Halfway through last night’s Candidate Survivor, sponsored by Washington Bus and The Stranger, Stranger news editor Dominic Holden jokingly asked “Why would anyone vote for someone for mayor who would humiliate themselves like this?”
That is the only good question asked all night.
In high school, the winner of our Associated Student Body election was chosen primarily by whoever promised to shave their head first, or whoever told the best fart joke during the election assembly. Somehow, The Stranger and Washington Bus tricked actual, real live politicians into dancing around on stage through asinine talent shows and challenges that illuminated approximately zero information about their stances on anything. Somehow, they managed to turn the Seattle mayoral race into my ASB high school election. They did it for “the youth.”
“Remember,” panelist Sarah Cherin said over and over again to the candidates, “You are standing in front the youth vote right now.”
To prove how young and youthy voting can be, they asked candidates if they had smoked weed before. They asked if they liked Snapchat over fax machines. They asked them if they had skinny dipped in Lake Washington before. Every so often, the youthful audience would be asked to use their millennial technology and text in a vote for their favorite candidate. Whichever candidate received the fewest text votes would be "voted off."
As a 22-year-old, I knew I was supposed to be clapping and cheering along with everyone when we found out that some candidates prefer Tupac to Biggie. I knew I was supposed to boo when we found out that Joey Gray had never been to a show at the Vera Project.
But, I didn’t.
I just sat there, and felt a little gross about myself and what people must think young voters are like. As someone who cares most about environmental issues in election cycles, I also felt bad for Joey Gray, who never actually got to say anything about her environmental platform. She got voted off by the audience in the first round for not answering right on enough of the three or four “have you smoked weed in ____ situation?” questions or something. (This after she was also not invited to participate in the CityClub's grown-up debate earlier that night).
I appreciate The Stranger and Washington Bus’ attempt to make local elections fun. I know they can be boring. And done right, politics and humor make a good mix. Reykjavik’s mayor Jón Gnarr is one of the most brilliant and effective politicians in the world, and he built everything he accomplished on comedy. But it was incredibly disheartening to watch our mayoral candidates reduced to fez-wearing monkeys in order to appeal to “my demographic.” It was sad to see them have to dance around for me. I don’t need them to play acoustic guitar or do magic tricks in order to figure out who I want to vote for. But lo and behold, there is Peter Steinbrueck in a cape, doing magic tricks, for the youth.
When actual questions were asked, the candidates were given thirty seconds to a minute to answer. The panelists got more talk time than the actual candidates. Sarah Cherin ate up a good 20 minutes asking the host to take his shirt off throughout the show. In one question round where candidates had to choose either after school tutoring, Pre-K, or college preparatory courses as their most important educational issue, Holden interjected and said, “There is one right answer. B is the correct answer. Pre-K IS THE CORRECT ANSWER.” By the end of his thought, he was banging his fist on the panel desk and shouting “PRE-K. PRE-K” as the audience cheered. Bruce Harrell, the only candidate to choose after school tutoring, raised his eyebrow at the same time I did.
“At least we get to learn what Dominic Holden thinks,” I imagined telepathically communicating to Harrell.
In the last round of text message voting to determine the event’s ultimate winner (Mike McGinn), Holden leaned into the mic to let everyone know that “I voted for the same person every round tonight, and they are the same person The Stranger is endorsing tomorrow.” He sat smugly as the crowd raptly applauded. I felt like I might barf.
Bruce Harrell managed to say the only thing the entire night that wasn’t preceded by a wink, or a nudge.
In the very last question of the event, the only round where specific candidates were asked a real, actual question about a real, actual issue, Bruce Harrell was confronted about billing himself as a social justice candidate when he went to court to testify against social justice reforms for SPD.
“How are you going to tell me about police brutality?” Harrel said, clearly fed up with the three ring circus. “I grew up in the Central District where we used to have to run from this stuff. We’ve been fighting for this shit for 30 years. There is nothing funny about police brutality. There are people coming to my election headquarters who were just beaten by police.”
For one second, the room actually got quiet. Nobody was giggling about how ironic it was that a bunch of people 35 and under were in the same room engaging in “politics.” Nobody was loudly patting themselves for being in a crowd of a bunch of people 35 and under engaging in “politics.” Nobody was chastising the candidates for not responding the way the Stranger Election guide will dictate on stands today.
For one moment, at the very end of the entire show, the hula hoopers, the cardboard robots, and even Dominic Holden, listened to what a candidate had to say. And it didn’t even have to do with marijuana.