Mayoral and city council position 8 candidates faced challenging questions Sunday night at the United Methodist Church in Beacon Hill in what Nikkita Oliver described as "the most lit debate in Seattle."
An energized crowd of hundreds gathered for the Peoples Party candidate forum to watch former mayoral candidate Oliver moderate between her two former opponents, Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon. (They also signed pledges you can see here.) Questions from the party and grassroots organizations focused specifically on vulnerable populations with the topics of housing and homelessness, police reform, and protections for immigrants and refugees.
City Council Position 8: Grant Versus Mosqueda
Council members' head tax proposal: When asked what immediate steps they would take to respond to the state of emergency on homelessness, Grant brought up the head tax and criticized his opponent for not explicitly supporting council members' current HOMES proposal, an employee hours tax on businesses making more than $5 million in gross revenues.
"My entire life has been dedicated to end I can't think of one thing that I would want to do more than to raise taxes on corporations to (fund homelessness)," he said later. "I am tired of it. I am tired of politicians saying we need more housing without saying how we're going to pay for it."
Mosqueda in response said she does support a head tax. (She later clarified that she supports council members' current proposal. "We need the money," she told PubliCola after the debate, but added that she wants to see the money invested into those who are currently providing contracts. "I support it as a mechanism to get dollars in the door.)
Police reform: "If we are going to push for police reform, we can't keep electing folks that are going to be timid on police reform," Grant said, criticizing Mosqueda for supporting a community advocate in the negotiation process rather than public collective bargaining negotiations with police unions. He said he told the Martin Luther King County Labor Council he wants the collective bargaining agreement to be public even though he knew he would lose their endorsement. "We don't need a community advocate. We need the City Council to be our advocates."
"They didn't endorse you because that is not a progressive position," Mosqueda fired back. "That is a position that is advocated for from the Freedom Foundation, the Koch brothers, and the right wing. I will not take a page out of the right-wing playbook."
Grant also wants the Community Police Commission to have the ability to fire the police chief. Mosqueda said she wants an independent community police oversight board and retraining for crisis intervention. Both of them said they oppose expanding the police force by 200 officers.
Housing and homelessness: "I've been for the last 10 years fighting the landlord industry tooth and nail," Grant said, and cited the Rental Housing Association's voters guide recommending Mosqueda. "If we're going to actually get serious about tenants' rights, I think they know who they're the most worried about."
"My position does not change depending on who I'm talking to," Mosqueda responded. "I did not sit there and nod along when the Seattle Times said that there's enough housing." Mosqueda supports building more affordable housing on publicly-owned land and community land trusts and co-ops.
Labor rights: Mosqueda said the first things she would do on city council would be to close the gender pay gap and push for affordable child care based on income—nobody pays more than 10 percent of their salary on child care—and a regional health care plan. (Grant also supports a municipal child care program.)
When asked a question about the complaint lodged against him when he was director of the Tenants Union, Grant said he learned and grew from it.
"I love the Tenants Union so much, and it's hard to know that you let someone down, but I did," Grant said. "I am going to try to be radically accountable to you. I am going to be radically accountable to my staff. I am going to be radically accountable to this community."
Post-election: Grant promised to remain "on the streets" demonstrating with community organizers if he doesn't get elected. Mosqueda said she currently has a day job and will continue to be part of labor and civil rights movements.
Advocacy for disability community: Mosqueda said she'd ensure employers aren't paying people less based on their abilities and that housing remains accessible, along transit lines and near jobs and parks.
Grant said he would make sure the civil rights codes are being enforced in housing through the Office of Civil Rights and criticized Mosqueda for showing up late to a disability rights candidate forum. "We need to be there for the disability community and standing in solidarity with them," he said. That backfired when Mosqueda clarified that she was late by one question because she was rallying against Betsy DeVos.
"Not only does she want to privatize education, she is making it harder for those who have disabilities to get the education we need," Mosqueda said among cheers and whistles.
Youth empowerment: Mosqueda said she would make sure that youth get seats at the table. Grant said he would offer internships in his office for youth to see the policymaking process and encourage leadership development.
Voting: In short responses, Grant said he'd vote for Cary Moon while Mosqueda didn't answer the question. (She said "a woman.")
Mayor's Race: Durkan Versus Moon
Housing and homelessness: Both candidates said they would create more tiny homes and more funding for addiction or mental health services. Durkan said one of the first changes she'd make is create 300-500 shelter beds in every district; Moon said she would address the root causes of homelessness, allow more sanctioned encampments, and stop the sweeps.
When asked how she justifies continuing sweeps, Durkan responded, "If they existed in any other country, we would be the first to condemn them"—eliciting loud boos from the audience. When Oliver tried to quiet the audience down, Durkan said, "People can use their lungs. It's America." And the booing got louder.
Increasing sanctuary city commitments: Both Durkan and Moon said they would make sure to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement out of sensitive locations (areas ICE already can't legally enter), ensure SPD isn't giving ICE any information, and continue the city's legal defense fund for those facing deportation. Moon said she would allocate more money to the fund and make culturally competent, community-based organizations the first line of defense for undocumented immigrants.
Police reform: Both Moon and Durkan said they would continue de-escalation training, de-militarize the police, have more people of color in the force, and make sure the Community Police Commission is fully funded. Moon said she wants anti-bias training citywide; Durkan said she would try to implement Initiative 940 (De-Escalate Washington) not just in the state but across the country.
The North Precinct: Both candidates said they oppose building a new North Precinct police station. "We need to have a different configuration and we need to redirect those funds," Durkan said. Moon said the county should pull back from the project and work with community organizers for a new plan.
Banking: Asked which bank they personally use, Moon said BECU; Durkan said Chase, which elicited boos from the audience. Moon favors a municipal bank and said she wants to work with state senator Bob Hasegawa to lead the effort.
Police chief: Asked whether they would keep Kathleen O'Toole as police chief, Moon said "if she is 100 percent down with full accountability." Durkan said "yes," if she'll hold the department accountable and is engaged with the community. (Durkan has been supportive of O'Toole since the beginning of her campaign and has said it would be a mistake not to rehire her.)
Post-election: If she loses in the election, Durkan said she would stay engaged and want to help create "a more just and equitable society" nationwide.
"You're not going to go back to your job as a corporate attorney?" Moon responded. Durkan rebutted that as a corporate attorney, she worked pro bono both for labor and to get the first court order against the travel ban at the Seatac Airport. Moon in turn said she would continue to try to get more affordable housing around the city (over shouts of, "You don't work!").
"Distrust" from communities of color: In a pointed question to both candidates, Oliver said many had a reason to distrust both candidates, who are wealthy white homeowners—Moon for not having a track record for working with marginalized communities, Durkan for using "paternalistic and white-savior tactics" that don't put affected communities in the center of decision making.
When asked how they plan to work with those communities and what the relationship will look like, Moon promised to have members of the Seattle Peoples Party in her transition team and in the mayor's office and to continue to use the Race and Social Justice Initiative for policymaking. "My commitment is to share power with you because all of our humanity depends on this," Moon said. "I will make sure that I am listening to you, I am available to you, I am ready to be held accountable by you, because unless we do this together, we are not going to make the transformative changes that we need."
"I think the best indicator of whether someone's going to show up is whether they ever showed up before," Durkan shot back, citing her experience fighting for LGBTQ rights and alternatives to incarceration with the first King County drug court. "You gotta show it on who you hire, you gotta show it on what your programs are, and you gotta keep going to rooms like this where just as many people boo you as clap for you, because that's accountability."