By Mahlon Meyer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
After the results of the city council election revealed that not a single Asian American or Pacific Islander (AAPI) candidate was elected, there was widespread concern and disappointment within the community—and hope that the only AAPI candidate who ran from South Seattle would be appointed to a seat opening around the end of the year.
“We have a large Asian American Pacific Islander population in the city of Seattle and their voices should be represented on the city council,” said former Gov. Gary Locke.
The population of Seattle is over 18% Asian and roughly 1% Pacific Islander.
“Asian and Pacific Islanders make up the second largest ethnic group in Seattle. It would be beneficial to have that perspective,” said Sue-May Eng, co-president of the Chong Wa Benevolent Association, which represents over 21 organizations in the Chinatown-International District (CID), in a text to the Asian Weekly.
Moreover, almost five years of an epidemic of violence against Asian Americans has made this even more essential.
“The very fact there is a rising tide of hate crimes targeting Asians makes it even more important that the concerns of the Asian American community are addressed,” said Locke. “And that’s why Tanya Woo would be an excellent addition to the Seattle City Council.”
Said Amy Chen Lozano, who started a petition in her support, “Particularly in the current climate, she stood up and actually did things.”
Woo was only one of two Asian American candidates running for the council, so her supporters say she is a known and safe choice—she’s been vetted by editorial boards and garnered dozens of endorsements (the other was Shobhit Agarwal, in the affluent District 3).
“I have seen Tanya bring people together from different perspectives, with different opinions and political views, to achieve a common goal,” said Betty Lau, co-founder of Transit Equity for All.
Supporters brought up several examples.
During the long months of Sound Transit’s community engagement with the CID, two groups emerged, bitterly opposed to each other. One wanted the transit system to come right up to the door of the neighborhood. The other wanted some distance between the CID and the new station. So bitter was the disagreement that when the champion of one of the camps stood up to speak at one of the meetings, the entire contingent of the other camp stood up and filed out of the room.
But on election night earlier this month, at a party celebrating the early lead of candidate Tanya Woo for city council, the two leaders of both camps showed up for Woo.
That Woo, who ended up losing by a few hundred votes, could unite such long standing rivals is testimony to the appeal she would have to other disparate groups and people, if she were to be appointed to the seat representing District 8, a position that is expected to vacate around the end of the year, say her supporters.
Locke said a candidate of color must appeal not just to the particular concerns of an ethnic community, but to the broader community.
“Tanya came very, very close, and she ran a fantastic campaign, and to try to unseat an incumbent is extremely difficult and she should be very proud of her efforts,” Locke told the Asian Weekly.
Gary Lee, a member of the CID Safety Council, said Woo coordinated support for people of all political backgrounds during the marches in the CID last year.
When there was pushback against letting conservatives join the movement, Woo went to her supporters and said, “We’ve got to all come together,” he said.
Her ability to address the needs of varying communities, however, extends beyond the CID, say supporters.
“Tanya Woo has won the hearts and trust of the South, Beacon Hill, and Rainier Beach neighborhoods and proven with community work, that she listens, leads, innovates, and, most of all, demonstrates problem solving for all,” wrote community advocate Bettie Luke in a petition supporting Woo’s appointment.
“Not only did Tanya genuinely listen to concerns, she provided neighborhood specific ideas on how she’d work with, and for them, to improve their neighborhood. She cares and gets personally involved. She paid respects and mourned with community members for those lost to senseless shootings across the city. That wasn’t Tanya seeking votes; that was Tanya empathizing with communities she had made a connection with,” said Eng. “Tanya was endorsed by diverse individuals and by organizations that represent the whole city, not just by the CID or the Asian community.”
Policies and engagement
The petition in support of Woo being appointed to the District 8 seat—a citywide position—has now reached almost 1,000 signatures.
Supporters by and large added comments attesting to Woo’s devotion to many of the issues vexing the entire city, including public safety, people experiencing homelessness, and the economy.
“Tanya has a deep and genuine care and understanding for her community,” wrote Jeremy Smith. “Her appointment would be a tremendous gain for the neighborhood and city!”
