Last night, eight of nine mayoral candidates (Peter Steinbrueck was out of town) gathered for a forum timed to coincide with Juneteenth—a holiday commemerating the day in June 1865 when slaves in Texas were freed—at the Horace Mann building in the Central District. The forum was sponsored by the Young Voters League.
Sitting at a black-draped table in the ramshackle building (site of the NOVA magnet high school until 2009, when the school district mothballed the structure—it's now slated to become a new school, instead of the community center neighbors want) behind a homemade banner reading, in tinfoil letters, "Young Voters League," the eight candidates fielded questions about education, race, child care, and housing costs.
Most of the candidates did somersaults to show off their knowledge of African-American history to the mostly black audience—Mary Martin, the Socialist candidate, read from a battered copy of "Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power"; Bruce Harrell held up his copy of "The Warmth of Other Suns," a book about the black migration north and west after the end of slavery, and used a vintage photo of his all-black youth baseball team as a prop; and Charlie Staadecker quoted Frederick Douglass.
But the real test was in how they answered the questions from moderator Wyking Garrett, who had to remind the panel at one point that "you might want to remember that you're at a Juneteenth forum." Here's how they did.
Bruce Harrell was, as you might imagine, in his element—a child of the CD, Harrell, the only person of color on the city council, went to T.T. Minor, Meany Middle School, and Garfield, and his campaign headquarters are a stone's throw from the Horace Mann building.
"I didn't get out this hood," Harrell said. "Back in 1968, 1969, before many of you were born, I used to walk these streets almost every day. I used to play right across the street from here," Harrell said. Pointing to an attorney he knew in the audience, he said, "Our young children have to see these kind of sisters, these kind of brothers ... so we can replace gangs with new gangs, called choirs and teams."
Harrell may have laid it on a little thick, though. (Funny, he never talks like this in council chambers) As I was walking out, one audience member pulled me aside and said, "I don't need to hear all that stuff about 'our churches' and 'brother this' and 'sister that.' I want to know what you're going to do!"
(On that point, here's one concrete promise Harrell made: To raise $20 million for a college endowment fund for underprivileged students. He would not, however, commit to spending money to preserve the Horace Mann Building.)
I asked him which of the candidates had impressed him. "I liked Kate Martin," he said of the nerdy north Seattle neighborhood activist.
Kate Martin, as usual, had a concrete three-point plan for every question the moderator threw at her. Achievement gap? Form a team of Seattle Youth Boosters to mentor kids and give them chances to work at multiple short-term jobs "so that kids can test-drive their lives" by trying out different things before they start college or take their first real job.
Too many suspensions? Emulate Baltimore, whose in-school suspension program has helped keep kids from dropping out.
Horace Mann Building in trouble? Have the city work with the school distrcit to create a community school, where kids go to school during the day and the community has access to the building the rest of the time. Martin may be near the bottom of the pack in polling, but she has no shortage of ideas.
Mike McGinn, who arrived half an hour late (some people didn't want to allow him an opening statement, yelling, "You've had four years!"), stuck to his usual talking points, which focus on what he's done in office (passed the Families and Education Levy; expanded the Youth Violence Initiative; expanded school-based health canters)—a safe play that won him modest applause but didn't exactly set the room on fire.
Ed Murray, as he has at most forums, focused on his work in Olympia, including a few odd segues; for example, after saying that "suspending kids is not an answer," he went on a tangent about the refusal of the Republican-dominated senate Majority Coalition Caucus to close tax loopholes.
(Footnote from Cola Olympia reporter Josh: It's Murray's rivals in the MCC who have introduced a bill to deal with the misguided policy of keeping suspended kids out of the classroom for too long, and, in fact, made it one of the "non-budget" "ideological" "policy" bills during the special sessions that the Democrats are all up in arms about. Murray voted against the MCC bill.)
He did, however, suggest (in response to a question about the dire lack of quality child care in the CD) that the city might come up with construction money to pay for new child care facilities. But he quickly pivoted back to the place he seems most comfortable: His record. As a legislator, he said, "I was able to obtain 90 percent of the funding for the child care center at Pike Place Market, which is mostly lower-income kids."
Charlie Staadecker, whose style at forums tends toward lecturing the audience about basic facts (at last Saturday's SEIU forum, for example, he helpfully informed a Taco del Mar employee that corporations exist to make profits), prompted one audience member to burst into laughter (she actually had to leave the room) when he explained, in response to a question about gentrification, that change is going to happen and "don't believe anyone who says it won't."
Mary Martin, the Socialist, remained both on-point and on-message, a neat trick she's managed to play as the obvious political outlier throughout the campaign. Although it's hard to guess who she thought she would win over with her response to a question about housing affordability: "One of the first things that was done under the Cuban revolution was that rents were set at no more than 15 percent of your income," Martin said.
And, in response to the question about suspensions,, Martin said: "When you're kicked out of school and trying to work some part-time job, it goes to the heart of capitalism—shut up, sit down, strip search, and if you don't do that there's another institution that's waiting for you and that's jail."
Joey Gray, a nonprofit consultant, peppered her answers with non sequitur stories about her exploits playing Ultimate Frisbee—responding to a question about racial disparities in education, for example, by noting that she had been the first person to successfully integrate men's and women's Ultimate.
Gray had a few more off-kilter answers that didn't go over well: When Garrett asked the candidates whether they would work to save the Mann building, which is slated to become a new school (as opposed to the community center neighbors want), Gray responded with an anecdote about fixing up a P-Patch only to learn that it wasn't hers after all. And when he asked whether the candidates would end the practice of suspending students for misbehavior, Gray talked about how her experience as an exchange student made her comfortable with people with diverse backgrounds.