Four of the six District 3 candidates offered one of the funniest and, at times, consensus-filled forums of the lengthy primary season on Friday night at the Mount Baker Community Club, representing a neighborhood area that straddles D3’s south and D2.
Incumbent Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant dropped out of the event at the last minute due to illness and Seattle Public Schools Board member Zachary DeWolf could not take part due to a prior engagement.
The event provided the four remaining candidates with a large audience — one of the biggest of the forum season — to make their case before the top-two August 6 primary. While the election is just days away, many voters have yet to return the ballots. As of Friday afternoon, 13,187 ballots have been returned out of nearly 73,000 registered voters. In the 2015 Seattle City Council Primary, District 3 hit 36% turnout.
Meanwhile, early returns illustrate ongoing trends: older voters are much more likely to actually vote:
Seattle voter ballot return rates by age group as of Aug 1st pic.twitter.com/Ompxzf0T5i
— Seattle Voters Voice (@SeattleVoters) August 3, 2019
The candidates were quick to call out what they see as dysfunction on the current council, specifically criticizing Sawant at various times throughout the forum.
“They are not doing, and Kshama Sawant, our incumbent, especially, basic management duties of their job,” pot entrepreneur Logan Bowers said in his opening statement. Both Broadway Business Improvement Area head Egan Orion and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami directly disparaged the incumbent in their first remarks, as well.
At the end of the night when the moderator was set to read a written statement from Sawant, which touted her achievements in her tenure on the council including the $15 minimum wage and her fight to “Save Saba”, an embattled Ethiopian restaurant in the district, his moderating partner noted he would be cutoff from reading the remarks after one minute.
“Read slowly,” public defender Ami Nguyen said jokingly to the biggest laughter of the night.
None of the candidates were willing to voice support for safe consumption sites, with Nguyen, who said treatment was more important, and Murakami opposed and Bowers and Orion not quite willing to stand on either side.
“We have to focus on treatment on demand for mental health and addiction because addiction can both be the cause of and result from homelessness,” Orion, describing himself as a “maybe” that wants to drive policy based on facts.
Both Sawant and DeWolf told the Seattle Times they think the city would benefit from such a site.
All of the candidates in attendance stressed the need to more adequately fund public schools in south Seattle.
“Having been raised in a segregated community, I mean, public education is a very personal conflict for me,” Nguyen said. “In addition to that, I don’t know if you heard, but I just had a daughter and I’m very excited but at the same time I’m very concerned because I’m thinking about, well, what kind of environment, what kind of community do I want her and her friends to grow up in.”
As CHS previously reported, Nguyen gave birth last month to her daughter Caitlyn.
Each of the candidates said they want to shift the city’s regressive tax structure, but in varying ways. Bowers said he would like a progressive capital gains tax like the one that failed at the state level this year. Orion, who is endorsed by the business-friendly Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, stated his support for a millionaire tax and Murakami noted her opposition to a city income tax in favor of a state one that would require a change to Washington’s constitution.
“I want a graduated tax with no income tax on low-income people, but, and this is the caveat, it has to be combined with a reduction in sales and property taxes,” Murakami said. She added: “We’d all be better off.”
Bowers argued that changing the state’s constitution in this regard “is not going to happen anytime soon.”
The debate on the city’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages got a bit sticky. Bowers said he supports it, while Orion said he was in favor when it was passed in 2017 but takes issue with the way Mayor Jenny Durkan used the excess revenue gained from the duty.
The council last month passed a measure to guarantee all money from the tax goes to programs that target the low-income Seattleites most affected by it.
Nguyen and Murakami were in stark opposition to the tax.
“Starbucks frappuccino, very healthy, right, compared to soda,” Nguyen asked jokingly, taking issue with the fact that the tax does not affect other sugary beverages. “I don’t know, but it’s delicious.”
One of the more unique proposals of the evening came on the question of the ongoing climate crisis. Murakami, who previously floated the idea to repurpose a cruise ship as a hub for beds and other amenities for a treatment facility, called for “meatless Mondays.”
“Meat production, the production of meat products, impacts the environment more than almost [all] of transportation locally,” Murakami said. “Just that one change can have a huge impact.”
According to a 2006 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the livestock industry “generates more greenhouse gas emissions as measured in CO2 equivalent – 18 percent – than transport.”
In one of the funnier moments of the night, the four participating candidates were asked to decide who among them they would vote for other than themselves. The candidates were hesitant at first, but Murakami was the first to stand up and say she would vote for Nguyen despite her not being originally from Seattle. Nguyen was not willing to reciprocate.
“Is it OK if I don’t choose you, Pat,” asked Nguyen, met with laughter. She would later choose Bowers, noting his focus on housing.
Orion, who, like Murakami, also noted Nguyen’s relative newness to the city, and Bowers said they would have supported the public defender and former tenants rights’ attorney if they weren’t in the race.
The final weeks of the District 3 race — the city’s most expensive battle — have been marked by aggressive voter outreach efforts and bursts of criticism over incumbent Sawant’s use of her office to support headline-grabbing events heading into the August 6th primary vote.
Meanwhile, 2019’s Primary race might go down as the year “Photoshopping” became a key campaign issue. Flyers, mailers, and posters from races across the city — including D3 — have been called out for deceptive use of stock photo imagery and questionable “facts.”
Here's Moms for Seattle's poorly Photoshopped mailer. I live in D3, so I got the one for Pat Murakami, but the fake playground appears to be generic to every district. Hey, if you have to fabricate a scene to illustrate your point that Seattle Is Dying™, maybe it isn't? pic.twitter.com/R66alF4hps
— Erica C. Barnett (@ericacbarnett) July 30, 2019
Still undecided? Here’s a reason to vote — or not — for each District 3 candidate. Made up your mind? Take the CHS D3 Primary Poll:
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