Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Universal Pre K will be the most important issue of his political career. Pre K has been touted as the key to preventing future gang violence and increasing graduation rates for minority communities. • Photo by Lisa Merrill
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Universal Pre K will be the most important issue of his political career. Pre K has been touted as the key to preventing future gang violence and increasing graduation rates for minority communities. • Photo by Lisa Merrill

On Wednesday, June 11, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray spoke with the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition about current API concerns. Three recurring topics were weaved throughout the discussion: diversity, recent violence in the city, and education. The mayor and API leaders spoke about ways diversity is essential in the city’s future and how universal Pre K education can help to curb gang violence and raise communities out of poverty.

The mayor opened the discussion by talking about the city’s strategy in addressing equity.

“If we grow as a city, and as we’re successful as a city, [we must] remain a city that is diverse racially and diverse economically,” Murray said. “These are key factors if we don’t want to become a city [in which] only the very wealthy live in the city and those who clean our office buildings at night or serve us food at restaurants go home somewhere outside the city. That I think that’s one of the biggest challenges Seattle faces. It’s one of the biggest challenges the API community faces.”

Mark Okazaki, Asian Pacific Directors Coalition chair and Neighborhood House executive director, asked the mayor how the new Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole will be responsive to needs and concerns of the API community.

Murray responded: “I chose Kathleen O’Toole because I believe she had had the deepest experience as far as working not just with the API community, but with the African American community. Not just with building a police department, but having worked in New Jersey, Connecticut, and both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. … [She is someone who] understands the issue of constitutional policing, who understands the issue that we have a problem at times with bias policing, the huge issue in regards to accountability, the huge issue in regards to use of force.”

Okazaki also asked the mayor how he would ensure that the health and human services and education for the API community are met. Okazaki described how resources from the Seattle Families and Education Levy were not reaching APIs.

Murray said the city must carefully plan its midcourse correction on the levy to address disparities.

“We need to figure out how we actually assist emerging communities who may not have the same infrastructure and capacity as a large non-profit,” Murray said. “Catholic Community Services has great capacity. A new emerging nonprofit particularly out of immigrant communities probably doesn’t have that same capacity.”

To illustrate the need for a Targeted Local Hire policy, OCA Greater Seattle Chapter’s Doug Chin described the results of a study commissioned by the Seattle City Council. The study, released in February, found that just 6 percent of workers in Seattle construction projects were Seattle residents. The study also found that Asians made up only 2 percent of the workers, while Pacific Islanders made up 1 percent.

“People are working on public works jobs in Seattle and taking our jobs and taking their money outside the city,” Chin said. “San Francisco, L.A. have ordinances and resolutions to improve that and I hope that you will push it.”

Murray said the city is pushing for Targeted Local Hire and that a proposal is in the works.

On the neighborhood level, Chin talked about the need for more parking regulations at Jefferson Park in Beacon Hill. He described a situation where construction crews working at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System were taking up the park’s limited parking spaces.

“People who use that facility, Jefferson Park, can’t get access to it,” Chin said. “There should be a two-hour parking limit. To ask for money to improve the park system and community centers and then we don’t have access to it, that’s a contradiction.”

Murray said that parking issues were one of the tensions the city is experiencing overall and that he is currently looking into the problem.

The meeting took an emotional turn when Chin told the mayor that he was “irritated” that Murray had once said that not too long ago, there were signs that read, “Irish need not apply.”

Chin, who has written extensively on the history of Chinese Americans in Seattle, said to the mayor: “It irritated me because, in fact, it was the Irish who led the anti-Chinese movement, who drove the Chinese out of Seattle, Tacoma, and so forth.”

Murray responded: “I did mention that because the actual experience of discrimination that my grandparents experienced when they came to this country in 1950, their experience of discrimination was real. Their experience of going through the 1960 election and the questions around the heritage and religion of the Democratic candidate for president was real. My experience growing up in West Seattle and walking to Holy Rosary Elementary School and being called names because I was going to a Catholic school and was a Roman Catholic was real. I just don’t think we win when we pit one group of people who have experienced discrimination against another group of people who have experienced discrimination.”

(The mayor would go on to say after the meeting that he appreciated Chin’s directness.)

Alan Sugiyama, executive director of Executive Development Institute, was able to lift tensions by asking the mayor: “Were you surprised you didn’t win the hum bow eating contest [at the API Heritage Month Celebration in May]?”

“I didn’t want to win,” Murray joked. “Can you imagine what the blogs would have said?”

Sugiyama quickly moved the conversation on to the issue of gang violence.

“On a more serious note, we have gang problems,” Sugiyama said. “We have a problem of violence. It’s just kind of erupting. We also know that the trends have always been where you see a lot of African American gangs in violence, that it always gets copycatted with Asian gangs. Every 10 years this has happened, and now it’s right on schedule again.”

Seattle Police Officer Alex Chapackdee said that gang violence has changed in the last decade and that the causes for violence are harder to pinpoint.

“It’s not just Seattle gang members, folks that are outside of the city are committing crimes in the city,” Chapackdee said. “It’s not just race related, it’s not turf related or territorial. It’s different now than it was 10 or 15 years ago. And that’s the reason why we have a day gang unit and we have two units in our night gang squad as well. It’s an issue that’s certainly a concern for us in our communities.”

Murray acknowledged the multiple unrelated shootings that took place in Seattle in the weeks prior. He said that while there have been conversations regarding police reform, there have not been enough efforts taken by the city on the community levels and ensuring that there is programing that allows young people a place to go.

“Short term, we have a series of things we’re going to talk about over the next couple of weeks,” Murray said. “Long term we have some structural issues that we need to get at. Part of that actually goes back to universal Pre K. Kids who get that at three and four actually graduate at a much higher rate than kids that don’t get that. The difference is dramatic, and it doesn’t matter what race or economic place you are, you get there early and the outcome is dramatic.”

Murray took a strong stance on universal Pre K and said it was the key in raising up communities currently living in poverty.

“The universal Pre K I think is the most important thing that I will work on in the next four years and probably in my entire political career that will have a long term effect on this city,” Murray said. “We can make a huge difference in what happens with gangs. We can make a huge difference with what happens with graduation rates. Universal Pre K is an incredible opportunity.”

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