In November, the Chinatown International District (CID) will have a new representative on the King County Council. Burien mayor Sofia Aragon and Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda are competing to succeed County Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents the county’s District 8, including the CID, part of downtown Seattle, West Seattle, parts of South Seattle, Delridge, Burien, White Center, Tukwila, and Vashon and Maury islands.
The general election will take place on November 7.
Mosqueda represents an At-Large (the whole city) position on the City Council. She was first elected in 2017. As budget chair during the COVID-19 pandemic, Mosqueda was instrumental in passing the JumpStart payroll tax on big business, which was used to fill budget shortfalls and fund affordable housing. She helped pass a number of initiatives protecting domestic and hotel workers, and hazard pay for grocery workers during the pandemic. Her endorsements include over two dozen labor unions and local elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell and Governor Jay Inslee, as well as Asian Pacific Islander Americans for Civic Empowerment and The Stranger.
The International Examiner interviewed both candidates about issues important to the CID, which has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
International Examiner: The Chinatown International District (CID) is part of District 8, the position you are running for. Within recent memory, how effectively do you think the King County Council has served the CID neighborhood? If elected, how would you do things differently from your predecessor?
Teresa Mosqueda: Well, I’m really proud to have had the strong showing of support that I had in the primary from the Chinatown International District. And I’m very hopeful to continue the work that I’ve done with small businesses, with residents of the Chinatown International District, with cultural organizations, and the community that’s also been invested in community safety and community health.
I know that the importance of investing in health and safety and sustainability in the CID has a much more heightened level of importance and gravity, given the historic designation of this community, and also the fact that it’s listed on the national list of Chinatowns that are at risk of dissolving if we don’t do direct investment. To me, that underscores an importance for elected officials at every level, to be prioritized in conversations with residents and businesses and organizations and community members who live in and visit and work in the CID. This is about economic activity. Every time people travel, looking for the Chinatown in the towns they travel to is a real destination point. We need to be investing in the CID for the economic resiliency of the residents and the businesses as well.
There is a heightened level of importance as we think about the future of the CID. That means regular meetings within the CID, talking directly to people about how policies and potential policies have or will impact the community. This is a neighborhood that has seen not only disinvestment over years, but also direct public policies that drive wedges through community, whether that’s through transportation or other forms of infrastructure. We need to ensure that public dollars invest in the public good, and for the community that’s there, and the community that will be there for generations to come.
IE: During the campaign, is there any particular lesson that you’ve learned or anecdote that you could share that challenged you or taught you something new about the CID neighborhood?
TM: One of the things that I think we’ve seen is the concern from residents and small businesses about being left out of the All-American Baseball game, you know, maps and tourism promotion. It was a huge missed opportunity to not encourage tourists and those who are attending the games, to get lunch before and after games to go and visit and patron the CID to take in the rich culture and art exhibits in the CID. Many, many small businesses told me they either weren’t prepared enough for the information on how tourists were going to be coming and what to expect, and then those who did get a heads up were really disappointed that they bought additional goods to sell and then were left off of those tourist maps. So it’s, I think, a good reminder for us to not repeat that in the future.
The second thing that I heard from residents is they want to ensure that future infrastructure continues to promote the vibrancy of the CID. People are very forward looking. They want to ensure that the CID has a trajectory of 100, 200 plus years to come. We have to address some of the immediate needs, as well as thinking about future investments.
IE: In 2022, after pressure from the community, King County backed down from opening a new shelter and services for people experiencing homelessness in SoDo at the edge of the CID. If you had been serving on County Council at the time, what would you have done to address this controversy? What is your takeaway from the way this unfolded?
TM: It sounds like there were good intentions from the [King County] Executive and also the city of Seattle — this is a City of Seattle and King County effort. We have to take responsibility for what happened, but also what could have been done differently. Folks felt like there was outreach to organizations, but that information did not make it to all of the community members, and people really felt like they had been left out of that discussion. So one of the things that I would want to do is, of course, have conversations with major organizations, you know, grasstops, leaders within the community, but not just leave it at a shortlist of people to touch base with and not assume that that is good enough. We need to have deep, robust conversations with community about any potential impact, especially because of the historic ways in which the CID has had to absorb infrastructure changes and additional services within the neighborhood.
