The two West Seattle men running for King County Executive sparred a bit more in a Saturday night faceoff than in another local forum two nights earlier.
This livestreamed event – with incumbent County Executive Dow Constantine and State Senator Joe Nguyen side by side in the Live Oak Audio Visual studio, but the audience online – was presented by the West Seattle Chamber of Commerce, and moderated by its board president, restaurateur Dan Austin.
While the two didn’t exhibit major policy/platform differences – except for the very first question of the night – they swapped some words of criticism. Constantine observed that Nguyen is running for the executive job after three years in elected office, while he and some well-known predecessors had more than a decade of elected experience before moving up. Nguyen could do more good staying in the Legislature, he suggested. Nguyen, meantime, contended he was compelled to run for this because he heard from people who were frustrated about what was, and wasn’t, happening.
The video is above – with the forum starting 12 minutes in. If you’d rather read the details – below is our recap how the Q&A went, after opening statements. As usual with our coverage of events like this, what you see is mostly our paraphrasing/summarizing, not direct quotes unless it’s within quotation marks:
****QUESTION: Austin began with what he said would be the only yes/no question of the night – do you support defunding the police 50 percent?
NGUYEN: “First off, I think that’s a loaded question … generally yes.”
****QUESTION: What does public safety mean to you and what would you do to achieve it?
NGUYEN: Need to make investments that get us to true community safety. A recent Seattle Times article showed that more than 80 percent of police responses were for non-crimes. Public safety means investing in our community. It means a lot of different things to different people.
CONSTANTINE: “Defund the police” has been a popular slogan but it’s at best “a gross oversimplification of what needs to happen.” We need to bring “a broader approach” including behavioral health … Safety doesn’t just mean safety from criminals, but also feeling safe from agents of the state.
NGUYEN: One of my neighbors is an SPD officer and they would agree that we need investments in behavioral health.
****QUESTION: Our community has both a lot of support for and a lot of concern about restructuring law enforcement. Such as, that we are drawing down resources before replacing. What is the appropriate timeline to transfer resources from the King County Sheriff’s Office to a yet-to-be-named entity?
CONSTANTINE: The premise is not in line with what we are doing – “we’re not drawing down officers, we have a lot of vacancies. … The issue is narrowing the scope of things the police are required to respond to, we’ve gotten to the point in this country where an armed officer is responding to almost everything … Now is the time for redefining policing” and there’s a community working group working on that, with police officers, with members of “overpoliced communities,” others
NGUYEN: “It shouldn’t have taken George Floyd … for folks to understand this is a dire need in our communities.” The appropriate timeline? Right now is a great start “but it should have been 10, 20 years ago.” Need to invest to make sure things don’t happen in the first place. New sheriff needs a similar mindset about what should be done.
CONSTANTINE: We’ve been underfunding police for many years. Talks about an arrest he saw earlier in the day in The Triangle, a man who apparently was homeless and experiencing behavioral-health issues, had broken a business window … taking him to jail isn’t going to solve anything BUT the property owner deserves to be protected.
****QUESTION: Police are catch-all but we don’t have the other services up and running yet – how fast can that happen?
CONSTANTINE: “I do think it’s behavioral health, that’s critical … a lot of crime in business districts is related to that.” He mentions two response teams and two more planned to interact with people in such situations. “The gap, the missing piece, is robust behavioral-health service.”
NGUYEN: King County right now spends a lot of money on that and one of the largest providers is the jail. He wants to “mitigate these things up front.” Notes that the county only has two detox facilities. “We don’t have enough services to support” what’s needed. should open up more centers for crisis response.
****QUESTION: Regarding White Center – there are issues on both sides of the city limit line – WC has always been considered “gritty” and embraced that image but what’s been happening lately is not gritty, this is a new level of problems – what can you do to encourage peace, safety, and stability?
NGUYEN: WC is “near and dear to my heart because I am from there and my family had a small business on that street.” He spent time there the previous day with business owners. They need help. They have a list of demands regarding public safety and investment. There are some funds they can access. He agrees with some of the demands – funding a community safety person to patrol in the evenings – when KCSO only has two on patrol – also a request for $2 million rebuilding funds. It’s important to prevent displacement.
CONSTANTINE: Notes the fires were not related, “but they have this cumulative impact on the business community – we’re deeply engaged with the White Center business community – have already allotted almost $110,000 in aid after the fires and $1.3 million in COVID relief … we have been working for years to help the White Center community, including the Conservation Corps, increasing to 400 workers to clean up unincorporated KC.”
NGUYEN: The reason why he’s fighting for areas like WC is that these are persistent issues “and we have to address them.”
****QUESTION: Knowing the closed West Seattle Bridge is a city asset, what can King County do to support additional transit options?
CONSTANTINE: We increased frequency of Water Taxi crossings, will maintain summer schedule (through the winter), also increased bus service fropm COVID-reduced levels … We’re putting county funding into Seattle’s rebuild of the bridge. “King County is very focused on mobility … our efforts in starting up RapidRide H Line is going to continue to make us better.”
NGUYEN: Toured the bridge this past week. It’s on time and scheduled to reopen mid-2022. “One of the most efficient investments … connecting the transit options we have now … sidewalks, curb cuts … The county’s last sales-tax revenue for transit was a bit higher than expected” so we can continue to invest in multimodal efforts.
CONSTANTINE: We keep going back to Legislature to ask for better funding – “when we go to ask for help, often what we end up with is just the opposite, Sound Transit actually lost ground.”
****QUESTION: We’ve exceeded our growth targets in West Seattle, more density on the way … We at the Chamber believe ST3 (light rail) is the next big step in mobility … what would your role as KCE be to help get West Seattle light rail as fast as possible, and on a side note – is the SkyLink gondola proposal a possibility or a distraction?
