South Seattle Emerald contributors met with candidates running for Seattle City Council’s District 2 seat. Incumbent Bruce Harrell announced in January he would not run, and seven candidates filed to take over his vacant seat. This week the Emerald will publish interviews the candidates talking about their campaigns in their own words. Today, Emerald contributor Bunthay Cheam speaks with Phyllis Porter. Click here to read all of the candidate interviews published so far.
by Bunthay Cheam
Phyllis Porter is transportation advocate and is running for the Seattle City Council’s District 2 position, which encompasses Southeast Seattle and the International District. You may know Porter for her fight for transportation access and equity, but she says she’s more than that.
Known for her deep ties to community, especially in Southeast Seattle, Porter’s work has touched myriad realms, including transportation safety and access, education, incarceration recidivism, and youth empowerment.
The organizations and community groups she’s worked with or has been a part of include the Let’s Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee, Pioneer Human Services, Rainier Beach Economic Development Roundtable, Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, Rainier Valley Greenways, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and the Rainier Bicycle Club.
She also carries the stories and lived experiences that she believes resonates with residents of the south end; from depending on Section 8 for housing needs and navigating the criminal justice system with her son as a single mother to celebrating her daughter’s graduation from Washington State University and attending college herself.
Porter currently resides in Columbia City and is pursuing her bachelor degree in Communications at the University of Washington Tacoma.
Bunthay Cheam: Who you are, what’s your background, and why are you running?
Phyllis Porter: I’m a grandmother. I have two children. I’ve lived in Seattle, I’ve lived outside of Seattle. My mom always told me that whenever you have a problem, you seek the solution. When you seek the solution, not only tell your sister and brother, but you tell everybody that it affects. I’m a single mother who’s worked very hard and has struggled the majority of the way. Two steps forward. One step backwards. I love being around people. I’m energetic. I’m a leader.
I have lived experience I’ve gone through the struggle I face some of the same struggle that people are facing today.
I’ve been there and I know what you’re going through and I think I would have the passion and the compassion about it and I would be able to more understand more. And a lot of times when you want something done, it’s great to have someone who has already experienced. So if I want to represent you, I need to know where you’re coming from. I need to have felt the same things that you have. I’m a renter and I’ve seen the astronomical rent increases. I feel the pain. I’ve been there, and I want to represent them. I want to make sure I go to city hall and work with smart solutions that prioritizes the people that need it.
BC: Skyrocketing rents and housing prices over the last decade have led to the displacement of many, especially for communities of color. What solutions do you bring to the table or propose right now to address these issues?
PP: People feel like when it comes to the south end, the city doesn’t pay as much attention, the minority here is the majority. From talking to the people living in the community, the south end gets less of everything. The people [in] the south end, they’re not living, they’re not thriving, they are surviving.
Also, incentivize more opportunity to connect housing around transit, with transit-oriented development. There’s a Tiny Tots Development Center going up at the corner of Alaska and Martin Luther King Jr. Way (Columbia City Light Rail Station), Odessa Brown Clinic; they’re going to bring out another clinic. And I think that’s great, trying to build it around there so people can be in their communities. Because right now a lot of people are traveling, you’ve got people traveling far to get to work. They can’t afford to live in Seattle. So why not? We boost the economy right here in our own area and try to make that work for the people around.
Also expand programs aimed at eviction protection. Right now developers have one of two choices when they build: they could put money in a [affordable housing] fund or they can agree to build public housing [as part of the new building.]
I’d like to see that money go right back into another unit that’s going to be built or take that money and use it in eviction protection for people who are at the risk, keep them from being displaced, transportation and utility assistance, legal and job support and short term rental assistance in order to keep people in their homes and out of the streets.
I have to listen to everybody and listen to the people in the south. I’ve also struggled, I’ve struggled with some of the same things. And I think by me having already lived the experiences in which some of them are living. I think I’ll be able to sit down at the table, listen and feel what they’re feeling and understand, OK, we need to do as much as we can to pull up the south end and make it just as equal. We need to make it all equal.
BC: A Seattle Times report based on OSPI date revealed that between 2013-2014, Black students were 41 percent of out of school suspensions while only making up 17.9 percent of the student population and Hispanic students were 16.9 percent of suspension while only making up 13.3 percent. How do you plan to address access to education, especially for District 2 residents?
PP: I feel like there’s definitely a connection between the opportunity we provide for children and a connection to the success of the city.
I think number one, when we start talking about the youth, we have to make sure first of all, they have a place to live.
A lot of youth don’t even have a place to sleep. So first of all, I want to make sure that school children do have proper housing.