One of the biggest takeaways was that everybody seems to have a similar goal. They want people who are suffering from the crisis of addiction, and substance abuse and other traumas that are leading to self medication — they want people to get the help they need. That’s not in question. The question is, how is the community engaged about the concerns they have? And are those concerns going to be fully mitigated before moving forward? So that’s what I would do as a County Council member.
IE: According to the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, Seattle’s downtown area, including the CID, is where overdose rates are highest in the county. Given that King County has some influence on public health county-wide, what would you do to help address this crisis?
TM: We have a huge opportunity at the County to invest in prevention strategies and pre-arrest diversion programs. That’s something that I’ve tried to lead on at the City of Seattle, and through King County’s public health interventions. Programming targeted directly to the CID, plus the downtown core. We can expand the number of people that we are getting directly into services. We know that it’s direct services and health interventions that can help get people stabilized, but it’s also housing.
I’ve been working in partnership with folks from the Chinatown International District PDA, SCIDpda, to ensure that we are putting more funding in for building housing in the region, and have worked with a number of organizations on increasing public safety. Those are important components, as well as direct public health interventions to getting people into rehab and into more health-based facilities to get them to reduce and stop using substances outside.
All of those investments actually support our community at-large because they’re better return on our investments than sending someone just to jail without an intervention. Often, when people go to jail for substance, they end up coming out and overdosing at higher rates. And if what we want to do is help get people clean and sober, some of the best ways to do that is by investing in the public health strategies for early intervention in community. I look forward to continuing to invest in things like affordable housing and community public safety interventions so that we can get people into the care they need, because that’s how we’re going to actually stem this shadow pandemic of ongoing substance abuse and mental health crises that we see playing out in our streets.
IE: The Sound Transit Board endorsed a plan to place new light rail stations to the north and south of the CID, while keeping 4th Avenue on the table for further study. Which option do you support and why?
e analysis that comes forward from the ongoing work that’s happening right now. My main concern is that we don’t create a transit system that skips over the CID. I want to make sure that people can easily walk to or ride up an elevator, escalator, and get to the CID without having multiple blocks to walk because it should be a true tourist attraction. I really want to see how the North-South corridor ensures that people will continue to be drawn to the CID.
The second thing that I’m going to be looking at is the ridership ease for generations to come. I want to ensure that transfer is streamlined for riders who are trying to get in and around our city. And that’s true as well for residents who live in the CID. Whether you use a stroller, or push a stroller for your kiddo, it also needs to be accessible for all ages and abilities. The biggest thing for me is to ensure that it continues to promote the diverse community and businesses and resilience of the CID residents and small businesses.
IE: How would you use your influence on King County Council to mitigate negative impacts of a new station, or limitations of its placement?
TM: So on Seattle City Council right now, I’ve already been making sure that there are direct investments for the CID, especially given the ongoing impact of the pandemic on small businesses, but specifically for businesses that are owned and operated by folks of color, immigrants and refugees, especially women of color.
Supporting anti-displacement efforts has been a big priority of mine, and it is even more important to do those types of investments given the potential changes that are coming with Sound Transit. I know Sound Transit has learned a lot from the first round of work that they’ve done, especially in the South End. But we heard many stories of small businesses —owned by immigrants and refugees, folks of color — who had to close their doors during construction because it was just too much construction, and too much of a slowdown in foot traffic for them to absorb. We need to be making proactive preventative investments in our smallest businesses and supporting housing stability for the residents there in a proactive way and continue to drive foot traffic and business traffic and commerce activities to the CID during any form of construction, and the County can help with that.
