When the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce‘s mayoral-candidates forum got going on Thursday night, only two of the original six RSVP’d candidates were on the stage at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center – Cary Moon and Mike McGinn. Three had canceled earlier – Jenny Durkan and Jessyn Farrell had doublebooked and were at campaign events, Nikkita Oliver told the Chamber a personal situation had come up. But a third joined in: Bob Hasegawa, a state senator who had been kept late with legislative duty, bounded onto the stage about 17 minutes into the forum.
Pete Spalding, who chairs the Chamber’s Government Affairs Committee, moderated. You can see the entire hour-and-a-half forum in our unedited video above; what we have written below are key points of the questions and answers, but by no means complete transcriptions.
The forum began with opening statements:
CARY MOON – She started by saying she would snark about the candidates who didn’t show up except that she had bailed on the Sustainable West Seattle forum @ Summer Fest last Saturday (as had Durkan). She said that she is running to do something about the city becoming a place of haves and have-nots. It’s time to make a plan, “discuss it, own it,” she said, to solve problems “with bold solutions,” such as housing affordability.
MIKE McGINN – He started by complimenting the organizers on making the countdown timer more visible than in any forum he’d been to previously. He said that when he took office as mayor in 2009, the economy was in bad shape, but now, while it’s in good shape, he wants to “hold the line on regressive taxes” that he says the current city government seems to see as the solution to everything.
1st question: With all the taxes, and an increasing city budget, how do people know the money is going for what they intended it to go? Moon promised transparency and metrics. “Without that, how can we have public trust?” McGinn talked about “line-item’ing (levies) out to the greatest extent possible” – what are the timelines, what’s been spent, “what’s been produced to date.”
2nd question: What will you do to help small businesses grow and prosper?
McGinn said, “The first thing you have to do is listen.” He said that a B&O tax break for smaller businesses would be good, and that it might be time to “slow down” on all the new regulations being put in place for businesses. Moon said the city isn’t doing a good-enough job to protect and nurture small businesses. She suggested rent stabilization would help businesses, and requiring new developments to have more small spaces for businesses, and that more technical assistance should be set up to help businesses navigate the system.
3rd question: Do you support the recently passed high-earner income tax, and the methodology that would be used to calculate who’s eligible? Moon did not directly answer the question, except to say she wanted a more progressive tax code and would be in favor of whatever could make that happen, so perhaps Seattle is the place for that to start. McGinn said yes, he supports an income tax, and if the methodology chosen makes it more legally defensible, then he supports that.
Then came a round of yes/no questions, asking them to hold up a green (yes) or red (no) card.
Is the $15 minimum wage working as anticipated? Both held up “yes.”
Do you feel as overtaxed as our small businesses do? Moon, yes; McGinn, no.
Will you reduce taxes and fees on small businesses? Both held up “yes.”
Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities. Is this a good thing? Both said yes AND no.
Do you support grass-roots neighborhood planning? Both held up “yes.”
Do you support HALA (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda) in its current form? Both said yes AND no. McGinn said he had “positives and negatives” including that it was too “top down” and that neighborhoods weren’t asked what investments they wanted to see; Moon said it’s a “good first step” to get developers to help pay for affordable housing, but there’s “so much more” that needs to be done and neighbors were not brought into it enough to figure out how to “make it work in neighborhoods.”
Spalding then asked: “What could be done to ease ingress and egress to the West Seattle peninsula?”
That’s when Hasegawa arrived and joined Moon and McGinn on the stage. McGinn said that planning the West Seattle light rail should start immediately, and that might even require some city money; improving bus connections would be important in the meantime. Moon said that too, saying there has to be a way to get more bus service for West Seattle – “people who work downtown would happily take the bus if they could find a seat.” She also said speeding up Sound Transit would be key. Growing jobs and housing “in balance” would help – not just keeping areas like ours as “bedroom communities.” Hasegawa said his plan is to create a publicly owned municipal bank, and its financing capacity could be used to speed up light rail to West Seattle and Ballard. He also said that bus overcrowding meant they weren’t reliable for the people who get passed up at later stops.
At that point, Hasegawa – who was late because of “legislative duties” – was given time for an opening statement. He said the city is changing and displacement is a real concern, and that people are generous and want to help, “but we keep going back to the same regressive tax wells we always go to” when alternatives like impact fees could be explored, so developers are giving back to the communities they’re affecting. Solving the housing-affordability crisis could be done by building more public housing, he said.
Next question: With the tunnel opening soon, how can the city’s waterfront remain a public asset? Hasegawa said he’s most concerned about the Port of Seattle and moving freight. McGinn said he’s concerned about connections to the waterfront and costs the city will have to pay. Moon said she’s proud of how the waterfront – which she’s been involved with for 12 years – will be a public space, connected back into downtown, and “the cost to the city is actually very small.”
