Face to Face with City Council Candidates

by Anthony Derrick, Public Policy Task Force member
| Oct 09, 2017
F2F CC Hero














[Part II of this series looking at Port of Seattle candidates can be found here]

This past Friday, several candidates for public office in Seattle came face to face with GSBA members to discuss their positions and policies. Facilitated by Roger Nyhus, panelists Steven Sawyer (POCAAN), Gladys Gillis (Starline Luxury Coaches), Beto Yarce (Ventures), Gunner Scott (Pride Foundation), and Elise Lindborg (ZippyDogs) led the conversation with insightful questions about the candidates’ commitment to equality, opportunity and LGBT rights in Seattle.

Candidates for Seattle City Council positions 8 and 9 (Lorena González was unable to attend at the last minute) led off the morning with a question that would be asked of all candidates: What have you done to personally advance LGBT equality throughout your life? [Video] John Grant touted his time working on the Decline to sign campaign, and was sure to reinforce the importance of elected officials standing with the trans community. Teresa Mosqueda’s work in building broad coalitions around worker’s rights and healthcare – both of which have a disproportionate impact on LGBTQ people. For her part, Murakami said she has been “personally supportive of gay rights,” and served on the South Seattle Crime Prevention Unit, where she worked on the Danny Vega case and advocated for recognizing it as a bias crime.

The first question from the panelists came from Steven Sawyer.  Seattle has reached a critical benchmark with the 90-90-90 strategy - that 90% of those living with HIV are diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed are on antiretrovirals, and 90% of those on antiretrovirals will have viral suppression. While we have achieved that benchmark, the 10% remaining are predominantly men of color, particularly African American men. The CDC estimates that fully half of African American gay men and a quarter of Latino gay men will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes. Sawyer as what each of the candidates would do as a Councilmember to best address this epidemic. [Video]

Grant’s answer focused on collaboration – engaging and partnering with KCPH and other organizations that have trusted and tested relationships in this community, and supporting them with the funding and outreach they would need. Mosqueda brought up her background in public health, and her work creating a safety net in the Healthy Seattle Plan. Mosqueda also outlined her intention to work with schools to expand preventative education and broaden in-school health programs. Murakami’s answer focused on the necessary change in dynamic within POC communities – in particular calling out black churches for not accepting gay men in their congregations. In addition to expanding health services, she also argued that changing the culture would be necessary because people who feel shame about their condition are less likely to seek treatment.

Next, Gladys Gillis asked about dealing with the growing disenfranchisement of business owners in Seattle, who increasingly don’t feel like they have a seat at the table. [Video]

All three candidates mentioned the need for relieving the burdens on small businesses, including rent stabilization for commercial properties, and encouraging more communication between small businesses and the city. Grant expressed the need to enable small businesses to remain in their neighborhoods and continue serving as cultural anchors. He also suggested a portable benefit system for small business employees that the city would manage. Mosqueda highlighted her existing commitment to small businesses as an advocate for minimum wage and sick leave laws, but made sure to mention that those battles were won through collaboration with small businesses. She proposed giving small businesses additional capital to get through the first few years, and suggested we should review the way the city awards small business licenses. Murakami’s focus was on filling empty commercial spaces by pressuring landlords to lower rents to more sustainable levels. She also encouraged a focus on industrial jobs and outreach into South Seattle business districts.

Beto Yarce posed a more existential question for the candidates: at what point does a small business become a big business, and therefore a “bad guy?” [Video]

Grant one again reinforced the importance of small businesses as neighborhood anchors and destinations, but he struggled to answer the question directly. Without giving specifics, Grant nevertheless maintained that there is a tipping point between big and small business, and that if a business is large enough that they put a strain on Seattle’s infrastructure, it may be time to look at charging them higher B&O taxes.

Seizing on her opponent’s lack of specifics, Mosqueda took the opportunity to call out Grant’s lack of a concrete plan. She emphasized that big and small businesses in Seattle must work together to create a city that works for everyone, and to do so we need to hold larger businesses accountable to paying their fair share.

The only one to directly answer the question with a number, Murakami said that business with more than 500 employees are considered big business. Even still, she noted that at about 150 employees, there is a shift - but that it doesn’t necessarily make them the bad guy. “It’s more about the flow of money,” she said. Is it staying at the top, or does it go back into the business to pay for employee growth and opportunity?

The last question from Gunner Scott posed to the city council candidates asked about the formation of paid positions in city hall to specifically address the concerns of LGBTQ people in Seattle. [Video]

Both Murakami and Mosqueda answered yes unequivocally, while Grant pivoted to housing. He did say he would be a strong proponent of creating an office for LGBTQ affairs, but was more focused on enforcing existing laws and working with offices already in place. While Mosqueda did say that she supports an office of LGBTQ affairs, we need to make sure that we’re working within existing offices to be responsive to the community and make sure LGBTQ people are represented in all parts of government. Murakami brought up a friend of hers who is a senior living with HIV, and insisted that the city’s office of Civil Rights needs to listen to people like him to make sure that they are following through on issues that are impacting these communities.