Claude Burfect: “I Do, I Don’t Promise”

Editor’s Note: This is the last in our series of interviews with the candidates- 5 Democrats and 1 Republican- who are vying to replace retiring State Senator Adam Kline in the 37th District. The top two candidates chosen in the primary election-  held on August 5th-  will continue on to the general- which takes place on November 4th. The winner of which will represent the 37th District in the Washington State Senate. The 37th currently comprises almost the entire South Seattle area.

Claude Burfect
Claude Burfect

Claude Burfect’s never been one to sit idly by and wait for others to attend to problems that needed fixing. It is this attitude, forged from his time spent fighting against segregation in his home state of Louisiana during the civil rights period, that the Vietnam veteran and political science major has brought to the task of community organizing within South Seattle. With a track record of impacting local legislation that rivals that of any area elected official, it’s no shock that he’s often taken for one. It is a position he would like to hold officially as he competes for the 37th District’s State Senate seat.


Emerald: You’ve been a community organizer in the South Seattle area for quite some time. Why are you now running for office?

Claude Burfect: What has me running for office is the crime in this district.  I’ve been living here for over 36 years and it’s never been worse. A large part of that is we have a 40 percent black male unemployment rate in the District. When you have that type of unemployment you’re going to get a lot of crime.


Emerald: What are your ideas for addressing both crime and unemployment in the 37th District?

Burfect: One of the things that I’m advocating is that we need to come up with programs in high schools that will benefit a lot of the kids who are not college bound, or who don’t want to go to college, or are not college material. We need to put trades back into both our high schools and the prison system. Currently 4 out of every 6 kids who do not graduate from high school graduates into the prison system.

Putting both high school kids and prisoners into apprenticeships, and giving them a trade, allows them to become viable citizens within the community. They become productive taxpayers, and they begin to reap the American Dream. That’s why trades are so important because so many kids who come out of college can barely find a job in their profession. Employment reduces crime and that creates livable communities.

When a guy comes out of prison he has no skills, so what does he do? He re-offends. It’s a cyclical thing. He goes right back into prison because there is nothing else for him to do.  That’s why I’ve worked with a great deal of community youth in making sure that they get a good education, and skills that will allow them to become employed. There is no child that should be left behind.


Emerald: What conversation do you have with businesses to entice them to come to South Seattle?

Burfect: First and foremost, I’d tell them that this is a thriving area with a great deal of opportunity. Let’s focus on an area like Skyway where I happen to live. There aren’t as many businesses there as there used to be, so people in that area are usually forced to go to Rainier Beach or Renton to shop. However, there is a great opportunity for anyone who wanted to come in and open stores to scoop up all the people from Skyway, West Hill, Lakeridge and the surrounding areas. Who wants to drive far away when you have something right next door?  I would love to see a shopping plaza in an area like that. Despite what some people have said, we have the market for it here.

I wanted to also say that I would like to make sure that African Americans play a huge part in the businesses that come back to the community.


Emerald: You have been adamant that Washington State’s tax structure is extremely unfair, especially to low and middle income earners. What ideas do you have for altering it?

Burfect: I wanted to say that I’ve been the initial advocate for a state income tax on the top 1% in Washington for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until fairly recently that all of the other candidates in the 37th race, with the exception of Rowland Martin, jumped onboard with me. It wasn’t so long ago that they were all afraid to talk about it because it failed the last time it was put to a statewide vote.

The fact is, we are one of 7 states in the country that does not have a state income tax. Again, I’ve advocated for and also been employed on putting the logistics of one together. I believe that if the last state income tax bill that was put to a vote had been written in language that appealed to the people we would have it today. Bill Gates, Sr. (who led the support for a state  income tax) wrote it in a way that was anything but.

A state income tax would help us reduce a lot of these incidental taxes that affect the poor and middle classes most. One of my opponents is saying that we need to add another gas tax, and I’m saying that you have to be kidding me! We can’t add another gas tax, gasoline taxes are exorbitant today.