Then: One example of what you would do to address the homelessness crisis differently. Moon said going “upstream” to the root of the problem is vital, whether it’s mental health or housing loss. McGinn said current systems are moving people out of homelessness but more are moving into it even faster, and he would accelerate the amount of shelter/housing that’s available. Hasegawa said finding ways to keep people from losing their homes is the first thing that needs to be done.
Yes/no questions followed:
Would you favor a tunnel for Sound Transit to get to The Junction? (Currently it’s expected to be elevated.) Moon and Hasegawa held up “yes” – “If we can afford it,” she said – while McGinn said “depends on the cost.”
Do you favor the plans for redeveloping KeyArena? Moon held up “yes” – “if we solve the transportation challenge” – while McGinn and Hasegawa held up “no.”
Do you support spending city dollars to bring an NBA/NHL franchise to Seattle? All three held up “no.” (That drew audience applause.)
Should the citizens’ police commission be given more power? All three held up “yes.”
Would foot patrols by SPD be an effective use of resources? All three held up “yes.”
Then, back to questions requiring longer answers. First, since the fireworks law is so widely disregarded and not enforced, should fireworks be legalized in the city, and the revenue used for enforcement? Moon said she’d rather enforce the rules we have now, by making it “a higher priority.” McGinn said “rules and public attitudes are the challenge,” saying that he’s not a fan but so many people “want to do it” and there’s “no real social negativity toward it,” so changing attitudes would be what’s called for rather than enforcement. Hasegawa said he sees it as a neighborhood-by-neighborhood issue “and let the people decide what they want in their own neighborhoods.”
Would your administration revitalize the Department of Neighborhoods to get involved with the neighborhoods again? (This was a reference to Mayor Murray cutting ties a year ago with neighborhood-district councils, among other things.) Hasegawa said yes – it’s a matter of “recapturing democracy.” McGinn said, “absolutely” and said he considered it “really disrespectful” regarding how this was handled, while he also said he understood how difficult it is to get diverse involvement, and it’s not just a Department of Neighborhoods thing, it’s for the mayor too. Moon said she agreed, and that the neighborhood-planning process of the 1990s was a national model, bringing people together toward “visioning a positive future for their neighborhood.” Solving the problems around diversity wouldn’t be so hard, she said.
Spalding’s final question before attendee Q&A: As Seattle changes, what essential Seattle-ness would you most like to preserve? Moon: “Our socioeconomic mix.” When she moved here in 1987, it was a city where people “lived together at all income levels in the city … and it feels like we’re losing that… It’s almost like it’s illegal to be poor in this town any more.” McGinn said he’d lived in Seattle almost that long, and always thought the city “was really open,” unlike places he lived back East, where he grew up. He also doesn’t want to see Seattle lose its idealism. Hasegawa said he hopes to see community brought back, rather than this being a city of individualism.
First to ask a question was West Seattle/South Park school-board member Leslie Harris (below left), making it clear she was speaking for herself, NOT for the board.
First – what did the candidates think about schools not being part of the HALA process, with the district having capacity issues? Second – what about the Seattle Preschool Program’s high administrative costs and special ed not being fully integrated with it? Third, how are you going to partner with schools?
Hasegawa said he doesn’t believe in HALA – that drew applause – so he wouldn’t answer that. He said he didn’t favor the Seattle Preschool Program plan, but rather the SEIU alternative that would have served many more kids. And finally, he thought education should be left to the professionals, not city politicians.
McGinn talked about the challenges of what the city could do regarding education funding – he mentioned the outreach for the Youth and Family Initiative. For partnership, the city could look into easing permitting. Regarding the preschool program, he said it felt “rushed out” and needed more work.
Moon said she agreed that HALA was deficient in school planning, and city planners need to be looking at issues like that and transportation, so planning is being done holistically. She said that like Hasegawa, she had preferred the other preschool proposal. Regarding partnering with schools – “wraparound services” are essential, especially viewed through an equity lens.
Next question – David Toledo talked about city support for the arts but not for helping youth learn how to translate the skills into careers. That funding was ended last year, he said, so would the candidates revive it, or something similar? McGinn, who launched it, said he would support reviving it, and would support skill centers in schools. Hasegawa said, “Supporting art is like supporting humanity,” and that artists should be supported, including via affordable housing. Moon said art education is essential, and that perhaps the tech industry could get involved in helping figure out how artists can have a career path.
