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May 1, 2013 at 6:42 PM

Seattle mayor candidates debate education

In the second debate in as many nights, eight candidates for Seattle mayor argued Tuesday night about the city’s role in improving education. Only a few sharp elbows were thrown and the biggest surprise was the appearance of former mayor basher (literally) Omari Tahir-Garrett, who was convicted of 2nd degree assault in 2002 for smashing then-mayor Paul Schell’s face with a 5-pound bullhorn.

Garrett introduced himself to the forum organizers, Community and Parents for Public Schools, as a candidate for mayor. And since Socialist candidate Mary Martin wasn’t present, the organizers allowed Garrett to participate, said Stephanie Jones, executive director of the group.

Garrett hasn’t filed for office with the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission. Former felons can run, provided that they are no longer under the supervision of the Department of Corrections, said Kim Van Ekstrom, spokeswoman for the King County Elections Department. But Garrett must be a registered voter, and his name doesn’t show up on current registration lists, according to a Seattle Times search.

Garrett, a community activist known for angry outbursts in public settings, did add a certain suspense to the forum. Each candidate was asked to respond briefly to written questions from the organizers and from an audience of about 70 at Garfield High School.

Both Mayor Mike McGinn and City Council member Tim Burgess cited their work on the Families and Education Levy, which doubled the investment the city is making Seattle Public Schools’ poorest schools and in expanding early learning programs.

State Senator Ed Murray criticized the levy because schools apply for and compete for grants. He said some schools don’t have the skills to apply and some parents don’t have the time to participate in its programs. But his message was undercut by his referral to the initiative as “Family and Children’s Levy” and “School and Family Levy.” Murray seemed most animated when talking about Olympia, where he’s spent the past 18 years, and need for city leaders to work more effectively with the state.

Former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck called for increased state funding noting that Massachusetts spends twice as much per student as Washington. City Council member Bruce Harrell portrayed himself as an inspirational leader who could rally community support for schools and turn community centers into empowerment zones with tutoring, mentoring and training in life skills.

Businessman Charlie Staadecker, the oldest candidate in the race at 70, harkened back to the creation in 1938 of the Bronx High School for Science, which he said is one of the great public schools in the country. “We can create great schools throughout Seattle,” he said.

Greenwood activist Kate Martin, a failed candidate for school board in 2011, was more detailed and passionate than at the previous night’s debate that covered a wide range of city issues. She said she would create a boosters association to provide a “team of mentors and an army of volunteers” to craft personal development plans for students.

Garrett said that students in many foreign countries know more history and math and are more respectful of teachers than American students. And he said African-American students’ academic performance lags because they suffer from “post-traumatic slavery syndrome.”

In one of the evening’s few direct confrontations, Harrell criticized the mayor for praising Rainier Beach High School  as one of the state’s greenest schools. Harrell suggested that was an example of McGinn’s “misplaced priorities” when “our African-American students are 8 percent proficient in math.”

McGinn responded that he went to Rainier Beach “at the request of community members. That’s why I showed up there.”

The third mayoral forum of the week will be held from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. Thursday night at Hamilton International Middle School. It’s sponsored by the 36th, 43rd and 46th Legislative District Democrats.

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