Emerald: In such a packed race what makes you stand out from the other candidates?

Burfect: Out of all the candidates I am the one who initially spoke up about how to address crime and our income tax structure. Everyone else was silent about them until after I said something. These are issues that I’ve been dealing with long before I decided to run.

Over the last 15 years I have been to almost every single legislative session that has been held in Olympia. I honestly have a better attendance record during the three month sessions than most of our current elected officials.

I’ve also been organizing the community for a long time. When the Senate Bill 5541 came down, which was going to close Rainier School along with other institutions, I organized the community to fight against that bill,  and we ended up defeating it.  I know how the legislative process works. As an organizer, I’ve done that, been there, and seen everything.  So I feel that my lobbying knowledge gives me an upper hand on everybody.


Emerald: Assuming that you’re elected what would you want someone to be able to say once your time in office was up?

Burfect: I want them to say first and foremost that he worked for the constituents and not for any other interests. That he was a doer, and not a promiser.


Emerald: You’ve lived in New Orleans, which is known as one of the most vibrant places on earth, but you’ve chosen to make South Seattle your home for much of your life. What is it about the area that is so special to you?

Burfect: South Seattle is a place where I’ve found a home. I’ve lived in Beacon Hill, and now  Skyway. What’s so special to me is how vibrant this place used to be. I would even say that it was more so than New Orleans at times. The community of South Seattle has gone through some rough patches in recent years, but what remains special about it is that we can recapture that vibrancy if we commit to doing it.

Review: The Amish Project by Jessica Dickey

by Mary Hubert

photo by Erik Stuhaug
photo by Erik Stuhaug

A one-person show is always hard to pull off. If the actor cannot hold their own onstage, there is no one there to cover their faults. The subject matter must be interesting enough to watch one person tell a story for over an hour. The storytelling must make do with a set that is simple enough to work with, not against, its storyteller. And, most importantly, every aspect – character, space, circumstance, and all else – must be done with absolute specificity.

It was with apprehension, then, that I entered Taproot to see The Amish Project, a one-woman play written in response to the Amish school shooting in Nickel Mine, PA, in 2006. In this tragic event, a man took 10 young girls hostage with the goal of molesting them, shooting them all and killing 5.

Taproot’s attempt to expand on their standard material went over relatively well. Though by one-person show standards it was a traditional one, it still deviated from their standard canon of musicals and classics. The subject material felt relevant given the recent rash of school shootings, and the convention of a one-person show worked fairly effectively to portray and raise questions about this issue.

At times, I found my attention wandering – 90 minutes is a long time to watch one person, and the script tended to get repetitive in the middle. However, for the most part I stayed engaged, due largely to the quality of Marianne Savell’s performance.

Savell’s specificity was admirable. She used her right hand primarily for gesturing, with her left hand used less often. However, for each character, the left hand served to portray a different tic: one of the little girls grabbed at her dress, one woman held her hand on her hip, and another, the wife of the killer, swung it loosely at her side, signaling her simultaneous anxiety and apathy toward a world that had rejected her. These small but effective choices aided the audience in following each character, and made me invested in each person’s journey.

I also appreciated the effort made by both the actor and the script to humanize all of the characters, even the killer. Each time Savell portrayed a different character it was with the same specificity and care. Her unwillingness to make any character a stereotype made each one human.

My primary complaint with the piece is that instead of allowing the audience to draw their own inferences from these character representations, it forced us to agree with its theories. If the characters had simply been presented in a humane way, as they initially were, this would have allowed the audience to question and conclude how they wished. Instead, at the end of the piece, we were expressly told that there was a God, and that everyone deserved forgiveness. This took away my agency as an audience member, and I resented the removal of my freedom to make my own decisions based on the material presented.

