South Seattle candidates talk community needs in Capitol Hill evening forum

by Jake Goldstein-Street

Metropolitan King County Council candidates, including Councilmember Larry Gossett and his challenger Girmay Zahilay, as well as Seattle City Council candidates, like South Seattle’s Tammy Morales, discussed human services and social justice in an evening forum on Sept. 19 at the Seattle World School in Capitol Hill.

Vying for the King County Council’s District 2 seat, Gossett and Zahilay were the first to square off that evening. The King County Council is responsible for public health  and human services as well as the criminal justice system, which includes prosecutors and public defenders, District and Superior Courts and both adult jails and juvenile detention.

In a short, 10-minute forum, Gossett, who was first elected in 1993 and hasn’t faced a competitor in 14 years, talked about wanting to reform the county’s eviction laws with the aim of better protecting tenants, including through increased pay or vacate notice periods, and his work years ago on the county’s climate change action plan, which he hopes to make more progressive.

“We gonna get it going in Seattle here around climate change, y’all,” the former council chair said, noting that he is inspired by youth organizing for a local climate strike on Sept. 20.

He also called for more interpreters for elderly non-English speakers at “critical meetings where they can make sure they know and receive the same information as everybody else.”

Zahilay, a 32-year-old Seattle attorney and Gossett’s challenger, agreed with that position, adding that he wants to address property taxes for people with fixed incomes and build more senior housing.

“They’re really struggling out there,” Zahilay said. “They’re telling me that, ‘I’ve been retired for 10 years now and I’m having to go back into the workforce to mow lawns, to do manual labor, just to keep up with the property taxes.’”

Zahilay wants to empower local youth to participate in the climate justice movement through paid county-wide internships for anyone who wants one to deal with the issue.

Gossett, who often brings up his decades of public service to prove his track record against his young challenger, and Zahilay are battling for the council’s District 2 seat, which encompasses Skyway, Rainier Valley, Columbia City, and the Central District, among other neighborhoods.

Zahilay, who tried to get people to remember his name at the evening’s forum with the moniker “my guy Girmay,” took 56 percent of the vote against Gossett in August’s top-two primary. Gossett received less than 37 percent of the vote. It took him a while to make a decision to run for reelection to the non-partisan position due to health concerns, including a stroke in 2013, before jumping into the race in the spring.

South Seattle co-founder Marcus Green moderated the event, which was sponsored by  the Emerald, the Transit Riders Union, YWCA and the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, and hosted by the Seattle Human Services Coalition

Morales, the frontrunner for the open District 2 Seattle City Council seat that represents Mount Baker, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach, pushed for de-escalation training for Seattle Police Department officers, especially in the case of domestic violence, as well as police bringing advocates when they go out on those types of calls. 

“I don’t think folks should be arrested at all if they are the person who is the victim in the situation,” the Rainier Beach Action coalition community organizer and Lakewood resident said. 

Her opponent, SPD crime prevention coordinator Mark Solomon was not in attendance, but he said in a longer forum Tuesday hosted by the Seattle City Club that the city should increase its police force, according to the Seattle Times.

Morales said she wants to see better pay for child care providers because “they are taking care of our littlest Seattleites and they deserve to be compensated” and more funding for childcare facilities.

In a questionnaire, Solomon wrote, “Perhaps our large employers and the City of  Seattle can offer incentives, allowances or stipends to help offset childcare costs. Just as we have flexible spending accounts for health-related items, perhaps we use a similar system to offset childcare costs.”

Morales lost by less than 2 percent when she ran for the seat in 2015 against now-retiring Councilmember Bruce Harrell. She won the primary, garnering a little more than 50 percent of the vote in a big field. 

Solomon, boosted by about $120,000 in independent expenditures from the political action committee for the business friendly Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, also advanced to the November general election with more than 23 percent.

South Seattle Emerald co-founder Marcus Green moderated the event, which was sponsored by  the Emerald, the Transit Riders Union, YWCA and the Coalition Ending Gender-Based Violence, and hosted by the Seattle Human Services Coalition.

Featured image from Wikimedia Commons.

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