I somehow made it through the selection process for the new city councilmember without making any public statements about Cheryl Haskins' bid for the appointment. My tongue now has some serious bite marks on it.
It was clear from the beginning that the selection process wasn't going to entail much in the way of public input, including the ability to question the candidates about their affiliations and political leanings. Given all the drama of last November's election, that's understandable, and I respect the decision to keep the process non-confrontational and friendly. But all the platitudes and lack of hard-nosed questioning made me a bit weary at times. It's not that I was worried that Cheryl Haskins or her mentor, Ruth Gibbs, were actually going to be appointed. Rather, it was that the interview process provided Cheryl with a free platform from which she could make a case for her future candidacy for city council, without having to face any questions about her controversial political activism. I suppose I could have made a stink about her applying for the seat, but I'm pretty certain I would've been painted as an acrimonious rabble rouser if I'd done so. So, I didn't rock the boat this time, and it's just as well.
Fortunately, Cheryl once again sowed the seeds of her defeat by making a serious political (not to mention social) misjudgment. This time, she tried to influence the council's vote by urging her supporters to call the councilmembers at home and at work. That included calling a councilmember who is currently grappling with family health issues. Classy. According to my sources (I love saying that), Cheryl sent an email to her supporters, providing them with "talking points" outlining her virtues, as well as a list of all the councilmembers' phone numbers. She then asked people to forward the email on to others. Can you imagine how irritating it would be to get phone call after phone call from right-wing zealots reading from a script? Not exactly a good way to build support with elected officials who already view your politics and supporters with extreme suspicion.
[Update: Apparently, so many calls from Cheryl's supporters came into the city council switchboard this past Monday that the receptionist had to stop answering the phone. Normal business calls went to voicemail. City officials were not pleased.]
The one thing that really stands out to me is that Cheryl must be utterly unaware of how severely damaged her reputation is in Renton. She must believe that receiving 41% of the vote in the last election means that 41% of the city's voters personally supported her campaign -- and her politics. If so, she's failing to take into account that most of her support was likely the result of her unprecedented campaign spending (funded by outsiders), which allowed her to achieve incredible name recognition within just a few short months. Giant billboards buy votes.
In all likelihood, Cheryl will continue her quest to secure a council seat in future elections. Every time, she will try to avoid scrutiny of her anti-gay, right-wing political activities, instead presenting herself as a mainstream candidate with uncontroversial affiliations. She's quite good at marketing herself in that manner. But she can't erase her past, especially when she refuses to even acknowledge the divisions her work has fostered. Not apologize for, just acknowledge. Until Cheryl Haskins demonstrates that she has the capacity to serve all of Renton's residents equally -- including the LGBT community -- she will face insurmountable opposition from me and the political majority here in town, with which I am now closely aligned.