The bottom line: Despite some flaws with the script and a fairly blatant suggestion of what to take away from the issues presented, Savell’s performance was brilliant in a very difficult role. See this production if you want some excellent acting surrounding a relevant issue – just be prepared for some preaching.

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

What’s Happening in South Seattle The Weekend of August 1st- August 3rd

WeekendEvents this weekend in the South Seattle area


Friday, August 1st

Movies: Opening of Guardians of the Galaxy, showtimes 11:00 am, 1:00pm, 1:45pm, 4:15pm, 7:00pm and 9:45pm @ Ark Lodge Cinemas 4816 Rainier Avenue South Seattle , WA 98118. More Info:

Dance:  Get Your Groove On: Dance to the Godfather of Soul, celebrating the release of the movie Get On Up. Dance party starts at 6:30pm followed by a showing of the movie at 7:30pm @Ark Lodge Cinemas 4816 Rainier Avenue South Seattle, WA 98118. More Info:

Community: VFW Meat Raffle from 4 to 7pm @ Skyway VFW Hall 7421 S. 126th St Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: email

Community: Inaugural Night of Skyway Outdoor Cinema. Pre-Show Entertainment and Prize Wheel starts at 8:00pm, A showing of Despicable Me 2 follows at 9:00pm @ 12610 76th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98178 (Skyway U.S. Bank Parking Lot). More Info:

Music: Jaggery/Moraine/Bone Cave Ballet (Hard Rock and Avant-Pop) show starts at 9:30pm@ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118. More Info:


Saturday, August 2nd

Community: Detective Cookie’s Urban Chess Club with Pro Chess Instructor H.R.Pitre. From 12:00pm – 2:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center: 8825 Rainier Ave South Seattle. Ages 7 and Older. More Info: 206-650-3621 (Detective Cookie)

ArtSeedArts Studios Open House, viewing of Artist Studios and Creative Enterprise Work Spaces from 1:00 – 5:00pm @ 5617 Rainier Avenue S Seattle, WA 98118 (The Collaboratory). More Info: Call Angielena at 206-349-6480 or email


Sunday, August 3rd

Community: Brunch at the Beachcomber from 10:00am to 12:30pm @ Beachcomber  12623 Renton Ave S Seattle, WA 98178. More Info: (206) 772-5183

Music: Anokye Agofamna/Kudjo (World Music) performance starts at 9:00pm @ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 981178. More Info:


If you have an event to post, please email



Review: Theater Schmeater’s Attack of the Killer Murder of Death

by Mary Hubert

In a vacuum, I’m drawn to cutting-edge productions. I want to see art that makes me think, theater that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, dance that calls into question what is and isn’t movement. Often, I go to the theater to learn, to think about current events, and most of all to find new methods of creating.

Theater Schmeater’s first production in their new space, Attack of the Killer Murder… of Death! did none of this whatsoever.

And yet, I loved it.

The play, written by Wayne Rawley, takes place in an old haunted mansion where a bunch of small-time actors with big-time personalities struggle to produce a truly terrible B-movie horror flick. When their diva dies suddenly and suspiciously, accusations fly and murders abound as the inept performers and crew try desperately to discern who the murderer might be.

I spoke to Wayne before seeing the show, and he said the B movie musical had inspired the world of the play. The play, originally commissioned by Seattle Public Theater in 2014 for a youth ensemble, is, in Wayne’s words, a satirical take on the average not-so-well-written murder mystery. The main challenge, he said, was to create a play that was satisfying within its genre while simultaneously poking fun at it. Remarkably comfortable with directing his own work, he told me that for him, “Directing… is an extension of the writing process”. The backbone of the play, he said, is remarkably simple: It is the search for the truth. The characters, the actors, the audience, the plot – all search for the truth. The goal of the play? To have fun.

He hit the nail on the head.

