Nikkita Oliver

Members of the audience raise cell phones and posters as Seattle mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver is interviewed by the press.

Before Monday, I didn’t know how many people were running for Seattle mayor, let alone who the hot candidates were. Thankfully, I have an excuse — I go to the UW, but only recently moved down to Seattle. Because I am now a resident of Seattle, I thought the best way to educate myself would be to go to the mayoral debate Monday night.

Six out of 21 candidates took to the stage to discuss and debate the issues facing Seattle: Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. attorney; Jessyn Farrell, a former state legislator; Bob Hasegawa, a state senator from Beacon Hill; Mike McGinn, former Seattle mayor; Cary Moon, a former urban planner; and lawyer Nikkita Oliver, representing the People’s Party of Seattle.

The first question was regarding Mayor Ed Murray, and whether he should step down in light of the lawsuit against him accusing him of child sexual abuse in the 1980s. Durkan, who has been endorsed by Murray, expectedly called for due process to take its course. Hasegawa, invoking his Japanese ancestry, also called to “let the process play itself out,” citing how his people had dealt with a lack of due process and how wrong it had been. The rest of the candidates — Farrell, McGinn, Moon, and Oliver — all called for the mayor to step down. 

I’m going to be honest — because I hadn’t really been following the mayoral race, I didn’t know that Murray had been accused of such acts. Regardless, my impression of the situation is this: I’m siding with Hasegawa and Durkan on this one. Accusations such as this are incredibly serious, and though part of me is calling for Murray’s head just because of how disgusting I find the situation, it’s important to allow Murray to put up a proper defense. 

Very rarely do you find a cut-and-dry sexual abuse case — they are always tricky, complicated situations. It is one of the few crimes in which the victim is stigmatized almost as much as the perpetrator, and, if someone is wrongly accused, that person’s life is ruined. My first reaction to cases where child sexual abuse is involved is a swift call for justice, but I also have to remind myself to wait. I’m not particularly optimistic about the way our justice system handles sexual assault and abuse, but that doesn’t mean I can jump to my own conclusions. If I believe there is even a sliver of doubt present in regards to whether Murray is guilty, I have to allow the process to play out. So, I’m going to wait to decide.  

Moving forward, instead of opening statements, the candidates were asked what made them qualified to be mayor and what made them stand apart from the others. The statements were pretty generic honestly, and that’s expected — Oliver, McGinn, and Hasegawa cited their authenticity; Durkan talked about bringing everyone together in contrast to the “divisive” politics of Washington, D.C.; and Moon talked about vision. McGinn also brought up his experience as former mayor. 

I’m always wary about politicians talking about authenticity because “authentic politician” sounds more like an oxymoron than anything else, so I usually disregard comments like that. Durkan talking about “unity” was nice, but also something I’ve heard more times than I can count (she used the phrases “tackling tough issues” and “getting things done,” which, though a source of a good sound bite, are probably in places one and two in “top five phrases to use as a politician”). Moon’s statement seemed the most different to me, because I like to hear that someone’s thinking about the big picture and the future, rather than just the here-and-now.

The second question was about taxes: How do we reduce the size and spending of city government without increasing or introducing taxes? The answers were all variations of “get rid of unneeded stuff” and “be efficient,” but Oliver mentioned how important infrastructure is and why we must fund it, which, as someone who commuted from Lynnwood to the UW on a daily basis, really struck a chord with me. Moon talked about discipline, joking, “Seattle is the land of 10,000 pilot projects,” and how important good leadership is in managing city staff. Oliver’s answer to a request for specific details of how to reduce spending was good — she talked about how we criminalize poverty, and how financially wasteful that is for the city at large.

When asked about the threats of displacement and gentrification in the International District, the candidates all talked about some form of public housing. When Moon mentioned maintaining the character of a place, Oliver made a really good point — she mentioned the Central District, and said, “It’s a museum of contributions black people gave to the city but black folks can’t live in this Central District.” She also said we have to make sure that the people giving a neighborhood its character are able to stay. Hasegawa pointed to skyrocketing rents as the reason people couldn’t afford to stay, and mentioned public housing as a solution. When asked, all candidates were in favor of some form of rent control. 

Overall, Oliver and Moon were my favorite candidates. When Moon mentioned herself as “being a political outsider” as a positive in the beginning of the debate, I was wary — the last time I saw a political outsider win, the result wasn’t pretty. Durkan, though a great public speaker and someone who has at least some interesting ideas, comes across as your typical, cookie-cutter politician. McGinn kept on mentioning his experience, but all I could think was, “If you’re so super experienced and knowledgeable about the way Seattle works, why aren’t you still mayor?” Meanwhile, Hasegawa didn’t seem very well prepared. He had a couple of points I really agreed with, but he was repetitive — not in the “I am going to make this point multiple times to really hammer it home” way, but more “I don’t know what to say here so I’m just going to repeat myself.” Farrell gave a strong performance, but she reminded me a lot of Durkan in the way she presented herself and the points she made.

The thing I liked most about Oliver was her focus on increasing public transportation infrastructure and how much homelessness is tied to racial and income inequality. She presented herself as someone with a plan and the conviction to see it through. Moon presented herself as the type of mayor that would prioritize listening to those around her and trying to come up with the best solution. This was really demonstrated at the end of the debate, when a question about individuals with developmental disabilities came up. Moon admitted that she hadn’t really thought to include individuals with developmental disabilities when thinking about sharing authority with a diverse array of individuals, but she was going to include them from now on. None of the other candidates really mentioned putting people with developmental disabilities in positions of authority, but she did. 

My verdict: Based off their performances, Moon and Oliver seem to be the most qualified candidates to do what’s best for Seattle. Besides, the last time we had a female mayor was 1926, and the future is female, right? 

 

Reach writer Ayesha Saleem at opinion@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @ayeshasaleem42

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