Next question, from Jim Guenther, was about how the candidates would find and vet the leaders they would bring into city government. Hasegawa said he wouldn’t want “control freaks,” and that he’d put out an all-call. McGinn said he had “kept a fair number of people” when he took over in 2009, and that he’d first look for “the really talented people within the city.” Moon said she thinks the Seattle city employees “are a national treasure” and she thinks many would stay but “some are on their way out already.”
Then, Ted Barker said that the housing-affordability crisis is urgent, so how can we keep people from having to leave the city in order to avoid becoming homeless? Moon said “emergency rent stabilization” could help, though she doesn’t know how to make it work. She also wants to find a way to block speculation that is forcing values/prices up “because that’s part of the rapid escalation.” McGinn said he thinks part of the solution is public housing if money is used to buy existing properties and manage them that way. He also thinks it should be easier for people who own housing now to rent it out. “The public’s gotta be part of the answer.” Hasegawa said he would support purchasing existing vacant homes to make them available, and land trusts, and reiterated that finding ways to keep people in their existing housing is vital as well as finding shelter for those who need it.
Steven from Beacon Hill asked about safe-injection sites and how the city can help at-risk youth find employment. Hasegawa said he supports safe-injection sites. On the second question, he said hope and opportunity are vital for youth. McGinn also supports safe-injection sites. Regarding youth, he said the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative is being dismantled, and that violence is going up, and it’s “an emergency right now.” First action – acknowledge it’s an emergency. Moon said yes to safe-injection sites as well as money for treatment services. The economy is creating despair and local-hiring programs plus free community college and other programs can counter that, she said, especially if pathways are created for local youth to access the prosperity that’s being created.
Katie Bucy said she’s a landlord and it feels like the city is waging a war against landlords. She asked how that could be stopped and how landlords could be worked with collaboratively? Moon said she agrees that there’s been too much “blanket condemnation of landlords.” She said the biggest issue is to keep as much property in local ownership as possible, to “make that system continue to work.” McGinn said he agreed that “more locally owned small rentals in the city” would help. He also referred to the empty bedrooms in the city, and suggested talking to small local landlords about how their risks are different from those of big landlords. Hasegawa told a story about investors buying a huge number of homes and “driving the prices up.”
Next questioner wondered about balancing citywide policies and initiatives while neighborhoods not wanting what they result in – more housing, for example. Moon said, “It starts with how you frame the question” – and aligning goals such as, being an inclusive city, etc. – and that could reframe the conversation away from people “coming to the table to protect self-interest.” McGinn said that working with neighborhoods doesn’t necessarily mean they get the last word or veto power, because sometimes there’s a regional interest “and that has to be balanced.” He also acknowledged that neighborhoods can get territorial and distrustful when things are being forced on them “top down.” Hasegawa said he wants to implement participatory budgeting so that neighborhoods can get involved, with responsibility and privilege, in a “bottom-up empowerment process.”
Next was Barbara, who asked, “would you put the reins on HALA?” Hasegawa: “Yes, I would.” He sees it as “a giveaway to developers.” McGinn: “My biggest critique is that it was from the top down … we have to figure out how to build affordable housing but have to go out and listen to people, have a dialogue with them.” Moon: “The process by which it was designed and rolled out was a massive failure … we needed to have a citywide conversation about how to accommodate growth … if you invite people to the table with a vision and ask, how do we do this together,” you get solutions.
Final audience question, from Natasha Savage: Homelessness is going up, while spending is too. What are you going to do with what’s become a de facto Department of Homelessness? Moon: We have 120 different service providers and silo’d money that they get, and probably a lot of inefficiency and duplication of effort. She also called for expansion of shelter and encampment space. McGinn said a “data-driven approach” could help ensure the money is being spent well. Also, it’s important to examine how much of the money is going to direct services. Hasegawa said the city does a great job of making things sound warm and fuzzy but, as McGinn said, where’s the money going? “We’ve got to comb the budgets.”
Each candidate got two minutes for a closing statement – they are best taken as a whole, so you can go to 1 hour, 27 minutes into our video to see and hear them, starting with Hasegawa, followed by McGinn, and Moon.
WHAT’S NEXT: You have until August 1st to vote – get your ballot postmarked by that date if you are sending it via postal mail, or, if you’re using a dropbox (here’s the list – West Seattle has one outside High Point Library, 35th and Raymond), by 8 pm election night.
One more election forum is planned in West Seattle before then: Next Tuesday, July 25th, the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council presents a forum with those running for City Council at-large Positions 8 and 9. These are the candidates who have RSVP’d, according to DNDC chair Mat McBride:
The forum is at 7 pm at Highland Park Improvement Club (1116 SW Holden).