Although it didn’t change my worldview or radically alter my perceptions of theater, the hilarious writing and mostly competent cast constructed a deliciously irreverent romp through a campy tale of murder, romance, and big personalities set against the backdrop of 1950s movie culture. I laughed. I snorted. And the script capered along through each of its zippy 40 minute acts with so many tricks, turns, and witty one-liners (“What can I say? I’m a sociopath! We don’t always use good judgment!”) that I was right there with Wayne the entire time.

Where the play fell flat was in the acting. Perhaps because of its original cast of high schoolers, the script was written in a way that didn’t require acting gymnastics. Even so, the performances at times felt flat. Even in a campy tale, characters must believe themselves, must be completely invested in their actions. This is where the humor lies. Often, the actors seemed intent on playing the stereotypes that their characters were, instead of playing characters in earnest that just happened to be stereotypes. After all, what diva knows that she is a diva? Though the characters were caricatures, the actors still needed some moments of truth that were lacking.

Despite this, the play zinged along with entertaining rapidity, and I found myself invested in the “Who’dun’it” aspect while laughing out loud at the silly scenarios in each of the three rapid-fire acts. Theater Schmeater lived up to their irreverent reputation – I’m looking forward to their next silly endeavor, especially if Wayne is at the helm.

The bottom line: Schmeater’s newest production is an enjoyable, frivolous romp through an already entertaining genre. Only slightly bogged down by mediocre acting, this show is worth seeing if you’re looking for a mindless guffaw on a summer night. Check it out!

Mary Hubert is a performing artist, director, and arts administrator in the Seattle area. When not producing strange performance concoctions with her company, the Horse in Motion, she is wild about watching weird theater, whiskey, writing and weightlifting.

Jolly Greeters Invade Rainier Beach

Corner Greeters

Rainier Beach residents have been growing accustomed to the welcome sight of jovial  faces greeting them along their daily treks through the neighborhood.

Corner Greeters, a project initiated by the Seattle Neighborhood Group as a part of Rainier Beach: A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth, places pop-up greeter stations throughout the area in places that have been designated as high crime spots.

The objectives of the stations are to encourage social engagement amongst community members, and deter future incidences of crime.

Along with smiles, the Greeters- who include community volunteers- provide public safety and legal information to passers by in addition to trinkets that match the theme of a particular station. Last week’s “Kindness Blossoms” station at the Rose Street Mini-Park, saw over 70 curious community members depart with flowers in hand and a better appreciation for the steps being taken to promote peace and unity within the neighborhood.

Corner Greeter events will be taking place over the next four weeks between 3:30 and 5:30pm at the following locations:

Wednesday, July 30th: Peace Revolutions at Mapes Creek Walkway Plaza (Near Saars)

Wednesday, August 6th: Fold In Peace at Intersection of S.Henderson and MLK Way South

Wednesday, August 13th: Peace Putts at Rainier Beach Safeway Parking Lot

Wednesday, August 20th: Harambee Drumming Circle at Rainier & Henderson Plaza

For more information on becoming a volunteer greeter you can visit:

Louis Watanabe: Time to Educate Olympia About the 37th District

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in our series of interviews with the candidates- 5 Democrats and 1 Republican- who are vying to replace retiring State Senator Adam Kline in the 37th District. The top two candidates chosen in the primary election-  held on August 5th-  will continue on to the general- which takes place on November 4th. The winner of which will represent the 37th District in the Washington State Senate. The 37th currently comprises almost the entire South Seattle area.

Louis Watanabe
Louis Watanabe

You would think Louis Watanabe would have long ago tired of the role of educator. While he has held the official title of professor for only a little less than ten years, the erudite Beacon Hill native has spent nearly the entirety of his adult life, whether as engineer, social activist or entrepreneur, imparting lessons.

However, his passion for pedagogy appears in a state of constant revival, and can be found on full display whether in a classroom fertilizing the minds of the next generation of business leaders, on the dance floor for those eager to learn the foxtrot, or on South Seattle’s streets. A place where he freely lends advice to those youth that most have cast off as beyond hope. Watanabe now hopes to extend his talents for instruction all the way to Washington’s State Legislature, teaching new lessons to an institution he believes is in desperate need of them as the 37th District’s state senator.


