Craig was born in Seattle to Alberta and Bernard Salins. He was the middle son of three, younger brother to Steve, older brother to Dan. When he was 10 his mother died after a long struggle with cancer. It was difficult in 1958 for a single dad with three sons, and Craig’s dad soon married Dorothy Pool, and her three children – Dennis and Marjorie Pool and Kathie Scott – joined Craig and his brothers in what we now call a blended family. Some time later another brother, Paul, arrived. None of us would describe the merging of these two families as idyllic. There were periods of adjustment for everyone, very often tension, somewhat less often outright conflict. But Craig never got caught up in that. For the rest of his life he never made a distinction between his “step”siblings and his “real” siblings. To him, we were family.
As you might expect (since you’re reading this, it can be assumed you know Craig), he was an excellent student in school. He was fascinated with how things worked. It wasn’t just curiosity, although he was very curious. He needed to know how things worked so he could figure out how he could use those things, usually in an unconventional way. Like many kids, he hooked up a string with a tin can on each end which ran from his bedroom window to a bedroom window of the neighbor’s house, so that he and the neighbor boy could talk to each other on their makeshift ‘telephone’. But Craig took the concept a bit further. He mounted a speaker and a microphone high up in a cedar tree that adjoined the two properties and as people walked by, he’d call out, “Hey! I’m thirsty! Can you water me, please?” He was his own Candid Camera.
When Craig was young he loved all things electronic. He bought and built Heathkit radios and amplifiers. And when the family moved to Mercer Island, to a home surrounded by woods, Craig “wired” the woods with his speakers and microphones and had his own command center down in his basement bedroom.
Craig delighted in pushing things to an extreme. Most young boys at some time or another build and try to fly their own kite. Craig was no exception. But the kite he built wasn’t just paper over some sticks glued together. It was a triangular shaped box kite, with wings. Imagine taking the traditional kite shape, cutting it down the middle and attaching each side to a box kite. Those were the wings. Oh… and it was big. Really big. Probably five feet tall, maybe more. And flimsy sticks and paper wouldn’t do. Sturdy 1×1 strips of lumber and nylon fabric stretched over the frame. And the string? High strength fishing line, thousands of feet of it. Well, you know Craig wasn’t just going to fly this thing from his backyard. So he took it to the south end of Mercer Island, to a tall bluff overlooking empty meadows, and there, where the wind always blew up the bluff, he launched his kite. Higher and higher, out of sight eventually. But it wasn’t out of sight for everyone. The pilot of the airliner who was flying the commercial jet on a flight path to SeaTac airport saw it. Saw it close up in fact, and radioed in that there was a *#%@^& KITE outside his window! Well, the Mercer Island police showed up and Craig had to reel in his kite. There was an article and a picture on the front page of the paper the next day, and this was probably the first time that federal authorities became aware that Craig wasn’t like most people.
Craig graduated from Mercer Island High School and left the next fall for Yale University. He studied science – pre-med, biology, psychology – but also became aware of the political currents that were running through the country at that time, the late 60′s. Yale was an eye-opening experience for Craig. Old money, old politics, old power. Craig’s political awareness was growing fast, and the values and beliefs that guided him and his work for the rest of his life were set.
Craig had an interesting “brush with the famous” while at Yale, or perhaps, more accurately, a “brush with the infamous”, as he might consider it. Craig’s roommate for a brief time at Yale was John Bolton, the Neocon and former Ambassador to the U.N. appointed by George Bush. When asked what Bolton was like during his college years, Craig said he was a… well… it rhymes with trick, and suggested he hadn’t changed much since then.
