In a sort of spring training for the 2013 election run to become — or stay — Seattle’s mayor, eight candidates took the stage inside Garfield High Tuesday night for a forum on education. It seemed like mostly a warm-up.
“We need to catch these kids younger doing things right,” Council member and Garfield graduate Bruce Harrell said. With his campaign headquarters just down the street at 23rd and Union, Harrell was the most active candidate on the night and found plenty of opportunities to drop his “One Seattle” theme as he discussed worries about possible renewed threat of segregation with the shift to neighborhood schools and his hopes of bringing more private business involvement into the Seattle Public School system.
“We have to tap into the business corporate community,” Harrell said.
Harrell also found an opportunity to throw the only jab of the night, criticizing incumbent Mike McGinn for his excitement about a “green” program at Rainier Beach High when “our African American students are 8% proficient in math.”
In his defense, McGinn said he attended the Rainier Beach event at the behest of the community.
In addition to inspiring some of the few smatterings of applause from the audience and organizers from Community and Parents for Public Schools, Harrell’s effort also caught the attention of his fellow candidates.
“Let go, Bruce,” fellow Council member Tim Burgess quipped at one point when the stage mic became hopelessly tangled as he tried to lean to speak into it.
Burgess, for his part, was one of the only candidates to provide an example of an existing Seattle Schools program that is helping. He’s a fan of a West Seattle program to assign seniors to help 9th graders make the transition to high school.
These early forums are also a chance for State Senator Ed Murray to transition to city politics from his time in Olympia. He did so with a swipe at changes at the state level for Washington’s education system. “It’s a disgrace that we’re going to use public funds for what are private schools,” Murray said about the coming Initiative 1240 charter schools.
Longtime Central District activist and mayoral candidate Omari Tahir-Garrett also kept things interesting with attacks on the “apartheid” history of the United States mixed with street wisdom: “You learn according to how you pay attention” and “youth don’t drone people.”
Despite Garfield’s place at forefront of Seattle pushback on the MAP standardized testing program, none of the candidates made the issue a major talking point on the night.
Through it all, the eight had to chuckle as they attempted to answer questions about solving public education in 45 seconds or less. Others spent some of their time explaining that a Seattle mayor doesn’t really run the schools here.
Next up for the candidates is another forum with connections to Capitol Hill and the Central District as the politicians head to the North and Central Seattle Mayoral Candidates Forum in Wallingford Thursday night.