Emerald: You’ve had great success in the private sector as the company you founded was Microsoft’s very first business acquisition. What made you want to step into the public realm and run for state senate?

Louis Watanabe: For the past ten years I’ve worked with students from various areas, including in and around South Seattle. What I’ve come to worry about is that you work so hard to get them prepared for the future, and then once their education is complete you worry about whether or not they’ll be able to find a job that pays well enough, allows them to raise a family, and allows them to do the things they set out to accomplish. I look at my job as a professor being about people achieving their dreams.

The other thing that worries me is education, mainly that we are still struggling to amply fund K-12 education while we’re also now seeing tution go sky high. If people have to go way into debt to have an education then they’re basically sacrificing some of their future in order to be able to have one. That doesn’t seem right.

A few weeks ago the governor was talking to different state agencies about 15 percent cuts across the board. They say it’s a planning scenario, however, it is pretty alarming. First of all there are some things that are a part of our budget, such as our food programs, where a 15 percent cut would be a pretty significant thing as food banks are closing down. Another is our homeless programs; their number has actually expanded. Transportation is also a concern. We’ve struggled for ten years to attempt to get a transportation package. After prop 1 failed we still find ourselves in a hole. I live in this neighborhood and I travel all over the place, and people depend on buses for jobs and to get to doctor’s appointments so this is a real problem that needs addressing.


Emerald: What’s your proposal for enticing more businesses – and the employment opportunities they bring- to the South Seattle area and larger 37th District?

Watanabe: First of all I have over twenty years of economic development experience – in addition to my having started a software company. I also teach statistical analysis, business research, and marketing courses at Bellevue College. I’ve also served as the business counselor for the college’s entrepreneurial center on the north campus at the old Microsoft Headquarters.

What I have in mind is that I’ve had experience in this area through sending student teams to work with businesses. I’m very familiar with the Southeast Effective Development, and so what I first took a look at was the County Business trends. That revealed what businesses are actually in the district. A lot of businesses in the 98118 zip code are actually fairly small, meaning 1 to 3 people. So we need to figure out of our existing businesses if we can help them hire more people, but you need to be a certain size in order to do that.  It would be ideal to have people commute within the district as opposed to having to commute outside of it, which is what we have right now.

The areas where we really don’t have that kind of thing, we need to encourage businesses to come in. Columbia City is a great story, because what we’ve seen is it has taken twenty years to get to where they are. There has been some discussion in Othello, Rainier Beach, and Seward Park about food innovation centers, where you can tie in urban food courts. We should really take advantage of the fact that we have great culinary programs at South Seattle Community and Seattle Central Colleges. Manufacturing is something we should look at, and having a light rail that exist would allow us to take advantage of that in this district. There are also new technologies we can bring in such as LED (Light Emitting Devices), that’s become a big thing in terms of lighting. LED manufacturing might be a possibility here. If you look all around the region we have businesses involved in the production of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner bodies. The question is, can we actually take advantage of the land we have to the south?


Emerald: Education is obviously something near and dear to you. How would you make sure that our area schools are adequately funded?

Watanabe: Right now we’re in a budget crises because what revenue we have has been allocated towards other things. Personally I believe that when we have crisis we have to say that everything has to be on the table. The most obvious things are to look at tax loopholes, and businesses certainly have preferences of various sorts.  The question is which ones pay their way, and which ones don’t? Is it right that Boeing got as much as it did (in its recent deal with the state) and they pay fewer taxes than they did before? While they are a major employer in the region, the fact is that they benefit from the improvements that the region makes, but they don’t pay their fair share. Quite frankly, I don’t like the idea of someone being able to come and just use up the resources in our area and then leave everyone else with the bill.


Emerald: What ideas do you have for Washington State to generate more revenue in order to fix its budget woes?

