Members of the API community gathered at the Nagomi Tea House on June 22 to get acquainted with Seattle’s mayoral candidates. The Mayoral Candidate Forum for the Asian Pacific Islander Community was moderated by community leader Maria Batayola.
Out of 21 mayoral candidates in the field, 10 attended the event, including James Norton, Gary Brose, Mike McGinn, Jessyn Farrell, Cary Moon, Tiniell Cato, Jenny Durkan, Bob Hasegawa, Larry Oberto, and Nikkita Oliver. Each candidate was given a minute to provide an opening statement. Following their introductions, Batayola proceeded to ask a series of six yes or no questions, to which candidates held up green cards for “yes” and red cards to indicate “no.”
Out of the six questions, only two resulted in a split. When candidates were asked: “To preserve the historic character of the Chinatown International District, should new construction be no taller than existing buildings?” Candidates Hasegawa, Brose, Norton, Oberto, and Cato agreed that new buildings should not be taller than existing buildings. Candidates Moon, McGinn, and Farrell thought building height should not be limited to existing heights. Candidate Durkan responded with a green sign (indicating “yes”), but had written “it’s complicated.”
The next questions, about housing and development, garnered a consensus amongst candidates. All candidates said they would impose impact fees on developers. They also all agreed that the Department of Neighborhoods has not effectively reached out to local communities and has failed to involve community members in decision-making processes.
During the second section of the forum, Batayola asked candidates two questions that bear heavily on the future of the CID. The first question invoked the killing of Charleena Lyles by Seattle Police and asked candidates how they would improve relationships between the SPD and communities like the CID.
Candidates responded with a variety of answers. “Police reform is not a destination,” said candidate Jenny Durkan. “It’s a process of self-improvement.” Candidate Mike McGinn called on SPD and City employees to understand the culture of the CID and act as a bridge between residents and law enforcement. Hasegawa remembered Donnie Chin and reinforced how important it is for police to support the community and its homegrown public safety efforts.
Throughout the forum, Batayola brought up questions pertaining to homelessness, affordable housing, gentrification, and development, all very hot-button issues for the neighborhood. All the candidates acknowledged the city is growing faster than residents can handle, and that communities are being pushed out. Oliver said, “We need to stop talking about gentrification as if it is not racialized,” and pointed out that the first gentrified neighborhoods, like the Central District, were originally inhabited by Black and Brown communities.
Oliver and other candidates said the community must be consulted before policies are put into place, and that decision-making should involve the neighborhood. Candidate Cary Moon said the City must work with neighborhoods under threat to talk about “growing with grace.”
Candidates agreed that developers should have to pay impact fees, and contribute to financing the challenges faced by the city from which such corporations and companies profit. Candidates also agreed that the recent rate of growth is unsustainable and doesn’t prioritize residents and communities, though their approaches to the issue varied. Several candidates, including Moon, Farrell, McGinn and Oliver—were in favor of public land trusts. Brose preferred to cut costs and reduce taxation. Hasegawa proposed a publicly owned municipal bank so that revenue will stay in Seattle, which he said would also help keep taxes low.
In their closing statements, candidates emphasized the need to cooperate and listen to clashing viewpoints in an especially divisive political climate. Candidates also acknowledged the rich fabric of the CID community, and the testament to the immigrant experience that is deeply embedded in the history of the neighborhood.
“This community already has a vision for itself. The City has imposed its own vision on this community,” said Oliver. She followed up, promising to collaborate with the community to make that vision a reality. Other candidates echoed a similar sentiment, committing themselves to working with communities like the CID on the challenges facing the city, rather than simply imposing policies and agendas from above.