By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A supposedly smooth re-election for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray suddenly turns into a nightmare.
First, The Seattle Times published a lengthy story of sexual abuse allegations against Murray on April 9. Four days later, the Times published an editorial, telling him not to run for re-election, thus opening the gate to other viable candidates. The message also encouraged former mayor Mike McGinn to run. That’s Murray’s latest blow — his opponent, McGinn, announced on April 17 that he is going to challenge Murray.
A predictable election for the Seattle mayoral race has now become more interesting. In 2013, McGinn had some of the most powerful Asian American leaders supporting him, with the help of the late Washington state legislator Kip Tokuda, who lobbied many including Ruth Woo and Tomio Moriguchi to be in McGinn’s camp.
Now, Bob Santos, Woo, and Tokuda are gone. What do those past McGinn supporters say about the race now?
What about Murray’s Asian supporters, such as Martha Choe, Eric Liu, and Joan Yoshitomi? Are they still on board?
Surprisingly, this race gives the Asian community motivation to get involved and vote. What strategy should the Asian community play to maximize gains in this election? Well, “Seek, and you will find!”
“I don’t need to think twice about supporting Mike,” said Debadutta Dash. “Mike was open and most accessible to the community. He showed up at smaller communities’ events, such as Nepalese and other ethnic groups.”
McGinn was also the first one to support Dash after he announced his run for the Seattle City Council (two years ago). Deborah Juarez won that seat.
Dash said Murray has not been able to do a good job on the homeless issue, he increases taxes a lot, but not a whole lot has been done in the city.
Those on Murray’s side argued that he has done a good job as mayor. Martha Choe, former Seattle City Council member, said, “Mayor Murray has been an extraordinary mayor during the past three years. He was able to bring all sides together for the nation’s first minimum wage law for any city and provided outstanding leadership with investments in early childhood education, parks and open space, and transportation. He has tackled homelessness and established a lens of race and social equity for all City programs and initiatives.”
Murray once served as Choe’s council aide.
Another supporter, Joan Yoshitomi echoed her support for Murray. “He has made good appointments — a diverse cabinet, including Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole. He has been responsive to the [city’s needs]. He has made mistakes … some programs didn’t turn out right.” But it’s not that bad, she added.
Murray has also appointed Asian Americans, including Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim and Chief of Staff Mike Fong.
McGinn had also appointed Phil Fujii to be deputy mayor, but within a few months Fujii resigned. Sources said McGinn would say he would take the advice of his staff, then later do something else without consulting them or informing them that he changed his mind.
Uwajimaya Chairman Tomio Moriguchi, a former McGinn supporter, is changing his position. “I want to stay neutral as possible. Murray was my neighbor.” He wanted to see what platform or messages each candidate is presenting. “Both are good people, but I don’t agree with them. They are too liberal.”
One issue Moriguchi has been dissatisfied with is that both Murray and McGinn spent too much time on trying to get Seattle an NBA basketball team, and whether the city should pick KeyArena or Sodo to house the team.
Moriguchi said there are more important issues which need attention, such as schools and roads, which need to be fixed.
Some former McGinn fans are now Murray backers. The race has put them in uneasy situations. They did not want to comment on the candidates.
Similarities between the candidates
Both Murray and McGinn have cultivated close ties with communities of color. As liberals, both have track records in civil rights. Both spouses are of Asian descent. Murray’s husband is Michael Shiosaki and McGinn’s wife, Peggy Lynch, is of Japanese descent.
Then and now
The community was split between the two candidates in the last race, and some pro-McGinn leaders had heated exchanges with the pro-Murray camp.
Murray was quick to attack McGinn with a news release during McGinn’s press conference. “Mike McGinn’s divisive and confrontational style led to years of paralysis, dysfunction, and infighting at City Hall.”
McGinn admitted that he was abrasive in one of the mayoral debates with Murray in 2013. “I’d rather get things done” than “to get along with people.”
This time, McGinn was quoted in the Times that “…I’ve mellowed.” Has he? McGinn would point fingers at the City Council when things went wrong. But Murray has taken responsibility for his mistakes on different occasions during the past three years. Being mellow is not enough, McGinn needs to listen more, including to people with whom he disagrees.
The role of the Asian community
In 2013, to please several nonprofit Asian organizations, McGinn’s city departments gave them more funding. This year, Murray’s administration has also been generous to Chinatown-International District organizations. Murray has showed up in many community events since January. And he often stays until the end of the event. The past two years, his presence was rare at community events.
Don’t just give your support freely to either McGinn or Murray. Other candidates to consider are Nikkita Oliver and Cary Moon. The chips are now in your hands — play them well.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.