By Jason Cruz
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
A candidate forum for a position on the Seattle City Council, scheduled for July 20, is embroiled in controversy after the campaign for Tanya Woo took exception that the moderator for the A&NHPI Candidate Forum, Dae Shik Kim, worked for the campaign of Tammy Morales. However, Kim states that those allegations are incorrect.
According to Kim, he worked as an independent contractor for a political consultant agency, Prism West. Morales was a client of the agency while Kim was an independent contractor and worked on strategies for her campaign several years ago.
“This is really unfortunate,” Kim said of the concerns voiced by the Woo campaign. “I have built a long-standing trust with grassroots organizations within the community.” Kim stated that he was approached by the planning community for the forum and said “it would be an honor” to serve as the moderator. Kim noted that he has not worked in political communications for five years and is a dedicated journalist. He currently works as a senior producer for Vice News.
The forum was co-organized by Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS), UTOPIA, Wing Luke Museum, ReWA, and Chinese Information and Service Center.
In an email to the organizers, a representative for the Woo campaign expressed concern.
“While I understand the importance of fostering open and inclusive discussions, this prior affiliation raises questions about the impartiality of the forum.”
The correspondence goes on to request a new moderator.
“To ensure transparency and foster trust among participants and the wider community, our campaign would like to suggest reconsidering the choice of moderator.”
The A&NHPI Primary Candidate Forum was set to include candidates for the Seattle City Council 2 Position: Margaret Elisabeth, Tammy Morales, and Tanya Woo. It would also include candidates for King County Council 8, featuring Teresa Mosqueda and Sofia Aragon.
ACRS responded to the Woo campaign, but indicated that it would not replace Kim as the moderator.
“We do not find the response satisfactory,” said Michael Charles of the Woo campaign. “They (ACRS) refused to replace the moderator, while stating the confusing response that the moderator wouldn’t be doing anything that would go off script, while saying they couldn’t find someone else to read the script.”
Kim stated that he was given a strict script by ACRS to follow for the forum in which he would ask questions of the candidates.
“It’s an insult to my profession,” Kim said about the inference that he would somehow be biased against a candidate.
Shomya Tripathy, Director of Policy and Civic Engagement for ACRS, indicated in an email to the Woo campaign that it was unaware that Kim was a previous employee of Tammy Morales. “The committee voted him as moderator based on his reputation as a community activist and advocate, but we would not have taken that decision lightly had we known his former employer.” The correspondence to the Woo campaign went on to state, “[i]t would be extremely challenging to find a new moderator at this point in the planning process. We have been planning this forum since May, and making a pretty drastic change this late in the planning would put a large strain on our already limited capacity.”
To address the concerns of the Woo campaign noted that the “planning committee writes the candidate forum script and questions. The moderator’s ability to infuse their own partiality is very limited…” Tripathy indicated that the moderator would only read the prepared script, ask the pre-arranged questions, and make sure the candidates keep within the time constraints.
The email included its reasoning for keeping individuals who are active in the community.
Our planning committee prefers that our moderators are people engaged in community work themselves and know that this means that moderators might have political experiences and affiliations that they are bringing in with them. This has been the case for the last decade we’ve held the forum—having a spectrum of moderators who have a reputation that precedes them. We have a small and extremely interconnected community. For that reason, the planning committee has always set up the forum to have very little influence from the moderator when it comes to program and content. While we were totally unaware of Dae’s past affiliation, we feel confident in our ability (and experience) to facilitate a forum that gives equal and fair opportunity to all candidates to answer our questions and address the community in an impartial setting.
In an email sent out on Tuesday afternoon, Woo expressed her reservations about the moderator. “As an advocate for fair and unbiased political discourse, I firmly believe that it is crucial for any public forum or debate to maintain a level playing field. By having a moderator with a direct association to one of the candidates, there is a legitimate concern that their objectivity may be compromised. The perception of impartiality is just as important as the reality, and it is essential to uphold the integrity of the event.”
However, Woo indicated that she would attend but will do so “reluctantly, fully aware that the integrity of the event has been compromised. Our decision to attend is driven by our commitment to engaging with the community and the belief that our voices need to be heard during this crucial event.”
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.