In Run for Congress, Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx Makes Housing Her Focus

by Ashley Archibald

As deputy mayor of Burien, Krystal Marx has some experience with political disagreement.

As an unapologetic progressive, Marx has had to pass legislation in an ideologically diverse council that has exchanged pointed words over issues in the past. But Burien’s elected officials came together to pass tenant protections and hazard pay for grocery store workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

Marx attributes those successes, in part, to eschewing traditional ways of governing and instead reaching out to people who are closest to the problems in order to craft solutions. She has a deep belief in the power of community organizing, bringing people into the legislative process to craft better solutions, and putting pressure on the opposition.

Now she wants to bring those skills to Congress, where there is no guarantee that Democrats will be able to hold onto all levers of government after the 2022 elections.

That’s a concern, Marx said, but it’s also where the power of community organizing can be brought to bear.

“Do you want to get phone calls every single day? Do you want demonstrations outside of your office every day? No? Cool. Then you need to work with us and be able to show that we’ve got community support behind it,” Marx said.

Although there are two other people in the race — Stephanie Gallardo and Mia Paz — Marx’s focus is on unseating incumbent Rep. Adam Smith, who has represented the 9th Congressional District — which covers much of South Seattle, Bellevue, Renton, SeaTac, Tukwila, Kent, and Federal Way —  for 24 years.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

South Seattle Emerald: Why are you running for office?

Krystal Marx: I’m running for the 9th [Congressional District] because we’re facing a looming eviction crisis, that’s one of the biggest things. And as someone who has been evicted while in office and has been homeless as a child, I know what it’s like to try to carry out a meaningful life, try to work, and support a family while also having that threat of about-to-be-losing-your-housing hanging over your head.

We’re able to get a lot of stuff done on a local level, and we’ve been able to pass a lot here and while I’ve been on council. But it’s all kind of this patchwork unless we address it federally and we do it quickly. And people are going to start not just slipping into homelessness but losing faith in their democracy if they’re not seeing action taken on these items quickly by people that have the ability to do so.

SSE: Why the federal government when state and local governments have more control over housing?

KM: I think we have shown that there are folks at the state level [in WA] right now that are willing to do that work. A lot of housing bills were passed, this time especially with Rep. Nicole Macri and Sen. Joe Nguyen, people that are working on the state level. And that’s wonderful. But also, we’re not seeing someone from this area that represents District 9 taking inspiration from that or hearing the messaging that  — hey, we’re all suffering. We’ve got over 30,000 folks in District 9 who are paying over half of their income on housing costs alone.

Where is that sense of urgency? And if we’re going to address it all together in a cohesive manner, we need someone in the federal office who’s willing to do that for us.

SSE: How do you differentiate yourself from incumbent Rep. Adam Smith? Are there any votes of his that you disagree with or would do differently?

KM: I think one of the primary differences between me and Rep. [Adam] Smith is I have the lived experience of knowing exactly what it’s like to face eviction, to wonder if it’s coming, to then be evicted.

I’ve worked at the local level as well. So as deputy mayor of Burien, I sit on regional committees and boards that address issues every day and get to hear from people directly. And I think that local governance experience is missing from Rep. Smith. As well as I’m a queer woman. I’m an out bisexual woman who has a very different experience in life than I believe he does as a white cisgender straight man, facing that constant discrimination as well and coming from a place of poverty.

My family is still struggling to make sure we have food on the table or choose to pay my son’s diabetes bills that he has for a type 1 diabetic diagnosis he just got in October. So, it’s that feeling of struggle and urgency that I think you can’t fake and you can’t learn and you can’t try to work your way out of. If you don’t have it, you don’t have it.

So, it’s that difference in how someone governs. I did that in a co-governing model with people that were closest to the pain, whereas he might sponsor a bill. But we’re not seeing that action of him pushing it forward to completion and/or rallying the troops back home and saying, hey, let’s get behind this and pass it together. I think no matter who you are, you have the ability to work within movements and to bring people’s voices forward.

SSE: Adam Smith is not the only person running. So are Stephanie Gallardo and Mia Paz. Why should voters choose you over them? 

KM: My focus is on beating Adam. Other candidates bring a lot to the table as well. But I’m looking at who’s currently in that position of power and focused on what our campaign brings to the table in terms of lived experience, the experience governing in the area, and showing that we have a track record of getting things passed, especially when there’s opposition to things getting passed, like passing hazard pay in Burien.

