In a Sunday afternoon forum and an early test of their platforms as they speed toward an August primary, four candidates for the Seattle City Council’s District 3 seat — including current council member Kshama Sawant who called for a “a Green New Deal for ordinary working people” — answered questions from some of their youngest constituents on a range of issues from homelessness to small business development.
The event, led by the King County Young Democrats, hosted forums for five of this year’s Council races. The other three D3 candidates were urbanist Logan Bowers, Seattle School Board Director Zachary DeWolf, and public defender Ami Nguyen, while neighborhood activist Pat Murakami and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce head Egan Orion were not invited to participate due to time constraints.
UPDATE 4/29/2018 9:05 AM: KCYD chair Derek Richards offered this explanation for the invitation decisions:
There are about 57 candidates whom have declared for Seattle City Council, it is literally impossible to have a forum to include all of them and not have the meeting be a 12 hour marathon. With the candidates we had it still took 3.5 hours. It sounds like you are more interested in many of the other great organizations and neighborhood councils that will be hosting district specific candidate forums in the months leading up to the primary vote where you will be able to hear all of their opinions and I would encourage you to attend those.
UPDATE x2: Richards provided some more context on the decision around D3 in a message to CHS:
Since we were fitting 5 different districts in our meeting we had decided 3 candidates per district to keep the forum around 3 hours. For district 3 we did number of individual contributors, which gave us Councilmember Sawant, Logan Bowers and Ami Nguyen. Then the day we were going to send invites Zach DeWolf announced and had 2 city council endorsements and all the school board endorsements so we made an exception for D3 to have 4 candidates. However all candidates are welcome to speak at our endorsements meeting on Sunday May 19th at the WSLC between 5 and 7.
No matter the question, Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative political organization, pivoted to affordable housing concerns and her push for rent control. She repeatedly decried the council for its handling of the head tax and its overall lack of political courage. Answering a question on waste management, the council member called for a large-scale climate overhaul led by Seattle.
“The bottom line that we need, in terms of a Green New Deal for ordinary working people, is a massive public works program to expand transit and affordable housing and, primarily, what we need is social housing,” Sawant said, calling for a tax on big business to fund this publicly-funded and -owned housing proposal.
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DeWolf, on the other hand, said he is interested in banning single-use plastics and having a conversation on food-waste concerns. Bowers insisted that zero carbon pollution in a decade and moving people closer to their jobs are paramount to this issue.
Nguyen, who is pregnant with a baby girl on the way, often used personal stories from her own upbringing as the daughter of refugees.
“Growing up, I translated subsidy housing forms and also food stamps for my parents along with their medical visits,” said Nguyen, noting she grew up in a segregated neighborhood in which she didn’t feel represented. “And I had to make sure that it was right because if I didn’t translate right that means us losing our housing or them not getting the services they needed.”
Important issues for her include lowering the cost of living and student loan debt, especially for women and people of color. The struggle of being a small business owner, especially increased rents, were one of the first topics to come up during the forum and Nguyen said that property ownership has been restricted due to “systematic sexism and also racism.” She wants the city to make it easier for people to own the property where their businesses lie.
Bowers, a small business owner, also pointed out a focus of his early on: staggering housing costs.
“Over my adult life, Seattle has gone from having high housing prices to having a housing crisis; we’ve gone from housing insecurity to a homelessness crisis,” he said. “This is not acceptable. It’s also not a surprise, we’ve seen this coming for over a decade and yet the council continues to reinforce 1950s-era zoning.”
Bowers called out the council and incumbent Sawant for their inaction on homelessness, saying it has been “irresponsible.”
DeWolf, who works to coordinate the region’s homelessness response as a staff member at All Home King County, made an implicit jab at Sawant, who has been criticized as being too focused on issues outside the district, as the candidates were asked about how they would ensure they would be accountable to the public. He said he would be in Olympia any chance he got to push for issues important to Seattleites, including rent control.
“Instead what we get is press conferences and soundbites every election cycle and it makes us feel like we’re finally being heard,” DeWolf said. “So here’s the thing, I’m just asking for your vote to show up and get things done.”
“I want to show you that your government can work for you. I want to show you that you deserve a council member who will listen to people and work with people no matter their differences on the issues that matter because these issues are too important, people are too important.”
That being said, DeWolf, already endorsed by two sitting council members in Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González, noted earlier in the event that he is more focused on fighting homelessness, rising housing costs, and a regressive tax system, than running against “whoever is in office.”
He said he has heard from Black seniors that need property tax relief to stunt displacement that has run rampant in the Central District.
Talking about small businesses, Sawant pushed for commercial rent control along with residential rent control, a push she is leading on the council after a 2015 resolution urged the state legislature to lift the ban on the practice.
The King County Young Democrats will hold their endorsement meeting in May.
You can view all CHS Election 2019 coverage here.
Orion’s campaign is holding a happy hour Monday night at Poco on E Pine.