Mayoral Debate at the Labor Temple Shows Many Shades of Blue

One thing’s for sure: Seattle has a lot of pro-labor candidates. But some slight differences emerged.

The first mayoral debate since the filing deadline passed was held in a packed house Thursday evening at the Labor Temple in Belltown, hosted by the M.L. King County Labor Council. The audience: A cheering, back-slapping crowd of local union workers, from childcare providers to Uber drivers to firefighters. The candidates: The six who are considered to lead the pack so far — Jenny Durkan, Jessyn Farrell, Bob Hasegawa, Mike McGinn, Cary Moon, and Nikkita Oliver.

The Labor Temple was a fitting place for the debate, as there was not a single candidate who did not (at least about 98 percent of the time) wholeheartedly support labor issues, workers’ rights, union power, and the politics of the working class. “We should start by acknowledging that we have six pro-labor candidates that are running for mayor,” said David Rolf, president of SEIU Local 775, in a brief interview after the event. Indeed, two candidates — Farrell and Hasegawa — have long, tight-knit track records working side by side with labor on all sorts of state-level legislation. McGinn worked closely with local unions during his time as mayor. Durkan has spoken of “two Seattles” that shut out people without wealth. Moon has shown herself to be a progressive activist and supports working families. And Oliver’s platform and the newly formed Seattle People’s Party upholds the rights of the hardworking and underserved first and foremost.

“We need politicans who will fight for workers, who will fight for all of us,” said Nicole Grant, the labor council’s executive secretary-treasurer, during a quick introductory speech. And then, to a crescendo of applause: “We need leaders who aren’t gonna say one thing in the Labor Temple, and do another thing at City Hall.”

That is, of course, precisely what remains to be seen. But the performance, at least, was impressive. The first thing KIRO TV’s Essex Porter, the night’s moderator, asked the candidates to do, in fact, was perform their “favorite labor chant.” Most in the audience — likely accustomed to such things — happily added their voices to each. “Hey hey! Ho ho! Trump and Sessions have got to go!” shouted Durkan. Farrell offered several rhymes she coined, including “Whole paycheck, Whole Foods, you guys are some anti-union dudes” and “Don’t be a goober, pay your workers, Uber.” Hasegawa sang an entire song with multiple verses he said he plans to do at an upcoming rally — “Power, power, power to the workers, the workers’ power, getting stronger by the hour.” McGinn began with “women’s rights / gay rights / immigrant rights … are human rights” and Moon with “hey hey, ho ho, the Freedom Foundation has got to go” (the Freedom Foundation is an explicitly anti-union think tank). And when it was Oliver’s turn, the audience finished her sentences for her without any prompting at all: “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! And if we don’t get it? Shut it down! If we don’t get it? Shut it down!

Each also named their “worst job” ever, and no clear winners there. Oliver: retail at Old Navy. Moon: Prep in a big basement kitchen. McGinn: Picking cucumbers. Farrell: Temp work in a warehouse. Durkan: Piercing ears at a jewelry store. Hasegawa: Tunneling under a house—by hand.

On the more serious questions — first asked by Porter, then by half a dozen different union members who stepped up to the mic — they often stood in concert, with devil-in-the-details differences.

On a citywide income tax on the wealthy: Six yeses, though Durkan spent more time emphasizing progressive tax reform in other areas, and Moon said “we need to tax wealth as well as tax wages” and expressed her support for a capital gains tax and a tax on non-resident investors buying homes for the express purpose of flipping them.

On expanding Seattle’s secure scheduling ordinance to other industries besides the retail and food service industries: Six yeses — “People have a right to plan their lives,” said Durkan; it’s also about “knowing you have a consistent paycheck coming,” said Oliver — though Hasegawa and McGinn equivocated slightly, saying “it depends on the industry.”

On how often law enforcement should do racial bias training: At least once a year, said four out of the six, with Moon saying every two years and Oliver saying biweekly in the first year and monthly after that. (“I think that… undoing implicit bias takes years of work and it takes consistent work,” she said. “It doesn’t happen in eight-hour trainings.”)

On homelessness: Dealing with root causes, such as a lack of mental health services and a lack of affordable housing, is just as important as immediate solutions, such as scaling up sanctioned encampments, tiny homes, and city-run public housing, agreed most everyone. It seemed each candidate emphasized all of the above, with extra emphasis on pet issues, such as Hasegawa’s plug for a city-owned public bank, a way to free up revenue for public housing, he said — an idea Oliver seconded.

On whether or not undocumented residents should be allowed to vote in city elections: Four absolutely-yeses (“why not?” said McGinn, who convened a stakeholder group on the idea during his time as mayor), with Farrell on the fence and Durkan a firm no. Durkan, a former U.S. attorney, pointed out that such a thing was illegal, but “I agree that it’s important and I think we should explore it.”

On how many 16-hour shifts an Uber driver should complete before it’s unsafe for him or her to drive: Zero, said all six.

Overall, Farrell and Hasegawa seemed to stand out as the most closely aligned with true-blue, establishment labor (Farrell recently worked on minimum wage and paid sick leave at the state level; roundly endorsed labor’s preferred candidate, Teresa Mosqueda, for City Council; and struggled to find an answer to the question: “What current issue have you disagreed with labor on?” Hasegawa was a Teamsters member for over three decades and served on half a dozen union boards and councils before he became a senator). The others seemed more closely aligned with workers’ values: Equity and justice and affordability, an equal playing field and a social safety net, and as many protections for workers as possible.

“We saw six candidates that were in the house of labor looking for the support of working people and working families,” said Rolf, as people were streaming out, giving hugs and high-fives. “We also saw some interesting differences” that correlated mostly, he said, to the candidates’ backgrounds: “We had a former U.S. attorney who sounded an awful lot like a lawyer… we had a former mayor that kept reminding us of the things he did” while in office. Ultimately, Rolf said, “I think that the main winners here were the working people of Seattle.” Among the few surprises, he added, was that Durkan, who has raised the most money so far and is “the supposed ‘establishment candidate,’ didn’t sound any less pro-labor than the rest of the field.”

Speaking out on the sidewalk after the event, McGinn reiterated Grant’s initial point about the difference between making promises in politics, and following through with them. “I hope [the night’s attendees] were looking for who’s actually been willing to stand up for them, to stand up for working people,” he said.

Then he added with a hearty laugh: “I was also very nervous about having to lead a chant! … I think everybody got out of it OK. But I’m gonna give it to Bob Hasegawa for creativity and for really, fully committing himself to the bit… God, I hate in these forums when you have to perform. Can we just talk about issues?” He grinned as he prepared a graceful exit. “Having had to lead a chant, and feeling like I acquitted myself honorably,” he said, “it is with a sense of relief that I leave the Labor Temple tonight.”