mary Lou Dickerson (ret.), Representative Jessyn Farrell, Representative Gerry Pollett, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski, and thousands of voters just like you.

These pro-districting supporters are all incumbents elected by district.  No surprise!

Vote “NO!” On Charter Amendment 19

Statement prepared by Marjorie Rhodes and Herm Ross, Choices Not Districts

206.600.0141 voice mail

Email us at choicesnotdistricts {a*t} gmail {d0t} com