Mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon faced off at the first major debate since the primary Tuesday night, and the focus was a big one—affordable housing and homelessness. The Seattle Times and Crosscut event was hosted by Seattle University’s Project on Family Homelessness and Solid Ground on the Seattle University campus.
While of course, given the biggest news of the day, the candidates were asked about Mayor Ed Murray's resignation, the remaining questions about housing and homelessness gave some real insight into key differences between two qualified candidates for a lot of undecided voters still flip-flopping. For those who didn't watch the hour-and-a-half-long debate last night, here are some key highlights.
1. Murray's resignation: The first question posed to the mayoral candidates was whether Murray made the right move or whether it should've happened earlier.
Moon pointed out that she called for his resignation back in May. She said he used "the bully pulpit" of the mayor's office to demean survivors and that she was sorry he didn't step down sooner. Durkan didn't directly answer whether he should've resigned earlier but said it was the right decision today, that he needed to step down when it was clear he could no longer lead the city.
2. Council member Mike O'Brien's car-camping bill: Moon pressed Durkan when she waffled on a question about whether the candidates support O'Brien's proposed legislation, which would exempt people living in their cars from tickets or towing for a year if they connect to city services. (Moon supports it.) Durkan said the proposal hasn't been finalized and pivoted to saying there should be 500 additional shelter beds in every council district.
It might be worth noting: City attorney candidate Scott Lindsay was the one who first drew attention to O'Brien's bill by publicly releasing an early draft and heavily criticizing it. Durkan is staying neutral on the city attorney's race; former governor Christine Gregoire supports challenger Scott Lindsay, who is her son-in-law. Gregoire is a close ally of Durkan's.
3. Free market versus more social justice policies: The tension in the city between two different philosophies to bring about affordable housing—supporting the free market versus a more social justice approach to housing—seemed to show through in the debate.
Though Durkan said she supports more public housing and a "spectrum" of solutions, she also catered toward a hands-off approach by emphasizing reducing the "red tape" that slows down development and offering few specifics beyond broadly agreed-upon affordable housing policies. Moon consistently aligns with a far-left progressive, hands-on approach to density. She answered a straightforward "yes" to a lot of questions on actively creating new laws to address affordable housing or homelessness. The most confusing unclear response from Durkan came from a question about whether the city should impose a law guaranteeing everyone shelter. Moon said yes; Durkan said she wouldn't need a law "tell me that housing is a human right."
4. Foreign buyers' tax: Moon's call for a tax on overseas developers came back to haunt her during the debate when Durkan slammed her for proposing a tax on something that's not proven to be a problem. Moon said housing markets used to be local but have grown to include outside investors due to globalization. She wants to disincentivize speculation and the data isn't there, she said, because no one in the city is willing to look at it.
"Whoever is the next mayor is going to have enough crises without making any up," Durkan said, and again pushed that it's dangerous to impose a potentially discriminatory practice. Moon has accused Durkan of bringing up discrimination as a political ploy and said she "never, ever, ever" asked for a tax based on where people are from.
Moon said the Chinese community was "misinformed, maliciously misinformed, possibly," referring to a letter signed by Chinese-American community leaders who had concerns a foreign buyers' tax would "deepen troubling" false stereotypes of Asian and Chinese people. Durkan responded by citing an article Moon co-wrote alongside Charles Mudede in The Stranger mentioning "Chinese money."
5. Unsanctioned encampments: The candidates differed on this substantial issue. Moon stood firmly against the city's sweeps. Durkan said she believed the unsanctioned encampments were unsafe and unsuitable for people to live in.
6. HALA Grand Bargain: Durkan criticized Moon for previously saying she would start over on the HALA agreement and said without MHA funds, the city wouldn't be able to address the housing shortage. She said Moon's tax proposals for affordable housing would require changes in Olympia and wouldn't be realistic.
"We've got to be honest with voters," Durkan said.
Moon responded that she would have set growth targets on HALA and been more respectful by talking to communities of color. She said she supports higher developer fees to encourage building affordable housing on-site rather than on the edges of the city, and countered that the city should look at "every single possible tool to get more money in the affordable housing pipeline and not just rely on HALA."
7. Questions asked by the candidates: Each candidate got a chance to ask the other a question, giving some insight into what they both think may be their strengths in the election and the other's weakness to draw attention to. Durkan asked Moon a question about how many employees she's managed and how large a budget she's been charged with. Moon responded more than 100 employees managing her family's company over a decade ago, and she hasn't managed a $5.2 billion budget (the size of the city's). "But I don't think you have either," she shot back.
Moon said HALA didn't protect communities of color and asked Durkan how she intends to differ "if at all." Durkan said the city had not conducted enough outreach and that she would communicate with neighborhoods. "I'm going to listen to the people because that's where the solutions are," she said.