Mayor's Race 2017

Candidate Profile: Bob Hasegawa

The third in a series of mayoral candidate profiles.

By Hayat Norimine July 14, 2017

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State senator Bob Hasegawa announces his campaign in front of the Wells Fargo Center downtown in May 2017.

As Bob Hasegawa energized campaign supporters in front of the downtown Wells Fargo Center on May 9, a UPS truck driver honked and held his fist in the air as he passed Hasegawa's crowd. 

"I don't know if you're getting a sense of where I'm coming from—but I'm a strong union person," Hasegawa told his audience. He had also been a UPS truck driver, and represented them as a Teamsters 174 leader for years, before he was elected a state representative for the 11th Legislative District in 2005. He met me at a coffee shop in Beacon Hill—his home turf—the following day, wearing an old faded Mariners T-shirt. 

The state senator, now 64, announced his run for mayor just hours after Ed Murray told the public he wouldn't run for reelection. (Both announcements were scheduled for the same time, and Hasegawa moved his press conference for later that day.) The Bernie Sanders delegate is in a spending freeze while he's in the state legislature, and that only amplified his anti-corporate message in the campaign. He's spent nearly $12,000 on his own campaign, according to campaign disclosure reports.

Central to Hasegawa's platform is creating a city-owned public bank—it was the only way Seattle can truly have a clean social conscience with where its money goes, he said—and he circles back to that idea as an answer to other problems Seattle is facing. And though the state legislature in its new budget included Hasegawa's proposal to fund a task force that looks into the viability of a state bank, the idea has a large set of challenges

Hasegawa—who as a state senator represents Seattle's more diverse and low-income neighborhoods Beacon Hill, Kent, Tukwila, and Renton—developed a reputation as a champion for labor and people of color. Along with Nikkita Oliver, he's often the most critical of the city when it comes to police reform; he stood with families of color who lost loved ones to deadly force from officers in announcing De-Escalate Washington, an initiative that would remove "malice" and make it possible to prosecute officers for deadly use of force.

Hasegawa was also one of two high-profile mayoral candidates (the other is Oliver) who seemed to suggest they would seriously reconsider finding another police chief. He criticized chief Kathleen O'Toole for taking a position in Ireland and said hiring someone else if he were to become mayor would be "not out of the question certainly."

"I think she’s got some hurdles to overcome to prove herself," Hasegawa told PubliCola, but adding that he's coming from an "outside" perspective and hasn't spoken with her. "We’ve got issues here that need the full attention of our chief...It doesn’t feel like that commitment is there."

And Hasegawa's passion for union organizing was born out of his parents, he said, who during World War II were sent to a concentration camp in Idaho, Camp Minidoka, alongside thousands of other Japanese Americans. 

"That's where a lot of my fight comes from, fighting for workers' rights," Hasegawa told his supporters during his campaign announcement. "My philosophy around life is civil rights is precious. Freedom is precious."

Hasegawa also quickly became known as the "anti-transit" candidate for his voting records on Sound Transit. In response to his record, Hasegawa told PubliCola there's been no accountability for the Sound Transit board—criticizing ST3 for its $54 billion package (he said the original proposal the board told legislators was $15 billion) and a Seattle Times report that said ST spent $858,000 on a party in 2016.

"What the bill did was require direct elections on Sound Transit Board. I don’t see that as being anti-ST3 and that’s what people are accusing me of," Hasegawa said in an earlier interview. "It’s the extremists who are blind...They don’t look beneath the surface on any policy."

On affordable housing, Hasegawa offers proposals similar to that of most candidates: He wants much more public housing and criticized HALA and the MHA for not going far enough on the fines for developers. On single-family zoning areas, he said the city should "let the neighborhood decide" how to accommodate the growth but supports density. He's been critical of the encampment sweeps as being punitive. 

Hasegawa may not win the urbanist vote, but still has the support of several labor groups and Democratic groups. Nicole Grant, Martin Luther King County Labor Council leader, said he was an established leader with name recognition, "a very powerful draw" among union members. He said ultimately he chose to run for mayor because the gridlock in Olympia was frustrating—he'd more likely accomplish his ultimate goal, a public bank, in Seattle, and make an impact for his constituents. 

"The goal is tangible," Hasegawa said. "In the mayor's office, I think we can really impact and lead by example for the rest of the state, provide hope for working families and fixed-income families, disadvantaged families." 

Updated July 14, 2017, at 11:32am: This post includes Hasegawa's comments on police reform.

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