Q&A: Rooted in a Family Legacy of Civil Rights, Mayoral Candidate Lance Randall Shares His Vision for Seattle

by Carolyn Bick

In February 2020, South Seattleite and SEED Seattle’s current Director of Economic Development and Interim Director Lance Randall quietly filed his paperwork for mayoral candidacy. After the Emerald broke the news of his candidacy last autumn, Randall promised his first interview to the Emerald. He recently made good on that promise by giving this reporter their first interview of 2021, in which he discussed his background as the son and grandson of trailblazing Black men in the South, and his vision for a more inclusive city.

Tell me about your background and your childhood. What about your childhood influenced the choices you made and the path on which you now find yourself? Were there any defining moments or turning points where you said, “Ah-ha! I know what I need to do with my life”?

I was born in Macon, Georgia … in 1966, and I am the only male son of five children. I have four sisters and no brothers, which was good, very good. I had a great childhood with my sisters. All of them grew up to be wonderful women, very successful, and their strength, encouragement, and nurturing has been an important part of my development.

My father is an attorney by trade, and he was also a state representative for 24 years. Later in life, he became a civil court judge and chief magistrate for the Bibb County Court. My grandfather — a successful businessman, had many businesses that he owned, back in the day — he was also an elected official. He was a county commissioner for Bibb County, Georgia. Both [my father and grandfather] were the first African Americans to hold their positions.

Growing up, I had an opportunity to watch these men firsthand be some outstanding public servants. My grandfather, from the business perspective, always made sure that other Black businesses back in the day — because he started his business in the ‘50s and ‘60s — he was a go-to person for a lot of the Black businesses, minority businesses, in the city and around the region, and was a Civil Rights leader, as well. So, he always made sure that African Americans were treated fairly in the business sectors, and he also was a fighter against the Jim Crow laws in the nation. And he led the bus boycott in Macon, Georgia.

Lance Randall’s grandfather, left, with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His influence on me was a business perspective: understanding that one of the most important things that people can have is the ability to make money independently. And he taught me the importance of having a successful business and working hard for that type of business. From a public servant perspective, what he taught me is that the people are paramount — their concerns, their issues, solving problems for them is paramount, as a public servant. Not to get caught up in fanfare, not to get caught up in a lot of other things that come with being an elected official, but to keep the main focus on the people. Being able to witness him do that, as a young person, was very influential.

My father … was a wonderful family man, still is. … He showed the ability to balance family and public servant duties, but, also, again, with my grandfather, we went to church every Sunday. Church was a big part of our life. My faith, my religion is a big part of my life, a very important part. Spending time in church around the people worshipping, praying — it just does something for me. Being around other people, other believers, other people of faith, and being able to interact with people … pray for each other and encourage one another is a very important part of our lives. It plays a very important part of being a public servant.

I would say having first hand experience seeing men — strong men, but gentle men — in leadership positions and how they interacted with the public and the people, and getting things done and solving problems was one of the things that really influenced me the most from them.

From my sisters — really understanding how important women are to our society, bringing that balance as far as their leadership abilities, their nurturing, their education. Growing up with these four phenomenal women over the years, and watching them overcome challenges — because, you know, a lot of sexism and stuff was going on — watching them be strong and deal with that. My job was to be the supportive brother to all four of my sisters, no matter what they wanted to do.

My mother, her influence was being able to keep everything together. We operated as a team around the house, around the church, around the places of businesses that worked with my grandfather. My mother was always the person who kept the teams together, making sure everyone had their assignments and got them done. A great leader in that respect, and keeping teamwork in place, no matter what we did, whether it was washing dishes, working, travelling — we all had assignments, we all had to do our part, and my mother was excellent in making sure that happened.