SSE: You’ve talked about the lessons you’ve learned on the Burien City Council. How do you see those translating to the new Washington context?

KM: I think it has a lot to do with how things have gotten done in Burien, it isn’t the same old way of governing.

It isn’t passing legislation then telling people here’s why it’s good for you. It’s bringing folks to the table and saying, “What? What do we need to have passed? What are you hearing about that will work for you? What is it that is actually needed, and where do you see the blockages?” and taking direction directly from people. So, in that, it means looking backwards into [the] history of where do we have really good successes around the Civil Rights Movement and saying, OK, we made some steps forward there, but here’s where it stopped. Let’s bring this forward again.

So things like a Green New Deal for Public Housing is something that people have been talking about here in Burien and south King County as a whole. You’ll see that it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs nationally and close to 12,000 public housing units in Washington State. It’s taking that idea of: here’s what’s needed. But that isn’t just needed in our city. It’s needed across the region. And thinking regionally is something else really that I think is crucial.

SSE: Your website has a huge list of policy positions. What would you prioritize if you go to Congress?

KM: I think first and foremost — it’s why it’s at the top of the website — it’s housing as a human right.

It’s making sure that we prioritize getting people into safe housing. And by “safe” I mean healthy housing, not units that are in disrepair or have fallen apart. Without that, we can’t expect people to go out and find the jobs that are best suited for providing for their families. We can’t expect people to show up as their full self. Housing First has to be the top priority. That’s why I’ve got a good list of five or six specific things that we support, like the [Green] New Deal for Public Housing, and especially fair housing standards.

So making sure that there are penalties against landlords who are discriminating, because it’s still happening. Redlining didn’t stop. It just changed its name, and we’re seeing that effect. Next to that, it really comes down to also LGBTQIA+ justice. As I mentioned, I’m a bisexual woman. I’ve got a transgender son who is 14 years old, and seeing the anti-trans legislation that comes out every year … There’s over 220 bills that are proposed in different states that are being brought forward nationally all the time to stifle folks who happen to be trans. That is a passion issue for me.

Medicare for All, I think, is also incredibly important. I mentioned having a diabetic son. We’re paying over $1,200 a month just in deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses and co-pays, and that’s with insurance. I’m in a stable job, I’m the only wage earner for our family. My husband can’t work. He’s a combat veteran with PTSD. If we’re barely scraping by and I’m working full time, I can’t imagine what it’s like for folks who are coming out of COVID and wondering how they’re going to care for their families.

And the final one is really COVID-19 recovery. And this is something that probably should be number one, more than even housing in some ways, because we have to make sure that we have a just transition for folks in our labor unions that are moving from one field to another, if we’re asking for a Green New Deal or providing a way for them to transition their job skills. We have to make sure we’re investing in our health care infrastructure, we have to make sure that we have vaccine treatment available for everyone in a way that works for them.

Just saying “come to this vaccination clinic” may not work for them if it’s not accessible, if it’s not in their language, if it’s not at a time of day that works for them to leave their kiddos behind or not, or bring them with them. And if we’re going to call ourselves global players or be the global police that we have shown up as, we have to make sure we don’t hoard vaccines either, and we are sending what we need to — the technology, the components, the actual ingredients for the vaccines — over to other countries to help make sure that they can move ahead as well.

SSE: Suddenly during COVID, a lot of things were possible at the state and local level. What policies do you hope we keep at the end of the pandemic?

KM: I think there’s a couple of things. There has been a shift in how we see our workers, anywhere from the tech industry to folks even providing front line work in our communities. But tech industry specifically: not requiring folks to be present in a very stifling nine-to-five work environment where you have to be at your desk, you have to be in person for these meetings. People, when they’re allowed to, figure out how best to get their work done in a way that works for their schedules to prioritize their families, health and safety, and their children’s education.

By supporting the individual, you are supporting a better workforce. You are allowing people to show up in a more authentic, full, energized manner. So being able to support that federally — whether it’s increasing incentives for companies to provide extra technology services for their employees and making sure that everyone has the actual, physical hardware and software that they need to do their work from home — is fantastic. And what a wonderful way to open up more high-paying jobs across the country by saying, hey, individual in Lawrence, Kansas, if you are willing to work for big tech company X, you now can without having to move here and uproot your entire family. People moving to the area, especially from big tech companies, we’ve seen what happens in South Lake Union when folks are moving there and it’s pushing everyone out and increasing the cost of housing. So, let’s spread that ability to do the work across the country so that we can then not clutter up our dense urban areas. 

