The smell of squeaky black magic marker hung in the air from the all the scribbled down sketch pad answers last night after the mayoral debate at South Seattle Community College in Georgetown, where seven challengers and incumbent Mayor Mike McGinn kicked off the election season in a packed community center room under questioning from Q13 TV's C.R. Douglas.
The magic marker answers didn't provide much time for substantive debeate—we learned, for example, that most of the candidates (except Peter Steinbrueck) didn't think the city gave away too much to developers in South Lake Union without hearing why or what they actually thought about the details of the $21.68 cents per square foot deal.
We also learned some colorful personal anecdotes: Peter Steinbrueck's favorite app is OneBusAway; Tim Burgess' favorite thing on his phone is the picture of his 15-month old "daughter" (he meant granddaughter and turned bright red after the audience laughed and Douglas quipped: "Tim Burgess, still going strong" (Burgess is in his early 60s); and Mary Martin, the Socialist candidate, listed Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg, Fidel Castro, Malcolm X, and "the workers" as her top advisors (she also noted: "I don't have an iPod, but that puts me in the company of millions of people in Africa and Asia who don’t have electricity." She noted that her campaign is global.)
And while the rapid fire and mostly playful debate wasn't conducive to a serious or detailed discussion—McGinn, for example, got off a zinger about the council balking at legislation he'd proposed to provide more options for the homeless without explaining the legislation (nor was there room for the two council members on stage, Burgess and Bruce Harrell, to respond)—there was room for the candidates' personalities and values to emerge.
Picking winners and losers becomes a subjective science at that point (you either hate or love McGinn for proudly saying his primary mode of transportation is his bike and you either thought nerdy Kate Martin was charming or annoying when she noted in earnest "I'm kind of a visionary") ...
... but there was no denying that City Council member Harrell, with his passion about social justice (he answered Douglas' "what was the moment you decided to run?" question with perhaps the evening's more disarming, on-point, and serious moment saying "I was astounded by the political cowardice that I saw from our elected leaders ... when the woodcarver, John T. Williams, was tragically killed..."), stood out from the pack last night.
Harrell, who also talked about budget "investments as a means toward jutice," was certainly able to go with the evening's boisterous, playful, and down-to-earth vibe—he capped the evening with a joke (Douglas: "What was your favorite part of tonight's forum?" Harrell: "I found out Tim had a baby") and answered in response to an earlier question about whether the SPD was ready for May Day that "Yes, my butt depends on it."
"Defining what is just is the challenge and ... this where our mayor failed the most [and] where we needed him most."—Bruce Harrell
But mostly, Harrell stuck to his social justice theme, noting his initiative to give low-income kids free internet access and touting his proposal to prevent employers from discriminating against ex-felons. He also delivered the smartest answer to a question about Seattle's worst-in-the-country pay disparity for women. While the two other candidates who were posed the gender gap question, Charlie Staadecker and Burgess, responded that better education and training for girls would close the pay gap—Burgess even made a joke about how the problem would "self correct" if everyone "had daughters like mine"—Harrell took the question seriously, noting that he had asked the Seattle Women's Commission to work with him for proposals to deal with institutional sexism in the city.
Harrell wore a stern face and gave a serious air to the evening by continually making the debate a referendum on the incumbent. "There's a reason seven people are challenging this mayor," he said, adding that "defining what is just is the challenge and ... this where our mayor failed the most [and] where we needed him most." Harrell said McGinn doesn't listen and that's a problem because "you arrive at justice by putting yourself in the position of the person that's talking. That's what social justice is all about."
Harrell's focus worked to give his playful moments bite. Asked during one of the magic marker rounds to write down the best and worst departments in the city, Harrell was on message:
The other candidates did have their moments too. Oddly subdued and unremarkable for most of the debate (Fizz hears he got four hours of sleep after ending the legislative session and moving out of his Olympia apartment), state Sen. Ed Murray turned McGinn's critique of the council into a convincing plug for himself by reframing McGinn's story line as evidence that the mayor couldn't get things done.
"The mayor complains about not being able to get nine council members to agree to a plan on homelessness," Murray scoffed. "I passed the biggest transportation package in the state by convincing 29 legislators to agree." Asked what he wanted his legacy as mayor to be if elected, Murray said: "That we actually get something done."
Steinbrueck also had his best moment of the night with a not-so-veiled critique of the mayor. One of the few candidates who answered a flash round about yesterday's ixnay-on-the-NBA news by writing that it was a good thing ("good for future jobs economy,") he answered Douglas' "when and why did you decide to run for mayor" question by telling him: After "almost a year of secret negotiations with a private investor that led to a unilateral decision to place a sports facility in the heart of the Duwamish industrial district— that was over the top for me."
Final note. Responding to the question about Jim Pugel in the photo at the top. Harrell said the video—which captured Pugel and other officers back in 1986 making fun of the homeless living under the viaduct—was "stupid," but it shouldn't disqualify him.
We'll have more analysis of the debate today. And check out last night's Cola Twitter feed for some more coverage of the action. We did an extended Q&A with Harrell right after he declared back in Janaury.
All photos by PubliCola.