“She genuinely cares about people and the issues they’re facing,” wrote Regan Wesley-Kirschner. “She not only listens but takes action on what’s heard. She’s respectful, ethical, and a hard worker. She will work tirelessly to represent everyone who lives in Seattle. She is exactly who we need to join and work with this refreshed city council.”
The widespread support Woo has garnered on the petition is a reflection of her policies, say supporters.
“While the need for a voice to be heard from the CID may have prompted Tanya to run, her platform centered around increased public safety by improving city policies pertaining to better community engagement, more opportunities for youth and mental health resources and economic development, and addressing the unhoused crisis and fair housing,” said Eng. “These issues are not specific to the CID. The whole city will benefit from her attention to them.”
A letter to the city council
In another show of support, community leaders on Monday drafted a letter to the Seattle City Council calling for the appointment of an Asian American leader to fill the impending vacancy in District 8.
“Such an appointment would be a step towards rectifying the current imbalance in representation and would send a powerful message about the value and importance of inclusive governance in Seattle,” said the letter.
The Asian Weekly obtained a copy of the letter from community advocate Matt Chan. It stressed that an Asian American candidate would address city-wide problems that, in many cases, have been concentrated in the CID.
“We believe that an Asian American council member can bring unique perspectives and experiences that are vital in addressing the broad spectrum of issues facing our city, from economic development to social justice, from housing affordability to environmental sustainability. The Asian American community, like many others, faces specific challenges and opportunities that require thoughtful and informed representation,” it said.
Community leaders invited anyone to sign a copy of the letter and forward it to the city council.
A history of Asian American councilmembers
The Seattle City Council has a history of Asian American members who played pivotal roles, including, and not limited to, Wing Luke, Cheryl Chow, Martha Cho, Bruce Harrell, John Okamoto, Abel Pacheco, David Della, Dolores Sibonga, Liem Tuai, and Charlie Chong.
Luke was the first Chinese city council member.
“Not only did Wing positively impact the City of Seattle, but also the state when the Washington State Attorney General’s office established the Wing Luke Civil Rights Unit tasked with investigating and enforcing civil rights and anti-discrimination laws,” said Eng.
Chow “championed kids and families,” said Eng. “She was able to contribute to the council and make positive impacts across the city and was instrumental in the creation of Urban Rest Stop, and her namesake, Cheryl Chow Court, for those experiencing homelessness, as well as low-income senior housing in Ballard.”
Woo was mentored by Chow, said Eng.
Intention to seek appointment
Locke and others said the close numbers in the race were due strictly to turnout.
In an email to the Asian Weekly, Woo expressed her appreciation.
“I am deeply grateful for the support and trust that many of the residents of District 2 placed in me. I ran for this office because I believe in the power of collaboration and inclusivity,” she said.
She also said she would seek appointment for the position soon to be vacated.
“Public safety is an issue that is disproportionately impacting communities in South Seattle, because of that, I will be pursuing the citywide appointment, hoping that my potential colleagues will see the value of having an Asian councilmember as well as someone from the communities most directly impacted by violence,” she said.
Process of selection
The position representing District 8 is expected to become vacant in early January, when Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has said she will announce her resignation, after just being elected to the King County Council.
According to the city charter, after the vacancy occurs, the city council has 20 days within which to fill it.
The selection is based solely on a majority of votes by the city council.
However, the community has some say in defining the questions used to vet any candidate.
Within five days of the seat becoming vacant, the city council is required to publish application procedures for community organizations to take part in shaping the process of selecting the candidate.
Last time a position became vacant, in 2019, after Councilmember Rob Johnson resigned, the council reached out to almost 40 organizations. Of those, 15 organizations submitted 68 questions to ask candidates, and 14 organizations participated at a public forum.
As for the candidates themselves, the council is required to publish application requirements within five days of the seat becoming vacant.
The most recent appointee, Abel Pacheco, did not respond to a request for comment about his experience applying.
In his application letter, which was made public, along with all of the other candidates’ letters before the public hearing, Pacheco expressed his appreciation for the work of the council, shared a story of personal hardship, and recounted his qualifications that seemed to match the needs of the council.
To view the petition, go to:
To download a copy of the letter to the city council, go to:
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.