But then the second one is we have to prioritize public broadband across the U.S. It’s one thing to say it’s wonderful and aren’t we so excited about municipal broadband? But again, municipal broadband means city by city. And I witnessed firsthand kids sitting in Starbucks parking lots in their parents’ cars or even on the sidewalk trying to access Wi-Fi so that they can be in their Zoom meetings for school. That’s not sustainable or safe or healthy. At the federal level we should be providing the best for our country to be able to access the things they need for furthering that education. So all of that is, I think, something that’s possible to push for in D.C.

SSE: Housing is something that the federal government took a step back from decades ago. How do you propose the federal government get back into that sector, and why do you think the federal government is the right player to do it?

KM: I think the best answer is that Green New Deal for Public Housing. We started stepping away from fully funding HUD in the 1960s and ’70s. And what we saw then was a decrease in people willing to build units. And if there’s a decrease in a willingness to build units and it’s become more profitable for private developers to put together high-cost units that folks in the market might be able to afford at a higher income level, that’s what they’re going to do, and they’re going to continue doing it.

The federal government, by implementing something like a Green New Deal for Public Housing, like I mentioned earlier, it creates thousands of jobs and it’s nearly 12,000 units of public housing in Washington State. So, it’s an instant, or more quickly accessible, influx of housing that allows people not only to have a job in building it — if that’s something that is of interest or they’re suited for. But it provides that stability that gives our workforce; as I mentioned earlier, that sense of safety and the ability to focus on everything else that we need to be a productive society, to be competitive in the labor market, to be competitive in trade, to take back whatever folks are feeling that we lost on the world stage during COVID in terms of trade and economic prosperity.

SSE: You’re deputy mayor of Burien, you know the local politics around housing. How does the federal government push the needle on that when cities and localities have so much control over what housing gets built and where?

KM: I think it’s working together, something that I really enjoy doing, and something I’ve really been emphatic about doing as deputy mayor in Burien has been working with county and state and federal delegations to say here’s the limit of what we can do, of what you’ve allowed us to do, whether it’s written in the Revised Code of Washington or it’s just in our city charters.

There’s only so much you could expect cities to do. When I’m in Congress, my goal will be to talk to the cities within the district and say, where is, what is the gap that you’re experiencing? Here’s what I remember from my experience on the City Council, but what’s missing?

As a congressperson, I would have to fight for a budget that strongly supports affordable housing programs, making sure that we get HUD funding. If it’s community block grants, fine, but it’s getting the money immediately out there. But a lot of it is really coming down to we just don’t have that national or the federal and city-level communication that I think needs to be there and to build that trust and to build that communication line so that folks that are making policies in D.C. know what’s actually happening on the ground.

SSE: How do you see your work going forward if the Senate flips, or even the House?

KM: That is a definite concern. No one wants to be in minority leadership where you are spinning your wheels. I think it’s quick action. It’s working with movements that are showing people: “this is how government works. Here’s the ins and outs of it. Here’s when these hearings are happening.” It’s what we did in Burien in order to pass tenant protections unanimously on a divided council.

We talk about not having a House, Senate, and presidency all in the Democratic Party. Boil that down to the city level and you have some progressive council members or Democratic council members in a nonpartisan city and some who are not. And passing anything becomes a battle every single time. But we were able to get things passed unanimously because we knew what the pressure points were. Knowing how to do power mapping, knowing how to do community organizing, knowing how to pass stuff locally means that I can hit the ground running in Congress.

SSE: Do you think President Joe Biden’s tax plan goes far enough, and how would you tweak it to get it where you think it needs to be?

KM: I want to see the numbers on what happens when folks with wealth, not just high wages that contribute to a high annual income, but what happens to the folks with wealth as they keep building it while the rest of us are now being taxed at a rate that is still not beneficial for our level of income. I think it is focused more on that intergenerational wealth and what are we doing about the folks who are holding the top dollars of our country? And are we actually taxing them in the way that they need to be?

SSE: State governments are considering hundreds of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills, especially around trans children. The federal government came up with the Equality Act. Do you think something like the Equality Act goes far enough? What do you want to see as the federal government’s role in preventing anti-LGBTQIA+ discrimination?