I’ve done a lot of this type of direct investment, both with American Rescue Plan funds and also funding from the JumpStart progressive payroll tax, to ensure that we are looking specifically at projects that are from organizations who are rooted in and led by communities, that those communities are at the front of the line to receive funding from our Office of Housing. I would love to set that up at the County as well so that communities who are most at risk of displacement, organizations who are led by and rooted in communities that mostly risk displacement, are at the front of the line to receive development, preservation and protection dollars so that displacement does not occur.
IE: The killing of Tommy Le, a Vietnamese American man, by a King County Sheriff’s deputy in 2017 in Burien, caused outrage in the Asian American community and countywide. The circumstances and internal investigation raised concerns about the conduct of the Sheriff’s office. How do you feel about the reforms the Sheriff’s office has tried since then? What further reform needs to happen?
that this type of biased policing and excessive force, it’s not unique to the Sheriff’s Office. It is something that our entire country is grappling with, the existing mechanism or approach to policing.
In that case, there were community and family members, who noted that there should have been an alternative to an officer showing up — a case manager, somebody to help de-escalate, somebody to have a conversation with him versus an officer with a gun, would have helped save a life. When we deploy social workers, case managers, and train folks who have de-escalation that are not showing up with a gun and a badge, it actually releases those officers with a gun and a badge to go do other things like respond to crime that’s occurring, or do investigations. It actually helps our existing officers to not have to respond to calls like that, and I think that it actually can improve retention and recruitment when officers aren’t being asked to show up to those situations.
He was a young person who should still be here. And I appreciate that the County is taking more steps to create more accountability. They’ve created the new Law Enforcement Oversight Director, who was appointed to make sure that we can have greater oversight, and you know, somebody who’s a former community organizer. Overall, if we change the system so that we have someone who is not showing up with a gun that actually escalates the situation, that would help solve it. So I think that there have been good steps forward, but the families deserve justice, and they deserve for their loved ones to still be here. We need to respond by changing our approach and investing in upstream solutions to make sure that young folks and those who need health services get access to the resources they need.
IE: Displacement, affordability, and gentrification remain ongoing concerns for the CID community. What would you do as a County Council member to help mitigate these forces?
s to the point that I was making earlier about development done right. When we invest in community organizations who’ve taken the lead on helping to build housing for the community that’s most at risk of displacement — specifically in the CID — working in partnership with organizations like SCIDpda, you see visions of housing being built to keep people in place, to keep people in the CID, and to also support small businesses, childcare and community space, and greater social cohesion and intergenerational programming. The more that we can create spaces for people to live in the city and utilize the airspace, but do it in a way that is developed and envisioned from the community, it can help prevent displacement, to ensure that affordable housing is being built and not just luxury condos or additional hotels that the community says they don’t want. Not all development is bad, right, if it’s done through the community lens.
So number one is building, but buildings through this community lens, utilizing the airspace so that we are preventing displacement, but also preventing sprawl into further out communities or taking over forests and farmlands and wetlands. The more that we can keep people in the CID, if they want to stay there and utilize the airspace, that density is good for our health as a community. It’s also good for our planet, to prevent displacement, given that you then have to commute hours in to visit your community or your place of work.
IE: The CID is often making headlines for controversy and issues that divide stakeholders down the middle. What is or would be your approach to tough decision making when there’s no clear consensus?
TM: It is important to recognize the multiple views or the multiple voices even within the CID and not assume that there’s a monolith. It’s important for policymakers to do the due diligence to reach out to various communities to get feedback from a host of people to ensure that they’re not just checking the box. It’s not good enough to talk to one or two people, or one or two organizations, and say I did the outreach. Given the diversity within the CID and the diversity of opinions and the diversity of needs, it’s important to do deep stakeholder engagement to really get a full assessment of what the issues are.
And then I think that can inform, if there’s common ground to move forward on. I would absolutely fight efforts to try to have anybody treat the CID as a monolith and underscore the importance of getting the diverse opinions from within the CID, the residents and businesses. That’s how I would approach policymaking if there were differences.