By Guest Blogger, Jean Godden
I am among a number of women journalists who have exchanged their press cards for a nametag that reads: “the Honorable.” It’s a modest trend – journalists as politicians. But, frankly, it’s not all that surprising women journalists would aspire to office.
I want to salute three other women journalists who joined local City Councils in the recent past: Stacy Goodman, a longtime reporter for the Issaquah Press, recently became an Issaquah City Council member, beating more than a dozen other topnotch applicants for the job. The opening happened when Maureen McCarry had to resign her seat due to a terrible illness. Jane Meyer Brahm, a longtime reporter for the Mercer Island Reporter, won the appointment contest for the open seat left by Steve Litzow’s election to the State Senate. And, my own Seattle City Council colleague, Sally J. Clark, got her start as a print journalist reporting and editing for many of our local and regional newspapers.
I am hardly alone when it comes to women journalists serving in public office: the lines between journalism and public service are actually quite close.
Every women journalist I know, while covering a council/legislative meeting, has reflected on decisions made: “What a dumb decision. I know I could do better”? That’s an understandable human response, one that most journalists, if they’re being honest, will admit to having entertained.
That was my reaction on more than one occasion during the years I covered City Hall. However, whenever I thought about quitting journalism for an uncertain run for office, I promptly dismissed the idea. It would have meant crossing a wide divide. Newspapers do not allow their employees to back anyone for office or contribute to a political campaign or even to a political cause, much less run for office.
And yet, after many years of apolitical activity, I longed to have a bigger stake in the city’s future, a bigger opportunity for public service. Short story: I finally talked to a political consultant about my chances of running for the Seattle City Council. Had I taken leave of my senses? Probably. But, with the consultant’s advice that I had “good positives” and strong name familiarity, I quit my job and, with no guarantees and six opponents, I plunked down my $835 and filed for office.
Over the next few weeks I learned that journalism does not prepare one for being a candidate. Quite the contrary. As a journalist, I was prone to equivocation: “maybe” and “perhaps” when asked a question. I wore the wrong clothing: an old trench coat and a comfortable pair of loafers. I stumbled when asked what talents I brought to the job. Modesty prevented talking about my good points.
But, despite my stumbles and thanks to my long-suffering campaign crew, I did win election in just 100 days, start to finish, and along the way managed to raise $225,000 for my at-large election.
If campaigning made me feel clumsy, I found that serving as a councilmember was more natural. As a newspaper columnist, I was used to unfamiliar territory. I had to learn quickly, find answers and confirm facts. The same is true in elected office. The City Council is faced with many issues and controversies. First order of business is to listen to all sides of an issue, seek out expert advice, learn as much as one can and explore possible solutions.
The morning I handed in my resignation, my City Editor hugged me, wished me luck and told me what I could expect. He said, “We’ll have to cover you harder than any of the others.” He kept his word. The media cover me from the other side of the notebook just as vigorously and dispassionately, if not more so, than any of the other electeds.
I would expect no less.
Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Budget and Finance Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers.