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John Okamoto Gets Seattle City Council Seat Over Sawant's Objection

KUOW Photo/Deborah Wang
John Okamoto was interim director of the city's Human Services Department until earlier this year.

There's a new face on the Seattle City Council, despite objections from one of his new colleagues.

At least for a short time, John Okamoto will fill the seat of exiting council member Sally Clark, who stepped down to take a job at the University of Washington.

Okamoto has held a number of leadership positions within Seattle city government. He has been HR Director, Engineering Director, and was Interim Human Services Director until earlier this year. He has also served as director of the Washington Education Association, and as Chief Administrative Officer for the Port of Seattle.

Speaking to reporters after his appointment, Okamoto said this was a "dream come true."

"I don't think my grandparents, who came off the ship from Japan right down here in Elliott Bay, would have ever thought it was possible this day that their grandson would be a city council member of this great, great city," he said.

Five council members voted for him, but council member Kshama Sawant strenuously opposed his nomination, calling him a corporate politician who represents big business, big developers, and the super wealthy. She characterized the Port of Seattle as a "cesspool of corruption" when he was there.

Sawant threw her support behind three other candidates-- Sharon Lee, Sharon Maeda, and Sheley Secrest-- who she called strong advocates for affordable housing. Councilmembers Nick Licata and Mike O'Brien also supported Lee and Maeda.

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen came to Okamoto's defense. He accused Sawant of trying to smear Okamoto's reputation, and said it's unfortunate she has to "stoop so low."

Okamoto called Sawant's of characterization of him "unfortunate" but said that he will be able to work with all members of the City Council. 

Okamoto assumed office immediately and will serve in the council seat until after district elections in November.

Year started with KUOW: 2005