'Housing first' homeless policy, end to regressive taxes take the fore at first mayoral debate

'Housing first' homeless policy, end to regressive taxes take the fore at first mayoral debate

'Housing first' homeless policy, end to regressive taxes take the fore at first mayoral debate

...and, we’re off.

Seven of the 10 announced mayoral candidates for The 46th Legislative District Democrats held their first debate Thursday night at Seattle Mennonite Church in Lake City. Hundreds of city residents, campaign staffers, volunteers and members of the media filled the chapel to hear the policy, promises and beliefs of the people vying for the city’s executive office.

The debate -- which really took the form of a panel, as candidates were not invited to respond to one another -- featured incumbent Mayor Ed Murray and challengers Mary Martin, Mike McGinn, Cary Moon, Nikkita Oliver, Jason Roberts and Alex Tsimerman.

Missing were filed candidates Casey Carlisle, David Ishii (the West Seattle poet, not the deceased Pioneer Square bookseller), and Keith Whiteman. Of the candidates present, only Moon had not yet filed for candidacy, according to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission web page. Candidates have until May 19 to file.

After introductions, discussion centered around three central questions, including the duty of the mayor’s office to combat rising income inequality in a thriving tech economy, to combat homelessness, and to cooperate with other city governments in Seattle’s suburban crescent. The discussion was followed by a “lightning round” of audience-submitted yes/no questions, to which candidates responded (and in some cases refused to respond) with a paper sign.

Here are the candidates’ responses, in the order they were called for introductions:

Alex Tsimerman

Tsimerman, president of the Standupamerica party, has become a minor local celebrity for his obsessive attendance of city and county council meetings around Lake Washington to shout, swear at, and interrupt government representatives. He did not disappoint at the debate. Tsimerman toned down the four-letter words for the venue (he still managed a reference to onanism), but he went out the gate hot as he interrupted moderator Phillippa Kassover to jump into his remarks, in which he declared Seattle’s problems could be solved by ousting undocumented immigrants.

“One-hundred thousand here, 100,000 here, out from downtown city, and we all have fixed all our problems, very simple,” he said.

Tsimerman largely ignored the question about income inequality to repeat his common catchphrase that “Seattle is the number-one fascist city in America,” and that its corporations and the political establishment used the plight of people to further their own agendas.

Regarding Seattle’s homeless population, Tsimerman said he would ask retired Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to donate 1 percent of their wealth to house people.

In response to the question about working with other municipalities, Tsimerman referred to his track record of attending local council meetings to demand accountability from representatives.

Cary Moon

Cary Moon co-founded and directed the People’s Waterfront Coalition, an organization that was opposed to the Alaskan Way Viaduct highway replacement. She remains invovled with the Progres Alliance and the One Center City Advisory Board.

An urban planner and frequent activist, she’s been lauded for her political activism with awards from The Stranger, The Municipal League Foundation, Real Change and Seattle Magazine.

“I’m running for mayor of Seattle because I believe the future of our city is worth fighting for,” Moon said. “We are a beautiful, diverse, vibrant city. We have incredible resources, wealth, a spirit of innovation, creativity and intelligence. But we’re becoming a city of haves and have-nots.”

Regarding income inequality, Moon said it was important to create a civic forum for citizens and leaders to provide input on how the city would handle problems of affordability, the flow of wealth to the 1 percent, transit and homelessness.

“All these problems are problems we can tackle here in the city,” she said.

Moon laid out a three-point plan for combatting homelessness in Seattle.

“First, let’s acknowledge that homelessness is a symptom and not the problem,” she said. “The problem is that we have an economy that does not build prosperity for everyone.”

Second, she said she supported a “housing first” policy to place the homeless in low-barrier shelters, tiny house encampments and other residences to ensure stability as they handle problems like employment, addiction or mental health crises. Third, she expounded on the need for a “centralized system of data, a centralized place for people to go as a first step, and better coordination between agencies, service providers and nonprofits.”

Moon largely ignored specifics on the question about collaboration with neighboring cities to discuss the need to create a democratic apparatus that could counteract a present capitalist economy that supports the policy of moneyed interests and throws out unprofitable solutions to problems like climate change.

Ed Murray

As the currently serving mayor, Murray is running on a message that highlights his office’s past accomplishments.

“Four years ago, I said I wanted to model for this nation how progressives can come together and show the nation how we can do things,” Murray said. “And we did that. We cooperated, we collaborated, we passed minimum wage.”

In addition to the $15 per hour minimum wage, Murray pointed to the 2016 passage of a $290 million Seattle Housing Levy -- double the amount passed in 2009 -- and increases to King County Metro bus transit, and the cities partnership with Seattle Public Schools to expand Pre-K programs.

Regarding income inequality, Murray said “90 percent” of current construction had been approved before he entered office -- a subtle jab at his returning opponent McGinn -- and that his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, controversial among single-family homeowners, would drive growth into identified urban villages as it increased affordable housing stock. He also proposed a citywide income tax to be introduced to the City Council in the next few weeks (see breakout story).

On homelessness, he discussed his 2015 meeting with President Barack Obama, in which the former president advised Murray to reform the shelter program and address related issues like addiction.

And on collaboration, Murray pointed to a few of his endorsements (which number in the hundreds, according to his website), such as those from state Senator David Frockt, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, and various labor unions. He likewise pointed to the city’s cooperation with other cities to support the development and passage of Sound Transit’s ST3 light rail measure, and defend American “sanctuary cities.”

“We have worked together the past three years to get things done,” he said.

