African-American Legislative Day: Pols Abound, and Tom Carr and Pete Holmes Coexist Peacefully

Carr (far left) and Holmes (far right) bookend public defender Katie Hurley and Gerald Hankerson.

Saturday's NAACP-sponsored African-American Legislative Day featured no shortage of elected officials and candidates looking to show their interest in the issues of criminal justice, health care, and social services that dominated the afternoon. It did, however, feature a shortage of fireworks--despite the fact that political opponents/blood enemies Tom Carr and Pete Holmes sat on the same panel. Some notes:

-Mayoral candidates James Donaldson, Michael McGinn, and Wyking Garrett were present, though none of them spoke. Larry Gossett hung out for a while, wearing a UW t-shirt and baggy UW basketball shorts.

-Larry Phillips, Adam Kline, Nick Licata, and Frank Chopp's chief of staff appeared on an "Elected Officials" panel, discussing everything from social services to jobs to especially criminal justice. Phillips talked about reforming the criminal justice system. Licata talked about not building a jail. Kline talked about getting robbery 2 off the list of three-strikes offenses.

When Phillips was asked why several treatment/intervention-based criminal justice initiatves--proven money-savers--were placed in the county's lifeboat, he said basically that the county's hands were tied by a lack of state funding. Then Adam Kline said that the state's hands are tied as well--that there can be good investment opportunities that you can't take advantage of because you have no money. Both Phillips and Kline noted Eyman's initiatives, including I-747. Neither noted the Democratic leadership's special session to reinstitute I-747 when it was thrown out.

-In what one might have expected to produce a hot debate, City Attorney Tom Carr and his challenger and Pete Holmes appeared on the same criminal justice panel--and, sadly, no fireworks ensued. (The panel also featured Gerald Hankerson and Katie Hurley, a public defender and this writer's fiancee.) Carr and Holmes have a contentious past, going back to their disputes over a police accountability report when Holmes was the head of the Office of Professional Accountability. (Holmes pushed to release a report that found that then-Chief Gil Kerlikowske had interfered in internal investigations.) They even clashed on live television. And Holmes' campaign manager, Cindi Laws, defected from Holmes' campaign for Carr's earlier this year. (For more, read Nina Shapiro's excellent profile of Carr.)

Speaking of his experiences as the head of OPA, Holmes again knocked the transparency of the top police brass and, in a thinly veiled way, the city attorney's office. "Where I encountered resistance was at the top, where I found an unwillingness to hear anything less than flattery," he said. "The public's right to know was not favored by the city. And it was from the very top that we encountered the resistance."

Carr didn't take the bait, instead keeping firmly to his anti-incarceration/pro-rehabilitation message, which sold well with the audience. "Most of the people with whom I deal are sick--they're not criminals," he said. Later, he added, "Nobody is a criminal. We have people who sometimes make mistakes." Carr touted the city's success under his tenure in reducing the number of people it sends to jail. In 2001, he said, the city locked up, on average, 409 people a day. Last year it was 254. No mention was made of Operation Sobering Thought, impound laws, long misdemeanor sentences, journalist subpoenas, or any of Carr's other more hardass stances. Carr stayed for the entire event--longer than any elected official.

-The best candidate of the afternoon wasn't even running for office. Pediatrician and Odessa Brown Clinic director Ben Danielson spoke with remarkable insight, clarity, and eloquence on the racial and socioeconomic disparities in health care. Also impressive in this respect was his co-panelist, King County public health nurse Heather Barr, but Danielson has a polish and charm that seems made for politics, should he ever be tempted to enter.

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