Brothers and Sisters

By Josh Feit September 23, 2009


A coalition of minority advocacy, civil liberties, and social justice groups sponsored a candidate forum—titled "To Protect & Serve?"—at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center last night that focused on public safety and criminal justice.

The auditorium was packed for two hours as a parade of exclusively white candidates did their best to be down—namedropping King County Council Member Larry Gossett, supporting President Obama, having an adopted African-American kid.

Here are some highlights.

1. Candidate of the Night

City Attorney candidate Peter Holmes was the hit candidate last night, where a mostly minority, strongly left-leaning crowd cheered his every answer. It might have had something to do with the fact that his opponent, incumbent Tom Carr, wasn't there—as Erica first reported yesterday—to challenge him. (Carr's assistant Ruth Bowman read a clunky opening statement and left).

Holmes—one of  10 city candidates on the crowded stage, including both mayoral candidates—stood out thanks to a finely calibrated rap that had the audience (like the older African-American woman I overheard outside after the forum) feeling "he's for real."

Holmes' opening statement began by dinging Carr for being a no-show ("everyone should take the opportunity to speak with you"), re-framing the job of city attorney ("you are the client, not City Hall, not the police, not big business"), and he concluded to major applause with this sound bite: "Build a new jail? ... Not on my watch." (Holmes noted that Carr has not been as forthright on the issue. True. While Carr is opposed to the idea, he has said he will support a new jail if he must.)

Later, asked to spell out differences between himself and Carr, Holmes said while both candidates talk about "alternatives to incarceration," Carr's words were undermined by the city's ongoing prosecutions for possessing small quantities of pot. Holmes said he was against the policy of criminalizing marijuana (big big cheers), said he supported a bill in the legislature this year that would have decriminalized pot, and paraphrased Carr's position as "the best I can tell is he says he doesn't know."

Holmes also criticized Carr's office for not using "prosecutorial discretion," saying he wouldn't prosecute every case brought by the police (he cited some sadly funny examples, like a homeless person arrested for stealing a can of tuna and the Nickelsville defendants), saying instead he would be a "check on the police." Again, huge cheers.

2. Most Awkward Moment of the Night

...when mayoral candidate Joe Mallahan addressed the crowd as "My brothers and sisters."

Mallahan also got his facts wrong, saying adamantly that people shouldn't have to file public records requests to find out about crime statistics in their neighborhoods.

They don't. The information is available online.

3. What I Learned at the Debate

City Council candidate Sally Bagshaw—the former head of the King County Prosecutor's Office civil division—supports legalizing marijuana.

Bagshaw footnote: While her opponent, lefty Church Council activist David Bloom, had the obvious support of the audience with his clear-cut rap about reordering city priorities by investing  resources in basics instead of "huge capital projects"—"If we're not investing [in basic needs] than we're not serious"—Bagshaw was surprisingly passionate and won several rounds of applause herself for stressing the need for alternatives to just locking people in jail.

4. Most Direct Throwdown

Asked how he would help create jobs in Southeast Seattle, Mallahan slyly turned the question into a dig at his opponent, anti-waterfront-tunnel guy Mike McGinn.

Strolling over to McGinn's side of the stage, Mallahan glanced back over his shoulder, saying: "There are large infrastructure programs we're going to initiate ... hopefully ..." going on to explain that he would lock in "universal project labor agreements" with language guaranteeing jobs for specific zip codes.

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