Mary Martin

Martin is the candidate for the Socialist Workers Party. She previously ran for the Washington governorship in 2012 and 2016, for the Washington, D.C., City Council in 1997, and D.C.’s non-voting congressional seat in 1998. In addition to income inequality in the city, her platform extends to national issues, such as an end to American involvement in overseas wars. To every question, she responded with the refrain that Seattle’s problems can only be solved by the working class.

“I am running to present an alternative to the capitalist parties,” she said. “What the working class is facing -- the carnage of unemployment, stagnant wages, and taxing our political rights -- these can only be answered by the working class.”

On income inequality, Martin said Seattle’s housing, health care, and education couldn’t serve working class equitably because businesses’ chief concern was to repay investors. She pointed to Cuba as a role model for treating those services as a human right. She again said that housing needed to be treated as a human right in response to the question about the city’s role to solve homelessness.

Martin called for a working class revolution in response to the question on inter-city collaboration, and said that political exploitation of issues like opioid abuse and unemployment, “issues the working class feels deeply,” she said, had allowed for Donald Trump to be elected to the U.S. presidency.

Mike McGinn

Former Mayor McGinn has returned to challenge Murray after he lost re-election to the current mayor in the 2013 race. McGinn said he will run on the promise to address the explosion of growth and loss of affordability in Seattle housing.

“We’re paying for the impacts of that growth with regressive taxes on the people that can least afford to pay for it,” he said. “I’m also really concerned that we’re not involving people in how we address and solve the problems of the future.”

He returned to the point in his response to the question of income inequality.

“If you are at the higher income levels, you pay 5 percent of your income in local taxes and fees -- I’m not talking state, I’m talking citywide,” McGinn said. “But if you’re lower income, you’re paying 15 percent of your taxes in local taxes and fees. And consider: That’s driving the middle classes out, but consider how that’s affecting the lower classes, or women, or people who are struggling to make less money. And inequitably do so, as well.”

McGinn’s campaign announcement at his Greenwood home, days before the debate, called for a progressive income tax and business tax. He also urged the City Council to pass such a tax before the election (which they may do, with Murray’s promised legislation).

McGinn was critical of what he saw as the city’s failure to make homelessness as a priority and scale up its aid as revenues grew and the budget increased. He called for an expansion of 24-hour shelters and investments in support programs and mental health services.

Those lucky enough to simply be forced out of the city, and not onto the streets, face longer commute times and transit challenges to get to their jobs. Cooperation with the governments that run Seattle’s exurbs and suburbs would be vital to counteract the effects of population migration, McGinn said. He pointed to his leadership on statewide coalitions that discussed transportation finance, coal and oil shipping via trains, and sex trafficking. McGinn added that he laid the groundwork that allowed ST3 to be passed during the Murray administration.

Nikkita Oliver

Oliver is the candidate for the grassroots People’s Party of Seattle, an educator, attorney and poet who said she wants to make Seattle an equitable city that doesn’t merely rest on equitable rhetoric.

“We are leading in a time of great political advocacy,” Oliver said. “But what I see in Seattle is an inspiration and desire to be the progressive city that we talk about. We have the opportunity to be that -- to truly be about affordable housing, accessibility, education opportunity for all. To take our police force and not merely be under consent decree, but be transformed in a way we can model for other cities, and transform our criminal legal system.

“I have a vision for that. I come from a different community, I come from a different background. I think that’s what our city needs, so I’m asking you to trust and believe that I can bring that vision of the People’s Party to the forefront of our city.”

The greatest progress on inequality in Seattle has come when marginalized populations, people of color, and the cash-poor have taken to the streets and demanded change -- not when politicians have called for change, Oliver said. For that reason, the city needs a politician who can listen to the people, she said.

“If Seattle’s going to be a place that closes the opportunity gap, it will be because we received a solution to the most impacted and vulnerable of our city as the solution that needs to be actuated,” she said.

Oliver said she believed the city needs to end sweeps of unsanctioned homeless encampments, as organized camps mitigate housing crises by creating stability. She added that the city needs more low-barrier shelter, personal property storage and transitional housing. She called for the city to leverage bond debt to build housing and create housing vouchers.

Murray’s executive order to end city support of neighborhood district councils has caused residents to feel as if they’ve had their direct line of communication to the city cut, Oliver said. She pointed to concerns about the lack of sidewalks and transit in North Seattle.

“We have to be willing to come sit with you all and hear from you, and receive from you what the solutions are that make your community the sort of place that you want to be in,” she said.

Jason Roberts

Roberts is a lifetime Seattle resident and arts activist. He is running on a platform of public health and safety, fiscal responsibility, transparency, and the revitalization of small business.

“We have housing, we have homeless, we have a rampant drug problem,” he said. “All three of these things tie into an intricate plan to bring relief to these things.”

The base problem of inequality in Seattle is wage disparity.

“If you were born in this town, you probably can’t afford to live here,” Roberts said. “You have the tech industry and pretty much everybody else. I would like to see growth slow down, I’d like to see these corporations hire from within, locally, as opposed to importing a thousand people a week.”

He suggested small business had become a victim of development, and that said development hadn’t occurred by accident -- it had to be enabled by policy. To counteract those effects, he proposed incentive measures for communities to build from within.

Roberts would like to institute low-barrier treatment for homeless people with addiction issues and place the homeless in temporary housing, he said.

Like Oliver, Roberts said he had been meeting with residents since he announced his candidacy in February.

“I’m not up here just pitching me,” he said. “I’m here to hear your problems.”