I would say the defining moments were when I had the opportunity to see my grandfather sworn in [as a Bibb County commissioner], knowing that he was the first African American county commissioner being sworn in, and then to witness my father being the first African American state representative to be sworn in, and then witnessing [him], when he got to be appointed civil court judge. To see all the work that they put in to get to this point, and then to see the result — at that point, I knew my purpose was to follow in their footsteps, was to be serving people, and to take care of people.

When did you move to Seattle, and why did you move here?

I moved to Seattle in 2007. I had just finished running for mayor of Macon — came third out of seven candidates — and prior to that I had run for Macon County Commissioner in 2004, the first Democratic nominee for the position, and lost in the general election. I had been doing economic development for 20-plus years, so, after those two elections, I decided I would set aside politics and really focus on economic development, because I was really doing good in that. 

So, I took my resume out across the country, and had several municipalities reach out to me about coming to work for them, but Seattle was the first one that really reached out in a way that was very intriguing. Seattle was intriguing, because it was so far away from Macon, Georgia. And to think that the 10th largest city in the country had an interest in a little fella like me from the Red Clay Hills of Georgia — it was intriguing. They reached out to me, we did an interview, and they flew me out to Seattle for a final interview. A couple weeks later, they offered me the position, and I worked for the Seattle Office of Economic Development, doing business recruiting, and retention and expansion work.

I wanted to make a change, wanted to really spread my wings, so I looked at this opportunity to do that, and came out to Seattle in 2007. Greg Nichols was mayor at the time. And I have been here ever since.

You’re a multi-award winner for economic development projects, as well as the Interim Director for SEED Seattle. How has your work in the field of economics focused on lifting up and strengthening the most vulnerable and marginalised?

The one thing that is important to marginalized communities and people of color is to create opportunities where they can be independent, self-sufficient. A lot of that depends on being able to start a business or purchase a business, and maintain a business where you can make money to take care of yourself and your family. 

What I have run across in my career in economic development is that there are a lot of times where people of color start businesses. They don’t get quite the support from the general public as they need, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s the type of business that they have, whether it’s geographic location — there are just a lot of different barriers they run into. So, what I have done in my career in economic development is try to reach out to these businesses and find out exactly what they need and what they want to accomplish. My role is to pave the way to help the businesses be successful and to grow.

I’ll give you one good example. There is a candy company in Seattle. It’s called Lanier’s Fine Candies. I met this gentleman maybe in 2008 or 2009, because I was going through a minority business directory, looking for businesses to call and reach out to, so I could go visit them. I just happened to run across his ad. I left him a message and he called me back and said, “I would love to meet with you, but I’m a home business.” I said, “That’s fine. You’re still a business.”

So, I meet with him, and he makes the best brittle candy in the world. Older guy, retired from the University of Washington. So, met with him at his house — he turned his basement into a commercial kitchen, got approval and everything. He gave me the grand tour, and I said, “What can I do to help you?” And he said, “Well, I don’t need any money, I have everything that I need, but I want to meet George Bartell, because I want to see if I can get my product in his store.”

I had struck up a friendship with George Bartell, because, when I got to Seattle, that was one of the first companies I reached out to, and I solved a problem for that company. So, I reached out to Bartell, and he was willing to meet with the gentleman. We set up a meeting. And we went there, and had a great conversation. The only issue is that he was not at the level to provide the amount of candy Bartell would want for the store — [Bartell] loved the product. And then he gave him some feedback on his package and what have you.

So, the short of it is, I was able to make the connection, which is what [the candy maker] wanted, and he didn’t quite get a contract to do stuff with Bartell, but he got a lot of guidance and advice from Bartell, which he has used and grown his business now. So, hopefully, he is getting to the level where he may be able to provide the quantities that these bigger stores require.

This example is about how, when I find out what minority businesses [want], [I try] to pave a way for them … [and] break down the barriers on their behalf and use my economic development skills to do that. So, whether it’s a nonprofit, a small business, a home business, consulting — it doesn’t make a difference. The job is to try to pave the way so they get an opportunity to compete in the business sector. That is one thing I have really focused on in my work, trying to help minority businesses, and helping them get access to the marketing, the funding, whatever I can do to help them grow their businesses.