Watanabe: Revenue has not been keeping up with the growth of the state. We have the most regressive tax system in the country with the sales tax. It disproportionately impacts the people who can least afford to pay taxes. The reality is that Bill Gates Sr. made really great arguments as to why we should have an income tax on high income earners, however it didn’t carry the day in the last election. I firmly believe that this is an educational process. If people believe that it is for a good purpose they would consider a tax, but there’s a lot of skepticism that they’ll pay the tax and it won’t get used for the purpose it was intended. We have to be able to establish the trust of the people in order to do that. I’m a straight shooter. When people have worked with me as a negotiator I really tell it like it is. I would try to do as a state senator, in convincing others of the necessity of a state income tax. A compelling case needs to be made for it, and I believe that I can do that.


Emerald: With the rise in crime across South King County, public safety has been a huge weight on the minds of community members. What do you feel is the best way to address the issue?

Watanabe: When I went to the South Precinct a few weeks ago they had just picked up a 13 year old with a gun from Rainier Avenue. I think about that and I say: “A 13 year old having access to a gun!” This is really problematic. How do you prevent that kind of free access? People say: “Well you need to prosecute people who steal guns.” There’s more to it than that. People need to take on a certain amount of responsibility if they’re going to have a gun. We’ve unfortunately had all kinds of mishaps, even with a police officer’s family.

We know that it isn’t a perfect world out there. Criminals know that because juveniles are treated differently under our system, the juvenile can get away with more. So, they’ll often give them a gun, or drugs. As that’s the case, we have a revolving door before we can do something. This needs to be addressed. The core problem is why do people use guns?  They use guns because they don’t feel that they have any other way to assert themselves. Many of them are disconnected from our community.

Prosperity really hasn’t benefited the ethnic communities here and we need to change that. People find ways of surviving, and you can either do it the right way or the wrong way. We have had a lack of investment, and attention paid to this area for a very long time. The stark symbolism is that we have properties that our boarded up and graffiti all over them. You don’t see that in Queen Anne, or in other areas of Seattle. People are left with a sense that people don’t care, so as a state senator I think that it is really important that the state invest in programs that are going to solve these problems. We have a need for basic services, whether it’s food programs, medical care or homelessness.

That’s why we need to bring in manufacturing jobs, because those are skill building. We need not only to bring in the income, but the abillity to go onto the next step. People talk about bringing training to this area, but it’s not training that drives jobs, it’s the other way around. I don’t want to just simply invest in an education center with no prospect of getting anything out of it. Economic development is the best crime prevention tool we have.


Emerald:  Assuming you were elected, what would you want a constituent to be able to say about you once your term in office was over?

Watanabe: I’d like them to be able to say that I gave this district hope for a better future because I brought in the means for being able to achieve that through more jobs and skill building. I’d also want them to say that I was able to bring the entire community together in a way that it hadn’t been brought together before.


Emerald: What most distinguishes you from the other candidates running for the 37th District senate seat?

Watanabe: I have the skills that matter to people because I started off in engineering, and so I can see the big picture. I can see the tasks that need to be done and I can sequence them. The order of how you do things is very important. I’ve been an educator at the college level. I see the problems that are going on in K-12. I know first hand what it’s going to mean to be successful in our technologically driven future. I have been a community leader, serving on a number of boards. I think I bring that practical approach to problems with a lot of different skills. There’s a lot of legislation that has been written by people who don’t have a lot of time in the field, so to speak. I have that time.


Emerald: What is so special about the South Seattle area for you?

Watanabe: I’m proud of the fact that my family started out in this area, farming along the Green River and selling vegetables at Pike Place Market. I feel a personal history to this area.

I also like that it’s large enough to do significant things, but small enough that it is very personal. If you want to meet someone you can. I also love the range of humanity we have in this district, whether I go to Columbia City, Rainier Beach, or Seward Park.

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