The teens who organized a youth-sponsored mayoral candidate forum Thursday night at the Rainier Vista Boys & Girls Club asked no questions about parking meters, the proposed Sodo arena or tourist-dispelling street disorder. Their questions forced the eight candidates for Seattle mayor off of talking points and into the complex problems faced in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and Central District. The forum was attended mostly by teenagers, which means there weren’t many voters in attendance. That means voters missed some revealing moments.
The candidates went straight to the youth-sponsored forum from a swanky business-group sponsored forum at the Westin Hotel. Some candidates handled the change of pace better than others.
They showed their softer sides in South Seattle. Peter Steinbrueck talked about learning a construction trade. Mayor Mike McGinn told the story of his dad finding opportunities in a program for troubled teenagers. Bruce Harrell said mentors were the key to his success growing up in a family in which neither of his parents went to college.
Charlie Staadecker seemed all-too-aware that the teens would assume he was out of touch because of his age and bow tie, but even though he was wealthy and his parents attended college, he said, “Don’t prejudge me as you have been prejudged.” Kate Martin spoke about her mixed-race son, who was kicked out of high school, and Joey Gray reminded the room several times that she founded an ultimate Frisbee league.
The conversation touched on racial bias in law enforcement and schools, youth violence and homelessness, although that last one might not have been what was intended. One question about kids stuck in the “street life” was about gang involvement, but several candidates interpreted it as being about homelessness. Central Area native Bruce Harrell seemed to be in his element, rallying the crowd and throwing in a little urban slang announcing that he would turn community centers into “empowerment centers” and deploy community service officers around the city. At one point, he pointed to a woman in the audience and said, “I gotta protect my little sister over here to make sure she can fly.” At another, he said he’d find donated money to pay for youth programs and said: “That’s what Bruce Harrell is about.”
McGinn, who garnered much of his 2009 support from the South End,was comfortable talking about his record there. He said he refused to cut youth programs from the budget. He talked about doubling the Families and Education Levy and setting up school-based health centers during his first term.
Other candidates had trouble turning off their usual government-speak for a roomful of people who didn’t understand it. Sen. Ed Murray talked at length about caucuses and said: “at the heart of the U-District is an issue called homeless youth.”
Peter Steinbrueck, at one point, made a reference to “peer-to-peer successful outcomes.”
It was a tough crowd for anyone, though. Harrell seemed to me to be in the middle of a pretty good answer when the kid sitting next to me started laughing uncontrollably. “Oh my God! He just said ‘Don’t get it twisted.'”