Monday’s mayoral forum in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood was a rapid-fire affair, with plenty of “lightning round” questions that had candidates displaying hastily jotted answers on giant sketchpads. The frenzied pace and eight-candidate field made it hard for anyone to emerge as a clear favorite, but there were some notable moments. Here are a few:
1. A sleeper candidate? City Councilmember Bruce Harrell showed some political knack Monday, playing to the liberal crowd at the event organized by three south-Seattle Democratic district organizations. One example came when he tackled a question about why a recent study found the Seattle area has the worst gender-pay gap of any major U.S. city. Businessman Charlie Staadecker said he hadn’t heard of the study and Councilman Tim Burgess joked the problem would “self correct” if everyone had daughters like he did — and both suggested women need more education. But Harrell led with the response the audience craved when he declared: “The answer is simple: institutional practices!” And Harrell said he’d immediately reached out to the Seattle Women’s Commission to develop a plan to respond to the problem.
Harrell also had other moments where his answers were crisper and less bland than those offered by rivals. He attacked “political cowardice” by some elected officials following the 2010 fatal shooting of woodcarver John T. Williams by a Seattle police officer. And he made the case he’d be able to represent a more diverse swath of the city, saying: “I am welcome in corporate boardrooms and churches and athletic fields and the roughest and toughest neighborhoods.” He didn’t place high in the first public mayor’s race poll but, keep an eye on him — Harrell could surprise some folks.
2. Regrets, he’s had a few. Mayor Mike McGinn had a chance to reflect a little when asked his biggest regret in politics. It’s the kind of question politicians usually hate and typically try not to answer. Indeed, McGinn seemed stumped at first. “I don’t know. I’ve worked really hard,” he said. But then McGinn acknowledged he had perhaps underestimated the difficulties that awaited him after he was elected mayor in 2009 (his first elected office.) “There isn’t a mayor’s school. You have to do it. I guess … I wish I could find the learning curve a little faster than I did.”
That said, McGinn offered a spirited defense of his first term throughout the evening, citing social program funding, transit planning and even his work on the Seattle Police Department. He a union endorsement calling him “the most progressive mayor in America,” and said “I want to work with you to make Seattle the most progressive city in America.”
3. Staadecker’s field of dreams. Bow-tied businessman Charlie Staadecker gave perhaps the most mystical reason for running for mayor when he said he’d had a vision. “It may sound corny, but it’s very personal. It was a vision of standing at home plate in a baseball uniform. And my father and grandfather looked at me — and I’m sorry it’s gender biased but that was the dream. They handed me a bat, and they said ‘Kid, it’s your time to step up to the plate. It’s your time to pass the legacy on to your children and grandchildren.’ ”
4. Steinbrueck makes no friends with Sonics fans. Monday’s forum began just hours after the NBA dashed hopes of an imminent return for Sonics basketball. But former City Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck observed no mourning period. He blasted the Sodo arena deal backed by McGinn after “almost a year of secret negotiations with a private investor.” Steinbrueck, who had worked as a consultant for the Port of Seattle, which was critical of the arena plan, said he was not opposed to the NBA’s return in principle, but called the Sodo site a threat to maritime and industrial jobs.
5. Socialism is serious. Do not smile. Mary Martin, a candidate with the Socialist Workers Party called Cuba her model for the ideal Seattle neighborhood and maintained a serious demeanor throughout the evening — even on lighthearted questions. When the candidates were asked the most interesting songs on their iPods, some joked about their vinyl collections or apps that told them when it would rain. Martin said her campaign preferred to spend timing dealing with people face to face or writing articles for The Militant — the socialist newspaper. As for iPods, she said: “I don’t have an iPod, but that just puts me in company with millions of people in Africa and Asia who don’t have electricity and who deserve it.”
If you want to watch for yourself, West Seattle Blog recorded the entire forum Monday and has posted it online.