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UW Historian Reflects On Tension In Seattle Politics Between Business, Liberal Groups

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
People fill Seattle City Council chambers during the debate over the "head tax."



Many people in Seattle -- no matter their political ideology -- are frustrated with their elected leaders, who are trying to keep the business sector happy and confront a growing homelessness crisis.

In May, the council unanimously approved a "head tax" on large companies that was intended to raise money for affordable housing initiatives and homeless services. The measure that passed was a compromise, reached after the initial proposal faced opposition from Mayor Jenny Durkan and Amazon, which announced it would pause construction of planned buildings.

Two weeks ago, the council repealed the "head tax" in response to a campaign that had gathered tens of thousands of signatures to place the proposal on the November ballot. During the repeal vote, supports and opponents of the tax chanted so loudly that councilmembers couldn’t hear each other speak.

Voters on the left seem to feel councilmembers capitulated. More conservative voters seem to feel the council overstepped its bounds on this issue.

To get a sense of how this moment compares to others in Seattle’s history, Ed Ronco talked with Margaret O’Mara, a history professor at the University of Washington. She has an interest in the relationship between the tech industry and politics.


Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.