Everett’s Maginot Line sits at 41st Street. The city’s meritocracy and political power are centered north. South Everett, an urban patchwork, is poorer and more diverse. It’s also where a majority of Everett’s 103,000 residents now live, and it merits a stronger political voice.
The north-south disconnect evolved slowly, annex by modest annex. Boeing purchased 780 acres north of Paine Field and began producing 747s in 1968. Farmland landscaped into tract homes that were later incorporated into a tendrilling city. These new neighborhoods, many conceived as suburban car-centric developments close to I-5, didn’t benefit from north Everett’s street grid (let alone its political capital.) There was no aggregate vision, and urban political power defaulted to the folks up north.
Everett leaders recognize the challenge of building a more cohesive city. Mayor Stephanson and his Vision Committee embraced the call to bridge the north-south divide, including a geographically balanced park system and improved transportation corridors. Many infrastructure changes will take decades, however. And South Everett neighborhoods deserve political representation from people who live there. Now.
There is a democratic solution, one that will breathe life into an often stale, sometimes unimaginative political culture. Everett’s charter should be amended so that members of the city council are elected by district rather than at-large. A sensible plan would have five of the seven council members elected by district and two elected citywide (at-large.)
Currently all city council members run citywide, which de facto puts them at a remove from south Everett. Why? Running at-large requires raising enough money for targeted direct mail, yard signs and campaign material. A candidate who wants to shoe-leather his or her way to the council, precinct by precinct, is at a strategic disadvantage. Everett is simply too big, and campaign dough trumps organizing.
District elections would enhance participation and throw into relief some of the city’s more vexing challenges. Questions of crime on Casino Road are more compelling if that’s where you’re raising your family. Traffic around Silver Lake is less of an abstraction if that’s where you call home.
An objection to district elections is balkanization, that council members will see issues through a limited, neighborhood-specific lens (with most councilmembers living north of 41st, the same could be said of the status quo.) In fact, an amended charter would concentrate attention on all residents, as council members advocate for their districts. Leavening district-elected representatives with two at-large councilmembers is the consensus approach of other communities that have successfully made the switch.
North Everett-ites may balk, but the time has come. We are one city.