Socialist revolutionary challenges patient politico
Edwin Fruit versus Nick Licata (incumbent)
City Councilmember Nick Licata, who is seeking re-election for Council Position No. 6, and his challenger, Edwin Fruit, both say they want to improve the lives of working-class people.
Their approaches differ wildly. On one side there’s Fruit, the Socialist organizer who thinks economic equality can only be attained when a worker-led movement capsizes capitalism; on the other there’s Licata, the self-possessed strategist who believes that careful, legislative action lays the groundwork for systemic change.
Licata, a councilmember since 1998, decided to seek a sixth term because he sees poor and middle class people struggling.
“I think I can do more by being on the council than not being on it,” Licata said.
His tenure has been marked by successful legislation that speaks to his progressive ideals: He worked to add $1.7 million to the 2013 and 2014 human service budgets; he sponsored a resolution that created the Seattle Commission for People with Disabilities; he co-sponsored election reform legislation; and he sponsored and helped shepherd through council legislation that created a rental housing registration and inspection program.
Still, he cited the Paid Sick and Safe Leave Law he sponsored as his greatest legislative achievement. The law establishes standards for paid sick days and ensures employers provide paid time off for employees to care for themselves or sick family members. The council passed the legislation 8 to 1.
Some of Licata’s other legislative attempts, however, have failed. His recent push to get the council to ease city restrictions on placing homeless camps went down in defeat.
In the future he said he wants to ensure the paid sick leave law doesn’t get watered down, and he wants to create an office of fair labor standards. Those might seem like minor goals, but he thinks that effective political change can be created piecemeal.
“Incremental change builds up,” he said.
Fruit takes a more radical stance. A member of the Socialist Workers party, Fruit trumpets the position that capitalism has allowed a small number of people to prosper while the majority toil.
“They throw us some crumbs, and we have to figure out how to divide them up,” he said.
That system will continue to crush workers, he said, until working people organize and find a collective voice — a belief he embodies with his embrace of the plural pronoun “we.”
Fruit said one political act would put workers on a better path: a federal jobs program.
If it seems geographically misguided to run for Seattle City Council on a plank that targets Washington, D. C., Fruit said nothing will change in the Emerald City — be it homelessness, affordable housing or police accountability — until things change three time zones away, on Capitol Hill.
“We say there are no Seattle solutions to the problems working people face,” Fruit said.
Fruit, who works in an electronics factory, doesn’t believe legislation will change the lives of working-class people. If elected, he said he wouldn’t devote time to crafting it.
“I’m not going to write a bill,” he said. “If you spend time writing bills, you don’t have time to organize.”
Instead, he said he’d open his city council office to workers — fast-food and agricultural workers or other low-wage earners — to organize against capitalist forces. If those organizing efforts led to potential legislation, such as instituting a $15-an-hour minimum wage in Seattle, then Fruit would take it to the council.
Fruit said many of the workers he’d welcome in City Hall struggle with affordable housing, and he believes all housing should be affordable, not just a percentage that developers would support.
“As long as housing is a commodity and not a right, these problems are going to continue,” Fruit said.
Licata, too, supports raising the minimum wage, “whether it’s $15, $16, $17 [an hour],” he said. He also wants more affordable housing in Seattle and thinks incentive zoning provides the best solution.
This past spring, when developers pushed to lift South Lake Union height restrictions, Licata tried to get the council to agree to charge those developers $96 per square foot for each additional floor they desired. The money would’ve gone into an affordable housing fund.
Instead, the other councilmembers supported charging $22.88 per square foot.
Keeping affordable housing in SLU is important, he said, because some people who live in the burgeoning neighborhood earn $9.19, the current minimum wage.
“If they lose their jobs, they will end up homeless,” Licata said. He said as long as he’s on the council, he’ll keep his sights on protecting the affordable housing stock.
In order for Fruit to use his city council seat to facilitate socialist change, he’ll have to convince voters he’s the better choice. At this point, he doesn’t feel too optimistic.
“I probably won’t win,” Fruit said. “But I think it’s important to be able to explain these ideas.”
Licata also places faith in the importance of explanation, though of a different sort. The legislative process, he said, forces him to craft messages that his fellow councilmembers can hear.
Once he has their ear, he can gain for legislation he feels helps working people. To him, that’s the best part of being a councilmember.
“There’s nothing more enjoyable than the politics of persuasion,” Licata said.
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