Wednesday night the MLK Labor Council held their endorsement meeting for city council candidates running in District 3. Of the seven people running, only incumbent council member Kshama Sawant, Seattle School Board member Zachary DeWolf, Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Egan Orion, Hashtag Cannabis co-owner Logan Bowers, and King County public defender Ami Nguyen made the cut. The labor council needs 2/3 majority support from their members to back any one candidate, and they're not there yet, according to a labor council spokesperson. They'll continue to work out disagreements and hold a vote in June.
The split was apparent in the Labor Temple last night. Though Sawant drew the loudest and most sustained applause, she also seemed to draw some ire on the question of council "interference" in union contracts. Two men sitting near the front, practically strangling some papers in their hands, shouted a lot. "You don't represent unions, you represent Socialist Alternative," one of them yelled. "What about the cops?!" the other yelled.
The hubbub erupted when one of the questioners asked the candidates if they thought public officials should "insert themselves in the internal affairs of a union whether in a contract campaign or a local union election" without being asked.
I didn't ask, but the question seemed to be a sideways way of criticizing Sawant for siding with the Community Police Commission (and some unions) and casting the sole vote against the contract between the Seattle Police Officer's Guild and City Hall. Sawant and the CPC thought the contract rolled back police accountability measures. Just yesterday, a federal judge basically sided with the CPC and found the city out of compliance with the consent decree on police accountability. So, looks like it was the right move.
In any event, all the other candidates said "no," they would not "interfere" in union business, but they would join picket lines. They were cheered loudly for those responses. Sawant added that she's proud to have stood with the labor movement "every step of the way."
The Beefing Has Begun
Since he entered the race with endorsements from Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena González, Zachary DeWolf has been pretending as if Sawant does not exist. Last night he went on the attack, claiming that Sawant has given up on the fight to protect the LGBTQ community from hate crimes.
In his closing statement he said he helped Sawant organize a public forum on LGBTQ hate crimes in 2015. According to DeWolf, Sawant said the fight would not end that night.
"And I will tell you it did end that night," DeWolf said. "There has been a 400% increase in hate crimes in our community since 2012."
In a follow-up interview, Sawant said she hasn't given up the fight and cited analysis showing that a rise in income inequality leads to a rise in hate crimes. "I think this problem is solvable, but I think you need a council and a mayor's office that has the political courage to stand against big business and actually pass the rational policies that will reduce inequality," she said.
The LGBTQ hate crimes forum, she added, put pressure on Mayor Murray "immediately" to set up an LGBTQ task force to address violence in the community. "That task force was entirely a product of the public pressure we built through that town hall," she said.
"If she's suggesting that she created his task force and that was her work, that would be a shame," DeWolf said in a brief follow-up.
According to reporting from The Stranger at the time, Sawant worked with Gender Justice League founder Danni Askini to organize and moderate the forum. Murray's initial response to the rise in hate crimes was a call for "more diversity in the police force." After the forum, and after another reported hate crime, Murray announced his work on the task force.
Speaking of LGBTQ Safety on Capitol Hill...
During a yes-or-no answer portion of the evening, DeWolf and Egan Orion, both of whom are gay, apparently disagreed on the question of whether Capitol Hill was safe for members of LGBTQ communities.
Orion held up a "yes" sign to say he thought the neighborhood was safe, while DeWolf held up a "no" sign to say he thought the neighborhood was not safe. Logan Bowers, who is not gay, originally held up a "no" sign but then switched it to "yes" after looking at Orion's answer.
Orion later told me he thinks the neighborhood is safe relative to the scene in the 1980s and 1990s. "There are vulnerabilities for LGBTQ people on the Hill, still. And I think we can do a better job. But it's definitely not the battle of the dark days," he said.
DeWolf backed up his answer with the hate crimes data he cited during the forum, plus anecdotal evidence from his personal life. "I walk through the neighborhood with my husband holding hands and still people yell out, 'faggot,'" he said.
Bowers later explained his waffling by saying that he's well aware of the rise in hate crimes on Capitol Hill and around the country. "That's something we have to squash quick," he said, but he added that "overall crime is low in the city relative to the past, so people should not feel unsafe on the streets."
Cake or Pie???
Labor asked whether the candidates preferred cake or pie. The correct answer to this question is
cake.* Here's how the candidates responded:
Back to the Beef
In an answer to a question about housing affordability, Sawant said "the for-profit market has predictably failed us." She called for rent control and massive investments in public housing paid for with taxes on big business. "The labor movement needs to lead that struggle," she said to much applause.
DeWolf took the opportunity to push back, implying that Sawant hasn't been lobbying Olympia hard enough to lift the ban on rent control. "Every election cycle we get sound bites and press conferences that make us feel like we're heard, but we are not," he said.
On affordability, DeWolf said he wants to upzone around Seattle's schools.
Bowers has made upzoning a major part of his platform. If you look him in the eyes he will upzone you. In this forum and at the Speak Out Seattle forum on Tuesday, Bowers said that adding a triplex to every block in the city would provide the 35,000 units of housing he thinks we need to solve the crisis. That's one way to make people feel like the problem is solvable, I guess, but that would also mean tearing down a house on every block and replacing it with a triplex.
Orion agreed with Bowers on upzones, saying the recent decision to upzone 6% of certain areas zoned for single-family homes "doesn't go far enough."
Nguyen called for rent assistance to help keep people in their homes. She gave this answer again during the question about how the candidates would tackle the homelessness crisis, and added that she wanted the city to use permitting information to contact renters and homeowners before developers break ground.
DeWolf also mentioned "shallow rent subsidies," along with increasing diversion programs and targeting youth homelessness.
Orion repeated his call to open up vacant hotel rooms and apartments as temporary housing for the homeless, and suggested subsidizing backyard cottages to help people "bridge the gap and stay in their houses."
Sawant mentioned her recent organizing work with the Chateau Apartments, which CHS Blog has covered well, and reiterated her call for the rich to pay for public housing.
Bowers criticized the council for targeting the Central District for "massive development," which he said "reinforced the racist history of our zoning and displaces people of color from our neighborhood." He also decried the fact that "disproportionally white neighborhoods have seen zero upzoning."
Orion Wiffed a Question About Waterfront Workers
A longshoreman asked whether the candidates would support the growth of maritime jobs along the waterfront or whether it should be used for "non-maritime activities."
The crowd boo-hissed when Orion said he didn't know much about the port. He tried to save himself by saying he'd support "whatever brings more jobs to the city."
Sawant said she backs a "working waterfront" and slammed business interests who have tried to convert it into luxury condos or a sports arena. Nguyen also said she'd make sure “port jobs are protected.”
DeWolf and Bowers are the only D3 candidates who support a toll for driving downtown. Logan clarified his view, saying he supports congestion pricing as "part of a package to boost our transit throughout the city where we are most struggling to move folks.”
*An earlier version of this post incorrectly bought into labor's pie/cake dichotomy. After further deliberation and research, Stranger editors decided the correct answer to the question was actually *cookies.* We regret the error.