KM: The HRC [Human Rights Campaign] talked about how 2021 is going to be the worst year, something like over 200 bills that are anti-LGBTQ rights. There are eight that have already been enacted into law that I’m tracking so far and they’re circling around Washington State. Luckily, we’re good here with our governor that things like that will never pass, but the Equality Act only goes so far.

We need to make sure we have a federal ban on panic defense, which is also known as the trans or gay panic defense, where someone finds out that maybe a person they are out on a date with is transgender. And they use this excuse of, oh, I panicked and that’s why I killed them. That should never be an acceptable defense. But in many states, it still is. Washington passed a ban on the panic defense a year or two ago.

But that took up until the late 20-teens or early 2020 to get that through. And meanwhile, there’s folks dying across the country because someone freaks out that someone they’re talking to is different than what they thought.

I think [there] needs to be a federal sponsorship of age-appropriate sex education that talks about gender identity, that talks about enthusiastic consent, where we are saying that it is important that everyone in our country grow up knowing how to identify themselves and how to also treat others with the same sense of self-respect that people have grown up experiencing who are not members of the LGBTQ community, making sure that if we if we pass Medicare for All that there’s also things covered in there … PrEP, gender-affirming surgeries, mental health support, surrogacy should be covered so that folks can have families and raise babies that will grow up in loving households.

Transgender folks are still one of the most-discriminated against groups when it comes to housing, [when] it comes to health care, when it comes to employment. Being able to identify as who you are as opposed to what was listed on your birth certificate needs to be a federally protected right that can’t be taken away from people just because the administration might change.

SSE: How do you use the might of the federal government to improve the lives of people left behind by the federal government?

KM: I think some of it comes down to enacting legislation or supporting and pushing for legislation that really focuses on some of the worst atrocities committed [against] people that are on the margins, especially our Communities of Color.

Gentrification. So, like in the ‘70s, I think it was more than 73% of the Central District, the residents there were Black, and today it’s fewer than 18%.

So, what can we do that directly makes sure that we are protecting communities where Folks of Color are living so that it’s not continuing to push people out? It’s making sure that we pass legislation that doesn’t just sound good on paper but going for the Breathe Act instead of the Just Policing Act, making sure that we’re seeing where every dollar is spent in public safety, that’s huge as well. It’s addressing things like the cannabis industry and realizing where folks have been most harmed by the federal government.

We’ve got now 80 to 90% of most cannabis organizations or companies are owned by white people. And we have a huge overrepresentation of Black men and women that are in jail for cannabis-related charges. It’s reversing that. It’s lifting the federal ban on marijuana. It’s making sure that we are also then paying reparations into that and making sure that Communities of Color are receiving those grants, those tax incentives, federal funding to start up small businesses, to start to buy housing in areas where they’ve been previously locked out of through redlining.

It’s making sure that what we do is focused on tying people together in our struggle, focusing on collective liberation, and making sure that our politicians, myself included, are bringing our whole self to the office and being open about who we are as a member of the LGBTQ community, being open about that and the struggles that I have experienced as a fat woman who has been harassed and threatened on council with actual death threats, just because I dare to show up as a fat woman to the dais. Being poor and speaking to that and saying, yes, I might be in Congress, but I’m also the only breadwinner for a family of six.

And it’s showing that there is an accessibility there that might have been missing before that gives people hope that they can hopefully have a welcome ear when they bring their concerns forward.

SSE: Is there anything we’ve missed that you want to talk about?

KM: We also want to make sure we touch on transportation here in the 9th.

And when it comes to transportation, it’s taken so long for us to get light rail in the entire area.

And we can use the transportation sector as a strategic lever towards a Green New Deal by tackling our highest sources of carbon emissions, putting millions of people to work, upgrading and repairing existing infrastructure, rather than just building new roads. And bringing our road and transit systems into a state of good repair over the next 10 years could support or create over 6.5 or 6.6 million jobs across the U.S.

So, it’s seeing this: A focus on green transportation is a focus on job creation and it’s a focus on good-paying union labor jobs. It’s also something that we want to make sure is a high priority as we move forward, especially as we come out of the pandemic.

Ashley Archibald is the editor of Real Change News and a freelance journalist with previous work in the Santa Monica Daily Press and the Union Democrat. Her work focuses on policy and economic development, and you can find it in the South Seattle Emerald, KNKX, and the Urbanist.

📸 Featured Image: Burien Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx, pictured with her family, is running for the 9th Congressional District seat currently held by Adam Smith. (Photo by Nate Gowdy, courtesy of Krystal Marx for Congress.)

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