Lance Randall and his four sisters

In doing a little research for this interview, I stumbled across something called the “love offering” scandal you and your family were said to be involved in in Macon, Georgia, back in 2005. I couldn’t find very much about that, so I wanted to ask if you could explain a little bit about that and how it was resolved, since I am sure readers would find the same article, if they Googled your name.

In 1992, when I worked for a U.S. Congressman, I had a staff of about 20 people, including about four or five interns, and [Selinda Handsford] was one of the interns back in ‘92-’95, when I was there. We were not dating or anything like that. I was married to someone else. She was a senior in college getting ready to go off to law school. So, she was there at the organization for two years, and then she left to start law school.

After that, I got divorced, and then several years later we ran into each other and started dating. By that time, she had finished law school. My father was a civil court judge, and I introduced him to her, and he had an opening as an associate magistrate. So, he offered her the position, and she took it.

While she was working there, we did get engaged, and that’s when she put me down as her fiancé and beneficiary. The scandal was — it really wasn’t a scandal. What it was is, there was a civil court judge by the name of Burl Davis, who was a civil court judge for years. 

When judges, even associates, when they did weddings, people would give them $25 as a “love offering” to do it. It was an unspoken practice. My father was the first Black superior court judge and [replaced Davis]. [There was a magistrate] there that he kept on board, and he really didn’t like my dad. So, what [the magistrate] did was, he went to the district commission and disclosed this practice that is unwritten. But because my dad was now the first Black judge, he decided to come at my dad, and this is what he did.

So, the commission looked at this, and they said, “It’s something that you’re not supposed to do,” even though it was a practice before he got there. But, technically, if [a judge does] a wedding, during office hours, you can’t get a “love offering.” But if you do a wedding on a Saturday or Sunday, and you are not working those working hours, you can.

When [the magistrate] disclosed this, it was not only Miss Handsford, but some other judges that were also caught up in this situation. I think they made this story [you referenced] this way, because that is when they discovered me and Miss Handsford had a relationship, and she was working for my dad. We weren’t married or anything, we were just engaged. So, they just threw me in, but I had nothing to do with the scandal or anything.

She wasn’t the only one. And, again, this was an unwritten practice that was going on for years, and it wasn’t until [my father] got elected as the first Black [civil court judge] that this [magistrate] came and was saying that this was happening.

[Handsford] went ahead and resigned from that position. We didn’t get married, and I moved to Seattle. So, after a period of time — Macon is not a real big city — [my father] was still trying to get good magistrates, so he figured, “Okay, maybe I can get her reinstated.” So, in 2011, he tried to get her reinstated, but then [the “love offering” scandal] came up again, and then he said, “Just forget it.” I was in Seattle at the time, 2011, so I had nothing to do with it.

The scandal had nothing to do with me. It’s just that when you have a political family that is well-known, people will just throw stuff in there … and [journalists] just threw in there that yes, we were engaged and yes, she made me a beneficiary, because we were going to get married, but I had nothing to do with the scandal.

When you ran for mayor of Macon, one of your initiatives was called the Black Male Initiative, which was meant to address issues such as incarceration, joblessness, and homelessness among Black men in Macon. Do you have something similar in mind, if you win for office here?

We already have an organization [in Seattle] that does what I was talking about doing [back then], and it’s called The Breakfast Group. It’s already something in place, and something I was going to do in Macon — pull together a multi-ethnic organization, including everybody — white, Black, didn’t make a difference. I wanted to pull a team of people together through a nonprofit or a movement where the community, as a whole, the City, would try to figure out a way to help young African American men, because of the dropout rates, the crime, jobs, and I just felt that the community as a whole … would come together to try to help these men gain their lives. They could be substantial contributors to society, but we have to help them along the way, because we have systemic racism that they have had to deal with and that still exists, and so many different barriers they have to deal with. [They have to deal with] a sense of hopelessness, because when they look at TV or movies, everything seems to be negative, and no encouragement. I just felt that if I was going to be an African American mayor of a city, for this population of men, I wanted to make sure that we did everything that we could to support them, to help them overcome these barriers. I am very passionate about that.