Craig left Yale after two years, intending to return, but wanting to get some real life experience. He joined VISTA and was placed in New Jersey, where he worked at an organization called the Somerset Community Action Program… SCAP. Somerset County, New Jersey was a mix of ultra-rich (Jackie Kennedy Onassis had an estate there) and ultra-poor. Craig’s political education accelerated during his years at SCAP. He saw how the deck was continually stacked against the poor, and especially the minority poor. He oversaw education programs for minority teens who could barely read or write, administered home weatherization programs designed to provide relief from winter’s cold for the poor and at the same time teach valuable construction skills to teens and young adults. He learned how federal funds were administered, and often mis-administered to the people and programs who needed them most. He testified before the New Jersey legislature, and made trips to Washington D.C. with his political mentors at SCAP for protests, or demonstrations, or to attend hearings on bills before Congress. Just as when he was a kid, he was satisfying his need to know how things worked.
Craig moved back to Seattle in the late 70′s and quickly became involved in the causes and issues that would concern him the rest of his life. He was Executive Coordinator for the Seattle Community Action Network, an organization which sought to educate consumers, lobby for consumer rights, and mediate on behalf of consumers who had no other recourse. He told stories during that time of organizing protests in front of businesses who had turned a deaf ear to customers they had wronged. I’m sure he was a hero to many people on whose behalf he organized protests or boycotts of businesses in order that their concerns would be heard and addressed.
He was Executive Coordinator of the Puget Sound Cooperative Federation, a clearinghouse for information, advice and support in establishing cooperative businesses. He served on the board of Puget Consumers Coop.
He also served on the board of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority and the Central Area Motivation Program.
In the late 80′s Craig became focused on health care as a critical issue in our country. He worked as Executive Director of the American Holistic Medical Association, and later co-founded the Washington Single Payer Action Network. Craig recognized long before it became the huge issue it is now, the importance of health care and the economic impact, both on an individual and a national level, of how we pay for health care in America. He was a passionate supporter of a single payer system, and spoke often and vehemently on the stranglehold he felt that the insurance industry held on Congress and our country.
Even the most ardent of workers for political and economic change has to buy groceries and pay the mortgage, so in the late 80′s Craig formed a small construction company, CDA Construction. He remodeled homes, built additions, updated bathrooms and kitchens. He joined Carpenters Local 816, and was proud to be in the union. Craig’s gifts weren’t just political. He excelled at everything he did. Many homeowners in the Seattle area were, and are, thrilled with the work that Craig did for them, and even though he often had to take days away from his construction work in order to go to Olympia to lobby for this issue, or to go to an organizing meeting for that issue, he always got their job done, and done well.
I had many conversations over the years with Craig about various issues, and often our conversations revolved around the idea of figuring out what were the causes underlying the issues, so to speak. Craig was always on a quest to understand how things work, whether it was a washing machine, a dvd player, or our political system, he needed to understand it on a fundamental basis. He knew that so many parts of our system were broken, he wanted to get down to the fundamental problem. And that’s why he devoted his work in recent years to campaign financing reform. He realized, after working in health care, consumer rights, child development services, poverty programs, and so many other issues, that the changes necessary would never come about as long as the legislators and elected officials who could bring about those changes, were beholden to big money as a result of our campaign financing system.
In 2006 he became Executive Director of Washington Public Campaigns. He criss-crossed the state organizing, recruiting and speaking to anyone who would show up about the need to reform the way we finance campaigns. For Craig, this wasn’t just a job. There was no clocking out at 5 pm. He worked late into the night, on weekends. There was no such thing as a work schedule. Any time something needed to be done, he did it. And although, as with most non-profit organizations, there wasn’t a lot of money for salaries and supplies, Craig never let that slow him down.
Here’s the amazing thing about Craig. Craig was both intellectually brilliant and eminently competent. He understood, on a fundamental basis, so many things that many of us just have a surface knowledge of. Craig could have succeeded at anything he put his mind to. He could have made millions on Wall Street, or pursued a career based on ego. But he didn’t care about those things. He wanted to make this place a better place for all of us, but especially for those who don’t have a voice, or whose voice just isn’t heard. And he dedicated his life and his work to that goal. How many people do we know who have truly lived their life so committed to doing what they believed was right and necessary? I’ve known only one.
You’re invited to share your memories of Craig below.