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Schultz answers two thorny Seattle questions

During a live interview with Monica Guzman yesterday at Moore Theatre in downtown Seattle, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz answered to what are two sore subjects for many locals.

Of course, most of the conversation focused on Schultz’s potential “centrist independent” bid for president in 2020, which he recently announced in a 60 Minutes interview.


He explained his logic behind exploring a bid, shared stories from his new book, and vowed both to not proceed if it would re-elect Donald Trump and to not run as a Democrat (despite a plea from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to do so).

“The Democratic party, as it stands today, is espousing, almost every day, very aggressive policies that I think are unrealistic and not affordable and, really, a false promise,” Schultz said.

In making his case to a hometown crowd, Schultz appealed to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“I would just like to ask a question, especially in the City of Seattle, a city of such entrepreneurship, imagination, magnetism — here we are, where so much has been done. Why can’t I ask the question to the American people: Is there a better opportunity to reframe the future of the country, to reframe the promise of America, and really give people the hope and the aspiration that so many millions of Americans, unfortunately, have lost?”

The two questions from Guzman that targeted local, thorny issues specifically involved the Sonics and a spotty local voting record.

In 2006, Schultz sold Seattle’s NBA team, the SuperSonics, to out-of-state investors; the team moved to Oklahoma City two years later. Schultz said sorry for the sale in his recent book, an apology that Seattle Times columnist Matt Calkins promptly rejected.

In yesterday’s interview, Schultz told his detailed account of tried-and-failed efforts to negotiate the team’s lease with Seattle’s city government, losing money, mounting pressure to sell, failed attempts to sell locally, and the eventual sale.

“The mistake I made was I was convinced that, if an out-of-town buyer wanted to buy the team, that the city of Seattle — the mayor and the city council — would understand that an out-of-town buyer bought the team, and if he doesn’t renegotiate the lease and get the lease deal that he deserves, he’s going to take the team and move,” Schultz said. “And the City of Seattle basically said, ‘No, we don’t care if he’s an out-of-town buyer or not, we’re not renegotiating.’”

He now admits that the decision to sell was a “terrible, terrible mistake.”

“I’m responsible for what took place. And I think the lesson is: When you have power and responsibility like I did with the Sonics, you must demonstrate restraint.”

In answering a seemingly unrelated question about his spotty local voting record, one could draw a line back to his answer about the Sonics sale. Seattle Times Columnist Danny Westneat wrote earlier this week that Schultz has voted in just 11 of 38 elections since 2005.

“I just have to clarify: I voted in every presidential election since, I think, I was 18,” Schultz said. “Listen, I travel all over the world — it’s not an excuse. I have not been as engaged, locally, as perhaps I could have been, but I’ve voted in every presidential election since I was 18.”

When Guzman pressed him further, asking him what kept him from voting in the mayoral elections when he owned the Sonics, he responded by admitting again that he was disengaged with local politics.

“Well, I certainly wasn’t going to vote for Mayor Nickels, I can tell you that,” he said. “I did vote for Mayor Durkan.”