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The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

June 20, 2013 at 10:11 AM

Juneteenth mayoral forum sparks race, education discussion

Wednesday night’s Juneteenth mayoral forum in the Central District drew answers from the candidates on some tough questions about education and race. Once again, someone in the audience laughed out loud at one of Charlie Staadecker’s earnest answers, librarian Joey Gray told Frisbee stories, and Bruce Harrell referred to himself in the third person.

Former City Council member Peter Steinbrueck, still the subject of some head-scratching over his reading selection at a library forum this week, was not at the forum. He is out of town.

The candidates who were there had some tough talk for Seattle Public Schools. State Sen. Ed Murray said if he were mayor, he would forge a new partnership with the school district to increase the graduation rate.

“The school district has to change,” he said, vowing to make improvements in the graduation rate and how money is targeted — or, he said, “Please yell at me and vote me out of office.”

Usually, the school district blames the state Legislature for district problems, so it was interesting to hear that.

Mayor Mike McGinn talked about his work on the Youth Violence Initiative, and Harrell talked about problems with institutional racism. And all the candidates were clear that out-of-school suspensions are a problem, and the city needs a program to keep kids in trouble in school.

In one interesting exchange, forum moderator Kwame Garrett — a candidate for mayor himself in 2009 and the director of the Umoja Peace Center — asked a leading question about the building where the forum was hosted: the historic Horace Mann school near Garfield High School. Seattle Public Schools owns the building and has money to remodel it and put the Nova program back into it. Garrett, and most of the room it seemed, are opposed to that plan. They’ve been using the building as a community center and want to keep it that way. What would you do as mayor about that?, he asked.

One by one, the candidates carefully spoke about compromise. Socialist candidate Mary Martin was an exception; she said she’s ready to fight the school district. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll march with ya. But it’s gonna be a fight.”

Murray said he would seek a compromise that considered not just school needs but community needs. Staadecker said the school district has rights as the owner of the building, but perhaps something could be worked out. Kate Martin said she would create “community schools” that are schools during the day but open in the evenings and summers for community use. McGinn said he would meet with the superintendent.

Only Harrell was willing to say just what the community didn’t want to hear.

“I don’t know if that’s the right thing right now,” he said. “I’m not sure this is the brick and mortar for our community.”

He urged the community to think bigger, and not “fight over crumbs.”

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