Running for office means you get the opportunity to learn. A lot. I considered myself a bit of a Red Mage (can do a lot of things, suck at all of it) rather than a specialist during my first campaign in 2015, and came out of the campaign educated on so many more topics than I could have thought of.
I believe that what someone does with that knowledge is incredibly important. I like to think I view public policy through an equity lens (although not always as successfully as I would like), and that means that it is important to share learning. That doesn't always come easy. I remember a time having beers with Mercedes Elizalde after the primary (she was a candidate in D5), and we were working on a project to educate more people about Tiny Houses, how they are a great interim measure that provide something way better than a tent, job training, and a more aesthetically pleasing option for neighbors. I wanted to have more of a background role in everything, and didn't want to get credit where none was necessarily due. I loved the idea, but it wasn't my idea, and too often we see politicians taking ideas (in particular white dudes from women and people of color), and running with them as if they were their own. I was reluctant to be one of those politicians.
Mercedes' take: it doesn't fucking matter. Roll with it because the result is far more important than the individuals. Be sure to give credit where it is due, but use the megaphone the electorate gave you during this campaign to turn this into an issue.
One issue that we didn't discuss much during the campaign, but has stuck with me, is the effects of Initiative 200. I-200 was the ballot measure that effectively ended Affirmative Action in Washington State. Passed in 1998, just over 58% of Washingtonians felt that we had reached such a level of tolerance and acceptance that we no longer needed to focus on policy through equity.
Tabor 100 is a local organization that works to help support women and minority owned business (WMB) owners connect with each other, and connect with work for their businesses. The organization is named after Langston Tabor, someone who fought I-200, and spent his life working to help black-owned small businesses succeed. Success of WMBs means more positive outcomes for historically marginalized communities, and is part of how we can ensure "all boats are lifted," so to speak.
Throughout my campaign, I visited Tabor 100 a few times, and spent time listening outside of their monthly meetings to small business owners. One thing that really stuck with me: the impact of I-200 on WMBs, particularly in contracting and sub-contracting with government entities. Prior to I-200, a government could require that a certain amount of sub-contracts on a major contract went to WMBs. Much better than priority hire, this meant smaller developers who were from the community and hiring in the community could get the contracts that would lift them and their workers economically.
Following I-200, WMBs saw something like a 90% drop in sub-contracts awarded. One man spoke about how he thought he was doing good work because the general contractors said he was. But once they no longer had to hire WMBs for sub-contracts, they decided to go with their white friends' businesses. A reduced ability to build equity in businesses led to fewer WMBs that did construction and other contract work, which led to fewer young men of color having a path to a good job. We are going on 20 years, and the disparate impact is real - even if we don't like to talk about it.
The long-term impacts, I believe, include the gentrification that we are seeing right now in places like the Central District and down Rainier Ave S.
Developers get a bad rap in Seattle. However, every time I hear people talk about that time they actually talked with a developer doing a project in their neighborhood, it has been followed by "and they worked to address my concern." Developers from Seattle - wait for it - care about Seattle. This is just as much their community as it is everyone else's. While there are some true jackass developers out there, I don't carry the same auto-hate for local developers that others do.
But another thing that I have noticed: developers tend to do really great projects in the neighborhoods (and adjacent neighborhoods) in which they live. That's not to imply that developers care less about other neighborhoods, just that they know less. And this can readily lead to projects that don't exactly contemplate the history of a place. Make no mistake, we have some history of places in Seattle, and throwing away the history for the sake of progress is not a wise move. At the same time, blocking progress for the sake of history is equally unwise.
So imagine, if you will, more of the developers in the Central District, or the south end, being WMBs. By not having an avenue for growth and stability by way of government contracts, we took boats that had holes in them (thanks to historical and institutional racism), and took away the bucket, giving it to the boats that were already in good repair. Instead of working to patch up the holes of institutional racism through contracts and growth of community wealth, we squandered the ability to right many wrongs. I honestly believe that had I-200 not passed, we would have more developers in the south end and the Central District who are from there, and who would develop with the community in mind from the perspective of being a part of that community.
As a city and region, we (rightfully) protest unjust immigration laws by refusing to participate in federal deportation schemes. As a state, we thumb our nose at federal drug laws with legal marijuana. I believe we should do the same on I-200. Through acknowledgment of the disparate impact the law has had, and continues to have, the City of Seattle should stand up and commit to re-implementing affirmative action in our contracts. Priority hire is great, but I believe we can do better, and if we are going to be the city of bold action, let's be bold for communities that have been missing out on the fruits of prosperity for far too long.
I've been asking candidates about this, and there remains a lot of education to do. It is unfortunate how easy it is to forget about such grossly adverse initiatives, but unsurprising given who has benefited from the passage of I-200. I look forward to more people having meaningful (and public) conversations about how we can right this wrong. Because if we are committed to being a city for everyone, that means committing to opportunity for everyone.