Lance Randall with members of the Black Male Initiative in Macon, Georgia.

I’ve gotten to know the Breakfast Group. They are a phenomenal group. My objective is to continue to work through that organization and other organizations that have a passion to help … any minority men that need help, support, and to try to pave the way for them as they try to make their way through society. 

As mayor, I will continue to be a champion for that. I have a lot of young men from different backgrounds who are supporting me in my work on my campaign, and they are excited. I am excited to have them helping me out. It is still going to be my intention to push my younger brothers and encourage them and be available to knock down these barriers, so they could get an opportunity.

I do want it to be understood that it takes everyone, every part of the City, every nationality, to help this, because Black men have a unique history. We are a unique history, going back to slavery and the things we’ve had to go through. We are still struggling and trying to recover from that, and we need to provide guidance to our young brothers. That is what I am going to continue to do.

I would dare to say that a lot of African American men have not had the experience of seeing other African American men support each other that you see at an historically Black college, or even in the southeast, which is a hotbed of Civil Rights. I have a lot of young men here who call me their uncle that I have met from across the City — young African American men. They call me, we have conversations, I help them with different things. They just want to be encouraged. 

Black men, or African American men, when they don’t feel supported … it is important for us to be able to unify and support ourselves mentally [and] emotionally.

You grew up as a Black man in the South. You experienced racism, you saw racism against your own high-achieving family members, particularly Black male family members. You’ve talked to me about how those experiences have shaped your beliefs as to what, essentially, you would do to create a more just and equitable society, particularly for Black men. And so, with regards to what you would want to do as mayor of Seattle, what aspects of the city really need to change, either ideologically or actually physically, in order to foster this, in order to make this happen? What has the current mayor not been doing that you would do, or that she hasn’t?

I have been around elected officials all my life, and I don’t have anything critical to say about any elected officials, because it is a tough job. It is a very tough job. But to answer your question, a couple things:

The one thing I learned from my grandfather and my father was, in going through the Civil Rights transformation, where you had laws that were stricken and laws that were implemented — like getting rid of Jim Crow, the segregation, and all that type of stuff — when these laws were passed in Congress, there were not enough People of Color that were elected to the Senate or the House that could have passed these laws. They were just physically not there. So, you had white men, mostly, who passed the laws. The reason I bring that up is because, at some point — Dr. King and the movement continued to have discussions, continued to meet in back rooms, have discussions, whatever — at some point, enough discussion was had where these individuals realized we had to do something different. And, basically, the community, the Black community is telling us what needs to be done, and we need to stop resisting and make it happen.

I think … Seattle understands the plight of People of Color, systemic racism, and all that type of stuff. But what I want to bring to the table is being able to make those strategic decisions. We do a lot of talking about it, and then we try to address issues, and color them with a broad brush. But you can’t do that. You have to dig into a very specific issue, figure out how to solve that one, then go to the next one, the next one, the next one, and keep doing it. So, we can talk about Communities of Color, we can talk about all these initiatives we want to put in place. It sounds good, but there are a lot of details that have to be worked out.

And then, another detail is that you have to have the right people in place that are committed to making it happen. So, you gotta pinpoint what needs to be done, and in conversations you are having with Communities of Color, they will tell you, “This is what we need to do.” And when they say, “we,” they want to be involved in the process. It seems as though we have a tendency that we feel we have to go into the neighborhoods and fix the problem, or we have to go in and build, instead of saying, “Okay, here are the tools you need so you can do it yourself, and we will support you through that. Here is the money you need to get the businesses going. Here is the money you need for marketing.” All these types of different needs these communities have, we need to understand the individual needs and address them so that everything can come together.