NGUYEN: We’ve been engaged at state level to find funding and ways to get this done faster. Re: SkyLink, I do think it should be explored … in addition to light rail.
CONSTANTINE: Hopes everyone saw Northgate light-rail opening last weeend – “I made it my job to get ST3″ – worked for a decade to make it happen … got it on the ballot in 2016, and we’re now building it.” He’s asked for a SkyLink study and will bring a motion to the ST board but points out that without light rail to West Seattle, there’s no light rail to points southward.
NGUYEN: We have advocated for more funding at the Legislature.
****QUESTION: Homelessness – frustration continues to escalate – problem getting worse – mental health anhd drug issues on the street – hope you’re upset that this is the “new normal” – we’re doing the same things and expecting different results – what would your role be as KCE and what have you done over your career to address the problem and what would you have done differently?
CONSTANTINE: Put together the regional authority (that is now taking over the homelessness response). For the root causes like income equality and housing market … we re taking on new approaches including buying 1,600 new hotel rooms to move people into … more enhanced shelter … hiring 400 formerly homeless/unemployed people for cleanup … The key for many to get out of homelessness is behavioral-health help – we could really use funding help at the state Legislature with some of these things.
NGUYEN: There have been different names for different homelessness plans, but current leadership hasn’t delivered on these issues. Working as an advocate in this space, I notice it’s cheaper to keep someone from becoming homeless, than to get them housed once that’s happened.
CONSTANTINE: We have been preventing people from becoming homeless. First Best Starts for Kids ballot measure prevented 10,000 kids and their families from becoming homeless. The previous plans did not have the authority and accountability … the new regional effort does.
****QUESTION: Businesses hurt by shutdowns – are now on front lines of enforcement of COVD rules – does KC owe the businesses anything more than a thank you, and uhow can you support them?
NGUYEN: Finite resources all around but we know some industries were hit harder than others – hospitality, arts – need to invest, cut through red tape, and to say thank you for compliance …
CONSTANTINE: “We have put together eight special COVID budgets now” … millions in those areas, now being put out through Reqiuest for Proposals – “hundreds of restaurants petitioned us for a Vaccine Verification program … we have done that, and we have resources available to make that happen.”
NGUYEN: We need to be doing more.
Followup – what about tech support for vaccination verification? As a restaurant/bar owner, he knows people have fake vaccine cards – any databases oming to scan cards to catch fakes?
CONSTANTINE: It’s been a long conversation with the state – they have about 2/3 of the records – now standing up a state system to work toward a single technological solution.
NGUYEN: There is a portal available right now to upload your info.
(Austin says, we’ve seen the upload but aren’t getting the other end.)
****QUESTION: “We have lEarned with the bridge going down and T-5 getting ready to open, how important the port is … Can you tell us about your existing relationship with the port and how you’ll continue to support it? What can we do to support getting more product in?”
NGUYEN: We’re in close contact, allotting money for T-5 tp open, for shore power – specifically re: supply chain issue, working to be sure freight mobility is available.
CONSTANTINE: Port has same geography as county – we work closely on workforce and contracting, worked “to unify our small business rosters so you can sign up once and do business with” multiple entities. “Land transportation is the critical point here” – everything’s backed up, needs to be an east-west transportation investment, regionally – the state needs to step up and help.
NGUYEN: He “calls out” Constantine for repeatedly blaming the state.
CONSTANTINE: Yes, the state is in charge. In charge of all tax authority. “All the things my opponent wants to complain about, he could be having an effect on in the position he was just elected to.”
NGUYEN: Trying to work on what’s been wrong for decades. Running for this because the county level is “where the rubber meets the road.”
****QUESTION: For Nguyen specifically – if unsuccessful in this election, will you try to run for re-election to the Senate?
NGUYEN: I think politics is about people and not careers – it’s about what we can do for people – I never expected to run for state senate but felt … it was necessary. It was not my idea to jump into this but talking to folks who were frustrated, I felt compelled. If the community wants him to run again, he will.
CONSTANTINE: After two years is a pretty quick time to say you want a new job. He put in 12 years before running for county executive, as did predecessors Ron Sims, Gary Locke. “This is a big difficult job, it’s not something to be taken on lightly.”
NGUYEN: Just had a panel about the failures of various systems, all under the executive’s authority … maybe it doesn’t work for the people. I have the private sector experience, lived experience, public sector experience to get things done.’
****QUESTION: Why are you the person to elevate voices? What does representation mean to you?
CONSTANTINE: Representation matters. I’m proud that our district is represented by the first Vietnamese-American state senator, Proud to have been preceded by Ron Sims, but I don’t think my race disqualifies me … Judge him by what he’s done. “I’m proud of the work we’re doing transforming the criminal legal system, economic justice … This is real work we’re doing … upending hundreds of years of entrenched racism.”
NGUYEN: If you ask people of marginalized communities, they care less about the words, more about the actions. Communities of color saw “a huge disparity. … It’s not just talking about this change, but doing it. … I appreciate the now focus …”
CONSTANTINE: “The work we’re doing id region- and nation-leading … our team is among the best you’ll find anywhere …”
Then it was time for closing statements. Constantine described himself as a “person who is pragmatic and can get things done.” Nguyen said he’s running to work toward a “future … that is inclusive, rooted in action, tackling the root causes” of issues.
On Saturday night, the West Seattle Chamber followed the Nguyen-Constantine event with questions for, and answers from, Seattle Mayor candidate Bruce Harrell. It was explained that his opponent Lorena González wasn’t available. We watched the Harrell Q&A and will incorporate highlights into a separate story.
WHAT’S NEXT: King County Elections plans to mail ballots Wednesday – voting begins Thursday and ends at 8 pm November 2nd.