By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The good, the sad, and the ugly happened on the same day.
On May 9, Sen. Bob Hasegawa formally announced his bid for Seattle mayor in downtown Seattle, a few hours after Mayor Ed Murray, in West Seattle, said he is dropping out of the race.
If elected, Hasegawa, who was born and raised in Beacon Hill, would be the first Asian American mayor in the city’s 152-year history. (Seattle elected Black mayor Norm Rice in 1989.)
“It’s time,” said Sen. Maralyn Chase, who introduced Hasegawa at his press conference on the steps of Wells Fargo Center. “Seattle is an international city,” with strong ties to Asian countries. “Bob is organically connected to the city.”
Hasegawa, 64, has been a state senator for the 11th district since 2013, and was a state representative before that.
A progressive Democrat, Hasegawa was a delegate for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. A union leader, he learned the power of collective bargaining when he first worked for UPS as a truck driver. As a Japanese American with internee parents during World War II, Hasegawa fights for social justice, especially for people of color. He voted against tax breaks for Boeing in 2013 when it threatened to move its plant out of state.
In his agenda, Hasegawa envisions a state bank to improve finances for the state. He would also like to reform the Democratic Party, instead of creating a new party — a lesson he learned a long time ago from his union experience. When he’s unhappy with the union, someone said, “Why don’t you form a new one?”
Hasegawa said no. “We need to regain control of our system. We need to reform the system so it can work for us.”
However, the challenge Hasegawa faces is “a fundraising freeze,” he said. He cannot raise money during the legislative session for his campaign until it ends. It’s hard to say when the session will end. A mayoral campaign can cost as much as half a million dollars, depending on the number and strength of his opponents. How will Hasegawa beat the odds?
What interesting timing for Hasegawa and Murray to announce on the same day, within hours of each other. Was this pre-arranged?
Hasegawa said he had decided since April 22 to join the race. As a former McGinn supporter, Hasegawa did share his news with McGinn, who is also running for the mayoral seat. Did he talk to Murray also? He sent out press releases only the day before, on May 8.
“I didn’t talk to Murray,” said Hasegawa. Mike Fong, Murray’s chief of said there was nothing magical about the timing of the announcement. “The mayor made his decision on the weekend,” said Fong. “It’s something that he has been thinking about and it had nothing to do with Sen. Hasegawa. He took time to think about the next step, to give enough time for those who want to run for mayor.
People shouldn’t make the rampant assumption.” Fong explained that it took a bit of planning to make the mayor’s press conference happen and it’s not something they would have adjusted so as not to clash with Hasegawa’s original announcement plan. “It’s the most significant announcement the mayor has made. He’s an effective mayor in getting things done. It’s unfortunate (this happened).”
Meanwhile, Hasegawa learned about the unexpected press conference online, and instantly moved his meeting to 2 p.m. instead. “I am trying to be respectful … It’s a horrible thing he (Murray) is going through.”
Although Hasegawa had not communicated with the mayor, Murray was aware of Hasegawa’s intent to run through a third party last week, according to a source who had initially backed Murray, but is now switching his support to Hasegawa.
Several city leaders, including The Seattle Times, were pressuring Murray not to seek re-election or resign. Murray said he would serve out the remainder of his term through December.
Murray held a fundraising dinner with 300 Chinese community members last week at the China Harbor Restaurant. Now that he is not running for a second term, that group of supporters would likely go to Hasegawa. A source said Murray had been thinking about dropping out in the last two weeks.
I talked to some members of the Asian community, and none of them could flat out say that Murray didn’t commit sexual abuse of teenaged boys three decades ago. Most said they don’t know if he did it. And all agreed that he has done some good things for the Asian community.
Some felt bad for Murray’s husband, Mike Shiosaki, who keeps a low profile and was forced to put on a good face during the campaign.
Can Hasegawa win without money?
By law, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, a mayoral candidate, is not allowed to raise funds during the special legislative session. And it is hard to say when the session will end. The primary election is on Aug. 1, less than three months away.
The law is strict even with in-kind donations. After Hasegawa’s press conference, a man immediately asked if he could volunteer to create graphics for Hasegawa’s campaign materials. No, Hasegawa said. What about charging a low rate? Again, the answer was no. So, what’s the silver lining?
Hasegawa used Bernie Sanders as an inspiration — a grassroots campaign, or what he called “bottom-up.”
“The power of the people can defeat the power of money politically,” Hasegawa said. “We can prove that people can beat money in politics, and now is the time.”
“The Democratic Party doesn’t have leadership (after the last election),” he said. There’s a lot of people waiting and willing to do something to make a difference since Trump winning the presidency, he said. “The energy is bursting.”
His colleague, Chase, said Sanders had very little money when he first started his presidential campaign. Sanders relied only on small donations, but his donor base was big. Sanders’ supporters were passionate, mobilized quickly, showed up in large numbers for rallies, and voted.
Chase said there are 175,000 Sanders supporters in the city of Seattle. She has the list of names, which will come in handy to mobilize support for Hasegawa. Hasegawa wanted to make sure that people speak louder than money. “He’s principled,” said Chase. “He is loyal to the people, not Wall Street. He wants to make sure everybody gets economic opportunity, not just the wealthy.”
Hasegawa said he has to use his own money first to finance his campaign. When asked how much money he would put into his campaign, he said, “Whatever it takes.” Already, a team of people are planning on Hasegawa’s behalf to raise money.
Hasegawa also has another advantage — this is not a reelection year for a senate seat. If he loses in the mayoral race, he can still keep his seat in Olympia.
Community reaction towards Hasegawa’s run
“Supporting a progressive Asian American for mayor, with real governance experience, whose first priority is the wellbeing of people, for me is a no-brainer,” said Matt Chan, a community volunteer.
His wife Gei enthusiastically held a campaign sign for Hasegawa.
“I have faith that Bob will lead us in the right direction,” said Ali Lee, a community organizer. “Sen. Hasagawa is engaged in the community and not just an observer. He knows what it takes to create change.”
Troy Chen, a University of Washington student who attended Hasegawa’s event, said, “As a Chinese American, I support Bob who has dedicated his life to minorities and immigrants.” It’s good to see someone running the city with a progressive agenda and core values, Chen said.
“Everyone in our community should be excited about Bob’s campaign,” said Dan Shih, an attorney. “In the legislature, Senator Hasegawa has been a champion for working families, small businesses, and disenfranchised communities. But just as important, Bob is out there for our community. I don’t know how he juggles it all, but at community events large and small, Bob shows up and is there for us.”
“Voting to elect Seattle’s first Asian American mayor to me is an honor,” said Gei Chan. “Bob Hasegawa’s experience shows me he’s ready for the job.”
Disappointed that no Asian American woman is running for the seat, Dolores Sibonga, former Seattle City Councilmember, said, “What about (Rep.) Sharon Santos? Run, run, run.”
In the meantime, McGinn has not gained too much traction in the Asian community. Other possible Asian candidates include Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, who has been talking to potential supporters recently.
Assunta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.