Communities of Color pay taxes, as well. We need to make sure that they get a significant portion of those tax dollars coming back to those communities. There need to be significant dollars, but we also need to make sure that they are involved in the problems they are trying to fix. That is the way you strengthen the community. For example, if you have a community that has a business district, and it is majority People of Color, it’s important to make sure that the businesses in that district remain in place, and they grow and they are strong, so they can support the community itself, as opposed to someone coming in, buying a building, displacing the business, and they have nowhere to go. Let’s make investments in the businesses themselves.

We have to make sure the banks are doing everything possible to provide financial resources to them. I have heard of situations where banks are not very cooperative. But maybe it’s understanding what needs to be in place, in order to be bankable. There are just a lot of things that we have to instill in these communities where they can be self-sufficient and I want to be able to provide that for the communities.

I know you said you don’t want to go in with any preconceived notions, but do you have any solid … ideas or plans, should you be elected mayor, that you would start implementing?

Without giving a lot of detail, there are a couple things I want to take a look at. I want to take a look at the development policies that we have. And the reason why I do know that there are a lot of People of Color — not just Black people, but Asian, Mexican — people who have property, and they are not able to develop their property, because of the development laws that we have implemented are not very inclusionary of these pieces of property. So, I want to look at the development laws to make it more inclusive, which means that, if you have a piece of property, you should be able to develop it yourself and make some money off of it. Otherwise, the other option is to have a developer come in, buy the property off you. You may get a big check, but, after that, then what? So, the development laws we need to take a look at to make sure they are more inclusive, so it’s going to be some tweaks we need to make there to make sure that people in certain communities have the opportunity to be their own developers, if they want to be. 

Right now, that is a big challenge for a lot of property owners in some neighborhoods. You’ve got pre-construction costs, pre-development costs, and a lot of them don’t have thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars laying around to do environmental, architecture — that type of stuff. So, we have to figure out how do we help them get access to the resources they need to do that pre-development work, and then have access to get a construction loan, and all that type of stuff.

I want to also take a look at the laws when it comes to contracting with the City. There are some things that need to be adjusted and addressed to make sure that the businesses of color are really getting an opportunity to do business with the City. And I think there’s a lot of businesses that have tried and have been unsuccessful, and they have given up. We have to make sure that if you are going to put an inclusion plan in place — just saying it’s in place and putting something that’s pretty broad? No, you are going to have to dig into the details to make sure that everything is … put in place in such a way that everyone will have a fair opportunity to get a contract with the City.

I think we talk a lot about it, we do take steps, but we have to go much further and much deeper, and that is what I want to bring to the table. The strongest economy is a diverse economy, and when you have a good, strong, diverse group of people contributing to the economy, then we have something special there. But … you have certain parts of the City that would like to contribute, but they have to be in a position where they can contribute, and I think that it is my obligation to make that happen.

In doing this, it is going to take more than the people in just the community themselves. It’s going to take people all around the City, which means that Seward Park also has to be concerned about the people in South Park.

We have to make sure that equity means opportunity — that everyone has what they need to be successful. It’s not rocket science. It’s basically pulling people together and saying, “Let’s value every citizen in every community, and let’s really work together to put together a strategy to make sure these communities have what they need.” In the end, it’s going to be a significant part of our economy and our social construct when they are able to help others be successful.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article accidentally included a quote from state senator Reuven Carlyle that was from a different article on climate legislation. The Emerald has corrected this and regrets the error.

Carolyn Bick is a journalist and photographer based in South Seattle. You may reach them here, and can check out their work here and here.

Featured image: Lance Randall and his parents, Lauretta Randall and Judge William C. Randall, pose for a picture in Seattle, Washington. All photos courtesy of Lance Randall.

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