by Mark Van Streefkerk
On Monday, June 29, Andrea Caupain, candidate for state representative in Seattle’s 37th legislative district, announced she was suspending her campaign. Of the remaining two candidates, Kirsten Harris-Talley and Chukundi Salisbury, Caupain officially endorsed Salisbury. Caupain led the candidates in funds raised at over $81,000, but said her reason for leaving the race was to better serve locally, especially in light of COVID-19’s disproportionate effects on the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color communities she serves through the nonprofit Byrd Barr Place.
“It really boiled down to where my community needed me most,” Caupain explained. “It boiled down to what was needed for our community right now versus later. I know I’m simplifying, but it really was an anxiety-, guilt-, and torment-filled process. It was over several weeks of really contemplating: What’s happening in the world right now? Where am I most needed?”
Though stepping away for now, she’s “not throwing in the towel” and intends to run for office again in the future. Since 2008, Caupain has been CEO of Byrd Barr Place, a nonprofit that partners with other organizations to provide solutions to racial inequity through housing and financial assistance, as well as other social programs. She recently helped launch the Black Future Co-Op Fund, which has raised $25 million on behalf of the Black community across Washington State.
“I realized week after week after week, the effects of COVID aren’t slowing down. I’m going to need to be here with my staff to continue to position the agency. In fact, we’re going through strategic planning here with our board to understand how to scale up. Those weren’t bodies of work we expected to do this year. We expected that I would be able to take time from the organization, be a little more hands-off, to be able to campaign. That has not been the case since COVID. The world has changed in the six months since I announced [my campaign],” she said.
Caupain acknowledged the decision to endorse Salisbury came with a lot of introspection but ultimately admitted, “I have known Chukundi. I don’t know Kirsten.” Citing “some real great expressions of allyship on the campaign trail,” Caupain said Salisbury is “someone who is willing to collaborate and someone who is willing to work with differences to ensure we get what we need.”
Salisbury, the Sustainability and Environmental Engagement Manager for the City of Seattle, and CEO of Seaspot Media, welcomed Caupain’s endorsement, saying “I most certainly will accept that. I feel like she was certainly a credible candidate.”
Now that the race has narrowed to two candidates, Salisbury hopes voters will take a closer look at key differences between him and Harris-Talley. He mentioned his history of volunteer work with Mothers for Police Accountability, youth programs, and other organizations, as well as being the executive director of nonprofit Service Is A Lifestyle. Salisbury says his supporters are “regular people,” including local business owners such as Yosh Ohno, president of Ohno Construction, and sisters Miki and Yuki Sodos of Bang Bang Kitchen in Othello. “My campaign slogan is ‘True Representation.’ I come from the bricks of this area,” Salisbury said. “What businesses and community leaders in the district have endorsed [Harris-Talley]? Put the organizations to the side, because a lot of that is flim-flam and progressivese. She just knows how to talk to those folks.”
Addressing Caupain’s leaving the race, Harris-Talley said she wished Caupain the “best of luck,” adding, “I look forward to my continued work with the community, as we continue to build this community campaign and make sure neighbors including her and her family have their voices heard and represented in Olympia.”
When asked what she wants voters to know about her platform now that the race is down to two candidates, Harris-Talley commented, “I very clearly built my entire campaign to be centered with the most impacted communities at the center of the solutions and policy. All of my policies are oriented toward a justice frame, and a true social justice frame, with an antiracism goal because so much of our policy has been explicitly racist.”
Harris-Talley referred to her experiences with nonprofit and advocacy work, including work with reproductive justice organization SURGE, as well as her time on the Seattle City Council that informed her understanding of how local change is restricted by the existing, often outdated, state legislature, which she seeks to challenge.
“I am very clear: I’m an abolitionist,” she stated, noting that the state’s budget for the Department of Corrections is about $2.4 billion annually. For Harris-Talley, defunding the police also means taking on “a very racist institution of incarceration … we cannot separate considerations of our jails and prisons from our detention centers and what’s happening with ICE on the federal level here in Washington’s backyard.”
Harris-Talley affirmed that her lived experiences as a Black, queer woman were different from Salisbury’s, but said, “When there were three of us, and now even when there’s only two of us in this race, this is the only state-level race I can find in all of Washtington State history where all of the candidates are Black … I hope it happens more and more — that folks who look like our communities are the ones on the ticket.”
Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.
Featured image courtesy of Andrea Caupain.