Debadutta Dash arrived in Seattle 14 years ago, five years after coming to the United States from India, and made a home here. He’s worked or volunteered in public service most of his life. Currently, he serves on economic and social service boards including Asian Counseling and Referral Services (ACRS) and the Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs.
This past May, the International Examiner awarded Dash with Entrepreneur of the Year at the 23rd Annual Community Voice Awards.
The International Examiner caught up with Dash to talk about his run for City Council, just as the primaries near on August 4.
International Examiner: Can you talk a bit about why you decided to run for council?
Dash: I have been living in the North Seattle district 5 for almost 14 years now. My daughter went to Olympic View Elementary School and now she’s going to the University of Washington. I am also at the same time involved with many community services in the area of human and social services and economic. After 14 years I’ve found I need to bring that advocacy into the policy making. There has been so many long standing issues in social justice and economic disparity that has not been happening in a long time and I want to bring that experience.
IE: In a previous interview with the IE, districting seemed to be an important part of your decision. Can you explain this a bit more?
Dash: That was the one of the deciding factors when in 2013 the voters of Seattle recommended that seven out of nine councils. They have been seeing their neighborhoods were not represented that’s why they choose to have the seven city council members be accountable to their own districts. I just want to be a part of it.
IE: What do you believe are the most pressing issues for Asian Americans? Why?
The biggest issue for the API community or any community is affordability. Most of us are working class people and affordability has gone beyond most of our reach. When I moved into Seattle in 2002—at that time when I compare it with right now—there’s a drastic change in affordability in the city.
Civic engagement. We are lucky to have a few community leaders but it is still not enough. We need to have it on a policy making level. We’ll keep on raising voices but I belong to the advocacy community and I’ve been doing promoting. But how many decisions have been taken on the city, county, or state level to listen to that advocacy. We have maybe thirty global cities but not a single one with India.
The cultural component is also important because the awareness level is so low we need to bring that to the forefront. The representation of API community in local government.
[Dash additionally spoke of housing as a “big issue, big in rental and big in homelessness” and economic development for small and medium businesses at “the policy making level of the city.”]
IE: Why do you believe API representation is so low in local politics?
Dash: Civic engagement is pretty low everywhere because of language and cultural awareness. We never speak up. When we promote our community we need to promote newer community. Everyday you find newer communities coming.
The API community is really diverse. When you look at ethnic diversity throughout the state, we have the greatest diversity. Even when you look at India, there are many different languages spoken. We have not been able to reach all API community in the state. We’ve been represented by a few communities like Japanese and Chinese, but very few of the other communities are being represented. We need to have active engagement through empowerment to have community outreach.
IE: How would you plan to include empowerment of minorities?
Dash: As a council member, I would never leave any stones unturned to go mingle with the community. As a council member, I would love to get investments into my district. I will go out and get the connections. If you look at district five, they need a lot of disparities. If you look at economic disparities, it’s not happening in all places. You can see the disparities in parts of the API community exactly the same way we have the disparities in the economic growth.
My first job as a council member is to bring businesses and restaurants with minority representation.
Additionally, the Seattle police department needs to be aware of our cultural diversity. It becomes my responsibility that we do the cultural components. On the precinct level, we need API police officers.
Before any action being taken [on my part], API interest is taken care of and so of other minorities too.
IE: Your stance on Seattle economy seems homegrown. Considering your background in international trade, why take the smaller focused approach? How is your background in international trade connecting to the small businesses?
Dash: I’m not looking at big business. They can take care of themselves. What needs the boost is the small and medium businesses. The small and medium businesses will not act on their own unless you help. We live in a global community because whatever we do today here is known all over the world. If something is being manufactured in India, it can easily be marketed here too.
India is a huge market—I’m giving an example of India. It’s not the only country. We can repeat these many undertakings with other countries, like the Philippines. India needs services in infrastructure, mining, and clean energy. We have something done here that can easily find a market over there. So if we can bring businesses from India to meet small and medium businesses here, then we can bring economic growth.
India is looking to invest here. I’ve seen from my experiences that [they are interested]. We need our US economy to invest in jobs and economy. It is free money. It is coming to us. It’s not necessarily Microsoft jobs, but it will be good paying jobs. We cannot keep ourselves confined to a village dock. We need to go beyond that.
Of all the candidates in District 5 I’m the only candidate born outside the US. I bring the global perspective to the council. I bring the outside perspective to the council.
IE: Seattle is facing increasing pressures of housing affordability. The Seattle Times obtained a recommendation from Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory the suggests getting rid of single-family housing zones. What is your take on this recommendation?
Dash: Seattle must go up vertically because horizontally is not possible because we don’t have the land mass here. You need to expand vertically and this happens in any major, huge city. People may be a little scared. “What is going to happen to city of Seattle?” But nobody can stop that change. It will become messier and messier if we don’t go vertically.
[Building] needs to be in a sensible way. Up zoning is a must, but that’s not a solution. Rent control alone will not be successful, but it will be necessary. It will be helpful if it’s measurable. I’m not saying that upzoning is the solution, but it’s part of the solution.
It’s like when Obamacare became a part of the city. People were afraid of it, but after it was implemented they realized how good it was. Every change—people don’t accept it, but they realize it’s for their own good.
IE: Transportation has become an issue with some single traffic incidents backing up cars around the city. You may remember beepocalypse a few months ago. New travel options haven’t necessarily improved these conditions. What makes your plan go a step further to improve transportation around the city?
Dash: People keep talking about it for the last 30 years, but nothing is being done but some taxes here and there. The cost of doing things have gone up immensely. What we need to do is, and what I’d do at council, we need to use our common sense to what mode of transportation is important.
As I’ve said, we need to invest in light rail. You need to see the whole city. We keep building things in downtown, but we don’t think of other neighborhoods. They say we don’t need that trouble, but we need to grow. We need to promote our neighborhoods, like Aurora and Lakewood. If we want to build more active, walkable neighborhoods then we need to focus on areas where that’s not been happening.
We need 10,000 new houses every year. Houses near the transit are increasing. It is happening and Seattle will have a light rail to 130th. I’d love to see the Light Rail up to Bothell. I’m envisioning a city connected to the suburbs with light rail. That would make our life a lot easier. If we have new houses built near the transit we don’t need a car to commute from one place to one place. If I’m given an opportunity to live near the transit center, I don’t have to drive the car.
It is a balancing act. When you have light rail, then you can reduce the metro bus services. In North Seattle there are 16 neighborhoods. And you can use those extra bus services to connect the neighborhoods so they can have the right connectivity.
This needs to be planned well in the next four years. I can definitely see the Light Rail making a huge impact on the traffic situation. If at the same time we can have affordable housing in the neighborhoods as well and businesses by investment, then we can use government money for other social services like homelessness. People can get the maximum .That’s the only way that each neighborhood and each community can get their fair share of economic growth.
IE: Why do you need common sense? Why make that a principle to run on?
Dash: We are very making compromises on common sense. When we’re talking about zoning, that’s the common sense. Investing money for our education, reducing class size, investing money in social programs: that is common sense.
The last 10 years, the City of Seattle and King County have worked together to get homelessness off the city streets. We still have 3,772 homeless. You know how much money we spent? 45 million dollars for temporary camping. That is not common sense. Wasting money on a temporary fix is not common sense.
Common sense needs to be in every aspect of life. In political decision, education decision, it needs to be everywhere. It’s simple. It’s a common language. Common sense means doing the simple way so that people can understand and we can get solutions.