By James Tabafunda
Northwest Asian Weekly
The cheers and jeers at the Mayoral Candidate Forum were just some of the many sounds that could be heard at the pre-election, public event at the Nagomi Tea House.
Ten candidates for the chief executive’s job in Seattle attended a forum on June 22 specifically for the city’s Asian American voters. Many of the most familiar and prominent community organizations co-hosted the event with API Candidates and Issues Forum – King County.
Cue cards with time countdowns forced all of the candidates to give only brief but relevant answers in their allotted time limits. A familiar sound appeared several times during the event for violators.
Owner of Jump Start and moderator Maria Batayola said, “We hope that we don’t have to use the train whistle to stop you because talking beyond your time is considered rude.”
Along with each candidate’s answers, Cantonese and Vietnamese interpreters — furnished by Asian Counseling and Referral Service and Friends of Little Saigon, respectively — could also be heard.
“For the next hour, we will learn about the candidates running for mayor as to who can best lead our Asian Pacific Islander community,” Batayola said.
“We invited 21 mayoral candidates to participate, and 10 of them completed the questionnaire and responded on time.”
Nikkita Oliver, James Norton, Gary Brose, Mike McGinn, Jessyn Farrell, Cary Moon, Tiniell Cato, Jenny Durkan, Bob Hasegawa, and Larry Oberto took the opportunity to speak about five subject areas in an effort to gain voter support. Their questionnaire answers are posted on the API Candidate Forum’s Facebook page and in last week’s issue of the Northwest Asian Weekly.
Batayola spoke clearly and slowly, encouraging each candidate to do the same. “Our goal is to ask questions that are important to us. We’ll give the candidates equal time,” she said.
The first question: Please tell us about yourself. Why are you the best person for our Asian Pacific Islander community?
“I always love coming to the International District. I see many friends in the audience,” Durkan said. “You see homelessness and the affordability crisis. I’d like to fix it. Thank you.”
Three rounds of questions then followed, including six yes or no questions, two “very special” questions, and three “one-word” questions.
One “very special” question concerned the murder of Donnie Chin. How would you improve police services and the relationship between the Seattle Police Department and our community?
Seattle Police Officer Norton said there is a lack of understanding. “Before I became a police officer, I was not a fan of the police,” he said. “And so, I decided I wanted to become a part of the change and make our system better, our police department better.”
Hasegawa said, “We need to move policing from a militaristic force that it is now, to a more community-based effort.”
Batayola asked the first of three questions, limiting each candidate to a one-word or one-phrase answer. She said, “Name one program you would implement to make housing affordable to renters and first-time homebuyers.”
Cato said, “I’m about equal opportunity policy.”
“My proposed solution is community land trust,” said Moon. Farrell agreed and added, “I think the benefit is that allows people to actually get ownership interest in our city.”
Brose recommended “very selective” upzoning to create more affordable housing.
Oliver said, “My answer is public housing and a public land trust. I say public because the city has over 300 properties that we could leverage to start building publicly-owned housing now, but also have land trusts.”
Regarding a new revenue source for the city, McGinn said, “I support an income tax, but I also know right now, we can tax big corporations, raise the rate on them, exempt lower, smaller businesses.”
Oberto began a dialogue with the audience by asking them questions. He then said, “No new taxes unless I can clearly show you where all department business money goes and you feel comfortable getting the goods and services you’re already paying for.”
Each candidate then gave a one-minute closing statement.
Rick Polintan assessed the candidates’ performances. He said, “You could tell that some of them really understand our community and some don’t, which is very concerning that up to now, some of them don’t know who we are.”
Bea Kiyohara told the Northwest Asian Weekly, “I know who I am not voting for.”
Barbara Gangwer also said after the event, “I have never been more proud to see and hear a group of people — the candidates yes, but more so our community. From the planning to executing the event, I heard and saw our values, identity, and vision in action.”
“We didn’t agree on a candidate, but I believe we can agree that we were heard by the mayoral candidates.”
For more information about the Mayoral Candidate Forum, go to facebook.com/APIcandidatesforum.
James can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.