By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Last Tuesday’s election reflected division between young and old, businesses and workers, progressives and moderates. The results were dramatic, showing the moderates’ winning and progressives’ miscalculation.
Polls revealed the three business-backed candidates would win: Bruce Harrell for mayor, Ann Davison for city attorney, and Sara Nelson for City Council. But no one predicted that Harrell would win as big as 59%. Few could ever imagine that both Davision and Nelson would win, and with a substantial lead, as their opponents had made a lot of noise.
The candidates ran on the issues of public safety, against police defunding, and much less on ideology even though Democrats had accused Davison of being a Republican, switching from a Democrat. Despite the national trend that many voters switched to vote Republican in the last election, it’s probably less true with Asian American voters.
Without naming Harrell’s opponent, Lorena Gonzalez, Tomio Moriguchi, former Uwajimaya chairman, who supported Harrell, said, “The other side is crazy,” talking about “defunding the police and encouraging lawlessness to ruin the city.”
Ling Chinn, a Chinatown property owner, is quick to point out that there is one more victory in Seattle’s election in addition to the triple gains.
“We got rid of that woman (Gonzalez). She always stirs up trouble. Businesses are not the enemies.” Giving up her City Council seat to run for mayor, Gonzalez said she represents workers. Her campaign was bankrolled by unions. With close to $1 million dollars to buy vicious attack advertisements towards Harrell and backtracking her views on defunding police, Gonzalez’s poor performance exposed her weakness as a candidate. She lumped sexual abuse and other issues together to confuse voters on the real challenges Seattle is facing. Her method angered businesses and the community at large. It also exposed the unions’ miscalculation on the strength and choice of their candidate, and the strategies to win.
The progressives miscalculated on several fronts. First, the majority of the voters weren’t fooled by misleading and racist advertisements towards Harrell. Those ads backfired as “racist,” forcing Gonzalez to pull the ads. She underestimated the intelligence of voters who were more concerned with solutions to turn the city around, convinced that leadership matters, and that divisive politics has no place.
Gonzalez’s divisive style is to turn workers against the business community, especially big businesses. She has repeatedly said she would tax Amazon. Businesses provide jobs and income for the community, Chinn said.
“Imagine Chinatown without businesses, we would have no jobs, no money, we won’t be able to thrive.”
In contrast to Gonzalez’s approach towards Amazon, Harrell aims to work together for solutions. In meetings with the Asian community members, Harrell said, Amazon has made billions of dollars in the City, and it has a responsibility to contribute to the City’s well-being, implying that he won’t let Amazon off the hook for not doing its share. He would give them a chance first, rather than using direct attacks and insults like many City Council members. It reminds me of a Chinese saying, “Be a gentleman first, then be villain,” if it fails.
Harrell supporter, Tony Au, an entrepreneur, along with other Chinese Americans, organized more than eight fundraising events for eight different candidates, from Bellevue to Seattle, Renton to Burien, who are moderates and most importantly, not anti-police.
“I have learned to support candidates with the right policies. Being in the political process helps the community to fight for their rights and have a voice. All the political involvement creates an opportunity to unify the Chinese community whether they came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, or China. Then connecting the entire AAPI community, our family, we work together to choose the right leaders for the city. Democracy means our right to choose.”
Rosa Melendez, a retiree who is overjoyed, relieved, and excited for the citizens of Seattle, had voted “for the principles and justices which Harrell stands for. I know he wants to increase law enforcement and social services to complement each other.”
Melendez also voted for Davison and Nelson.
“Being a Latina doesn’t mean I have to vote for another Latina (Gonzalez). I vote for the principles that are right for society.”
In a South Seattle neighborhood meeting, Chinn said she could relate to Harrell’s comment that not all City Council members represent the city. Seven out of 9 council members represent a particular district with only two members for the city at large. Each of these seven members should pay attention to their own district’s needs and interests.
A case in point is Councilmember Kshama Sawant of District 3. Her constituents complain that she has been unresponsive to her district. People would call her about problems, and she would never return phone calls.
Why progressives won’t support Harrell
A progressive organization, Asian Pacific American Coalition for Equality (APACE), endorsed Gonzalez. Rick Polintan, a board member, who was on the endorsement committee, said the question about Harrell’s role in defending former mayor Ed Murray, who was accused of sexual abuse while he was Council President, didn’t sit well. APACE endorsed Gonzalez, who was the first Council member to call for Murray’s resignation.
Stephen King, who chaired the diverse Democrats’ 37th district, said it endorsed no one even though Harrell lives in the neighborhood. Contrary to the belief that progressives tend to be younger, King said most of his district’s members are in their 50s. But Gonzalez was only one vote shy of an endorsement.
King said he voted for Gonzalez because when the mayor and the council are in line, they work together to get things done. But if the mayor is at odds with the council, it would be the same as before, four more years of fighting each other.
There was more to these legislative districts. One older voter, who didn’t want to be named, said he wasn’t happy with the people running the endorsement process.
“They took control of everything.” So he left. He figured his revenge would be voting against young people’s choices.
In the past, the older Asian leaders, being inclusive, often encouraged and mentored young people to participate in politics. Instead of working with different segments of the population, the young folks thought they were ahead of the game by excluding those who disagreed with them.
When Harrell met with disenfranchised voters, he said, “Let’s take back our city with your help.” Many Asian Americans resonated with his sentiments. They felt the city was under siege by one-sided activists.
Shiao-Yen Wu, another business owner, supported all three moderate candidates for the Seattle races by donating money to their campaign and organizing fundraising events for them. She and her friends advertised in the Seattle Chinese Post to promote these candidates to educate Chinese immigrant voters. She then emailed the advertisement to her circle of 2,000 people. Enraged by Nicole Thomas-Kennedy, candidate for City attorney, who advocated no jails for people who committed misdemeanors, Wu said, “There is no excuse for poverty crime. The candidate encouraged people to steal. She has no standard and no brain.”
This was the first time she and her friends had worked so tirelessly for those candidates even though some are not Asian.
“I hate to see the moral standard of our city going down. If the Seattle City Council had used common sense to run the city, none of these downtown and neighborhood businesses would be shut down, caused by shoplifting and homeless camps nearby.”
Last week’s election was a referendum on what candidates should do to win. The results conclude that no candidate could win with a one-sided agenda.
It’s also a reflection on the current City Council members, who are deaf to opposing views.
The Council proposed on Nov. 9 to cut $11 million from the police department at the objection of Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Mayor-elect Harrell also opposed. In a statement, he said, “The City Council needs to listen to voters’ desire for immediate investments in public safety and reverse the proposed $10 million cut to the SPD budget. Proposing further cuts deprives the City of resources needed to achieve national best practice staffing levels, decrease response times, and hire and train desperately needed officers—and is in direct conflict with what Seattle voters demanded just last week.”
A City Hall insider, who didn’t want to be identified, depicted the City Council as “insular.”
“They only want to listen to who they want to listen to— only a small group of people—labor and the young. That’s how they make their decisions. And they won’t back down. That perception is wrong. And they make no outreach on their policies. And it is their downfall.”
Don’t wait till 2023 for some council members’ reelection. It’s time to recruit new blood to run against those who don’t listen to voters.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.