[In] Seattle the first two years of college is free. I see students that go for two years and they get out, they’re still not finding a lot of good work. Some are finding work, some are not. That four year degree is really relevant… so we can work on making the other two years free.
BC: Minority youth are disproportionately overrepresented among youth incarceration. According to King County data from 2016-2017, Black youth make up 10 percent of children 10-17 in KC. In 2017, they made up 43.6 percent of the secure detention average daily population and Hispanic youth make up about 13 percent while making up 14.6 percent. How will you address the school to prison pipeline?
PP: I think we need to listen to the students and find out what the root of the problem is. Once we find out what the root of the problem is, I would like to make sure that we have the resources and the finances to take care of that issue. I’ve worked with a lot of students. I used to work at Pioneer Human Services. Pioneer Human Services is an organization that works with post incarcerated men and women.
So what I would like to do with them once they’re on the tail end up coming out, what we can do while they’re in there, but on the tail end up coming out before they get out. I’m like, what we did with them, we made sure these students are most of them. Okay. 16 most from 17, 18. They’ve already got a lot of are ending school there are finishing up school. So we get them out, we meet them where they are, they need to get their GED, we made sure they get their GED and then we just don’t want to put them on to McDonald’s, we don’t just want to put them onto Burger King. So what we do, we get them in apprenticeship programs. We try to put them in a position to where as they can actually make money.
We’ve connected with the aerospace industry, but there’s more than aerospace. You know, if you want to become a plumber, you want to become an electrician, we can work with them.
For the students that are in there [incarcerated], we should continue to have counselors and again find out why students are in there and work on helping them get back into society once they’re done. Coming up with policy that’s going to help with money to fund the programs that we need to make sure that once they get out to keep them out. Because sometimes students make mistakes and then you’re 13 years old, you may go out and do something, but you truly do not see the ramification of what it’s gonna do [to] you later on.
BC: How do you advocate improving safety for most impacted communities who are often marginalized by law enforcement?
PP: Down in Rainier Beach they have Detective Cookie. I think we need more Detective Cookies. She can’t do it herself. I think that the community and the police, we have to have that community relationship. So the first thing I like to do is build a relationship between the community police and the people that live in their community.
A lot of kids don’t trust the police officers because of the things that are going on and the things that have happened in the past. So I think first of all the community needs to come together. Once the kids begin to trust the police, they can see the police as a partner. I think at that point it would be better for the entire community.
BC: You have a deep background in transportation advocacy for the community, as a council member, how do you plan to use this experience to improve local policies?
PP: I think we need to take the words of the community, of what has already been put forward. They’ve already complained about what needs to be done. They’ve complained about our kids are getting hurt, our kids are getting killed. So let’s take that information that we’ve already gathered and let’s go from there.
I have been an advocate and I have listened and I have seen first hand and I know that there’s more sidewalks we need to fix, I know we need more curb cuts, I know we need cross walks, I know we need pedestrian improvements across the city, so knowing that, I need to find a way to make sure that we can get the funding, look at it and see what we can do to get the funding because we need to make sure that the seniors to families with strollers, people with disabilities that they are able to get to and fro what I need to go when they need.
As a city council member, I will focus on the basics, like potholes, fill the streets, things like that. I’d advocate for more sidewalks, crosswalks, and other pedestrian improvements. I see a lot of people walking when you’re at the crosswalk, you’re pushing the button, you’re just waiting, you’re waiting, you waiting.
So make sure all those things are taken care of so people can get to and from where they need to be. Next thing, consider the unique needs of seniors. Make sure when we are improving infrastructure and putting in new infrastructure, we think again about the people that are in wheelchairs. We think about the women or men pushing strollers. You think about people with disabilities when you’re building new infrastructure. So I pay close attention to those and work at that. Also, my biggest thing is continuing to improve Rainier Avenue.
BC: Are you running with a political group?
PP: I am a Democrat.
BC: What is something you want community members and voters to know?
PP: I believe in action. All the work that I’ve done throughout the city was because people like me were affected in one way or another, I was affected. And I wanted a better outcome. Talking to the people in the community, I heard that they wanted a better outcome too, seeing cars running into buildings and cars run into people. That was just too much. And I feel like wherever you live, you should have the right to a decent sidewalk, you should have the right to the same services of the city as everyone else does around the city. I’m a hard worker. I know how to get things done.
I want to make sure that we have representation at the table. You know, we’re living in a city which talks about diversity and this is what we’re fighting for all the time out in the community, is diversity at every level. We need to have diversity [at] city hall. How can we have a city council that does not reflect all the communities in Seattle.
Featured photo courtesy Phyllis Porter.