Public safety in the International District was by far the most-discussed issue at the 2015 API Candidates and Issues Forum, where candidates in the General Election, and opposing sides on Initiative 122, faced off in debate on October 1 at the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) building in South Seattle.
The purpose of the forum was for the community to hear what the candidates are willing to do for the API community, said community leader Maria Batayola, who emceed the event. Forum moderator
Natasha Chen, a reporter with KIRO 7, asked each pair of City Council candidates how they would improve public safety in the ID neighborhood, among other questions.
About 200 people filled the room, and translators worked continuously to render what was said into Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin, Vietnamese, and Samoan. Chen noted that this was an important way to reach more voters.
Before the debates, Monica Ng of ACRS spoke briefly about the voting deficit in the Washington API communities. According to data from 2014 projected for the audience, there are around 345,000 APIs eligible to vote in Washington state. Of these, less than half—around 150,000—were registered to vote, and 60,000 actually voted. This deficit of 90,000 potential voters is the largest voting deficit of any community of color in Washington. People with clipboards waited on the sidelines, available register anyone who needed it.
Expanding voting access for non or limited English-speaking voters came up early in the evening’s second debate, between Julie Wise and Zach Hudgins, both running for Director of Elections in King County. Hudgins suggested putting more ballot boxes around the county, and having the ballot be available in more languages.
Candidates call for more police presence
Seattle’s City Council race is different in 2015. This year all nine seats are up for election. Candidates run for seven seats representing seven districts of Seattle for a four year term. The remaining two seats are for council members who will represent the whole city.
The ID is in District 2, which also encompasses Beacon Hill, Georgetown, Rainier Valley, and SODO. The two District 2 candidates, Councilmember Bruce Harrell and Tammy Morales, were the first to be asked about public safety in the ID.
Harrell disputed that crime was on the increase. “How you feel about public safety sometimes is inconsistent with the stats, because the stats are actually showing that crime is down,” he began. “But I don’t care about that—what I care about is how you feel.”
His solutions? More and culturally competent officers on the streets, and preventative work such as mentoring organizations. Over the course of the evening, many other candidates would propose similar solutions.
Morales took her turn to question why Harrell hadn’t done more for public safety as chair of public safety committee for the past four years. She talked about gun violence and a lack of response from police in the ID. “I think it’s really important that we make sure we are … paying attention when the community is asking for help from the city,” Morales said.
Harrell countered by saying he has more experience in public safety and has worked hard to hire new leadership in the police department.
Bill Bradburd and Lorena Gonzalez are both new candidates running for Position 9, an “at-large,” or citywide, position. Bradburd is a community activist living near Little Saigon. He said he visits the ID often, but finds it can be scary.
“There’s a lot of street life that doesn’t necessarily belong there,” he said.
Bradburd’s solution for public safety is an expanded police presence in the community, including unarmed community service officers.
Bradburd said the police guild should require that all officers live in Seattle, which they currently do not. “We don’t want an occupying force here, we want to be protected and served by our own,” he said.
Gonzalez emphasized a need for more connections between police, businesses and community members. “I think our officers need to get out of their cars, need to walk around in the International District/Chinatown community, they need to come into businesses,” she said.
Candidates for Position 8, another at-large position, were Councilmember Tim Burgess and Jonathon Grant.
Grant cited a career bridge program as a solution to violence in the ID, as well as an increase in community policing.
Burgess’s solution echoed those of previous candidates: more police, engagement with the community, reform of the department.
“I think we’ve made great progress in our city on reforming our police department,” he said, praising Seattle Police Chief Katherine O’Toole for changing the culture of SPD.
The last debate of the evening was between District 3 candidates Pamela Banks and Councilmember Kshama Sawant. District 3 encompasses Capitol Hill, Central District, Madison, and Montlake. Just like the others, they were also asked how they would address public safety in the ID.
Banks recommended putting up cameras in crime hotspots and recruiting officers who reflect the community and speak its languages. She also recommended continued funding for resources that her late friend Donnie Chin championed.
“Donnie’s death is a huge loss in the Chinatown/International District,” she said. “He cannot be replaced, but we can provide the resources to continue the services to protect people in that neighborhood.”
Banks said job creation is essential for stopping crime. She also noted that one undesirable result of addressing crime in downtown Seattle is pushing it into the ID, the Central District, and Capitol Hill.
Sawant spoke about risks of car and home break-ins in the neighborhood, and mentioned visiting the memorial for Benito Enriquez, who was beaten to death in the ID June 27.
“If we want to find real solutions for these great concerns, we have to connect the dots.” Sawant said. “The best way to ensure public safety is to fight against inequality, gentrification, racial violence in schools, and under-funding of social services.”
Sawant also called for affordable housing and programs for social services funded by a millionaire’s tax.
Initiative 122, run by the organization Honest Elections Seattle, is intended to change how local elections are done in Seattle. The initiative would allow each voter four “democracy vouchers” worth $25 each that they could give to candidates of their choice. Brianna Thomas of Honest Elections debated with Matthew Bolt on the initiative. Thomas argued that I-122 would allow regular people to more easily run for office. “Right now, to run for Seattle City Council you have to raise well over $100,000 dollars, which means you have to have friends with $100,000 dollars to give you,” she said. “With [Initiative]122, everyone has a chance to participate in our democratic process.”
Bolt argued that while elections need reform, I-122 is the wrong approach, with loopholes that can be abused by special interests. He also said the initiative doesn’t fund the amounts needed.
At the end of the evening, Batayola reminded the audience that they would have until November 3 to vote in the City Council race.
Slideshow (Photos by Keoke Silvano ©)