By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Leadership within the Port of Seattle changed this past November with the elections of Hamdi Mohamed and Toshiko Grace Hasegawa joining Sam Cho as one of the five commissioners for the port. The majority of the Port’s Commissioners are people of color. With the three voices, the Port of Seattle has become much more diverse as it is one of the central drivers of commerce in the region.
The Port of Seattle’s mission is to promote economic opportunities and quality of life in the region by advancing trade, travel, commerce, and job creation in an equitable, accountable, and environmentally responsible manner. There are five Port of Seattle Commissioners that oversee the mission.
Cho, who was elected in the fall of 2019 was only 29 years old when he ran for the position. He became the youngest Port of Seattle Commissioner and the only person of color at the time at the Port of Seattle. Cho ran on issues of economy, environmental stability, accountability, transparency, and fighting human trafficking.
Elected with 60.8% of the vote, Cho was the first Korean American and youngest port commissioner since the founding of the port in 1911.
“There are a lot of barriers to diversity,” Cho said regarding his role at the Port of Seattle. “It takes a lot of hours and doesn’t pay a lot.”
“We [the Port of Seattle] discussed diversity internally and externally,” explained Cho. “How to diversify the workforce as representatives of King County.”
One of Cho’s goals is to triple the number of minority business contractors at the Port of Seattle. A part of this includes a training and educational component, which requires external communications with those in the community so that they are aware of the opportunities and can bid on the contracts.
From a personnel standpoint, Cho points out that there are not enough aviation and maritime maintenance workers for the Port of Seattle and would like to see those filled by qualified, diverse workers.
Toshiko Grace Hasegawa came from a family of community activism. As a young girl, growing up on Beacon Hill, her father was a part of the largest truckers’ unions in the country and she learned of the labor movement through him and his co-workers. She also participated in Take Back the Night rallies with her mother.
Coming from a working class family, she realized that economic empowerment leads to social justice. She became one of two women of color elected to the Seattle Port Commission.
“We are a part of something much greater than one. If not for the tremendous example of my elders, I would have not had the sense of responsibility or courage to lead,” Hasegawa said of her reason to run for the Port Commissioner position.
Hasegawa ran her campaign while she was pregnant with her daughter.
“I thrive from routine,” she said of her attention to balance her work and home life. Through her daughter’s eyes, she sees the reasons why she must pay it forward for the best interests of not just her daughter, but all children.
“The first half of the year has been dense with orientations and a steep learning curve,” Hasegawa said of her introduction into her position. She has taken the lead on issues related to the environment and labor as co-chair of the Sustainability, Environment, and Climate Committee, as well as the Waterfront and Industrial Lands Committee.
“Places like the Duwamish Valley and Beacon Hill have shortened life expectancies,” Hasegawa said of the environmental concerns those areas have and how it has negatively impacted those living there. “These are historically red-line communities where people of color are clustered and have lower average income.”
She added, “When you are not at the table, you are on the menu.” This highlights Hasegawa’s support for the need for diversity in offices such as the Port of Seattle.
As part of her work, she is looking at cleanup on the Duwamish River and is working on a green corridor for cruise ships in which cruise lines agree to restrict their emissions.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, Hasegawa stated that she will work to ensure Port workers have access to health care.
Commissioner Hamdi Mohammed became the first Black woman elected to the Port of Seattle Commission and first woman of Somali descent elected to public office in the state of Washington last November. Prior to being elected, she served as the Deputy District Director for U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal. She also worked for King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Mohammed decided to run for office after conferring with community members. “When the pandemic hit, I really saw how it was devastating and impacted small businesses and communities of color,” she added, “I wanted to be at the table.” The Commissioner is the only member of the Port Commission that lives near the airport. “I live in the SeaTac area and the only port commissioner that lives in South King County.”
“As a Black immigrant, the seeds of my success were planted long ago by African American leaders,” Commissioner Hamdi said of the importance of diversity. “I feel a sense of responsibility to meet the needs of the diverse communities within King County.”
Hamdi hit the ground running this past January as she developed and sponsored the Career Launch Program for the Port of Seattle. The commission approved the addition of $2 million to the program which increases the program to $4.1 million over the next three years. The program bulbs on work began by the Port in 2020 and is a direct response to the economic crisis in communities most impacted by COVID. The program helps youths, especially those youth of color and from economically distressed zip codes, with internship training opportunities in Port-related jobs and careers in aviation, construction, green jobs, and maritime. The commissioner highlighted the fact that the maritime and aviation industries are aging and with individuals reaching retirement age, there is a lack of qualified individuals to replace them.
The Port of Seattle Commissioners are shaping their budgets for 2023 and one of Hamdi’s projects is to make North SeaTac Park a budget priority.
Specifically, she would like to invest in an ecology risk assessment of the space. She is also advocating for shelter and restrooms for transportation drivers, as well as commuter improvement for SeaTac airport workers.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ronn Kess says
Does this mean FISH ON BAIT and TACKLE can submit a new iron-clad business plan to the Port for a lease for Pier 86?