OK, I’ll admit it. I can find it hard to connect with local politics. It happens above the interpersonal level that really engages me and below the international level that is my passion.
But the mayoral race between Mayor Mike McGinn and state Sen. Ed Murray
is an opportunity to connect local politics with global issues and recognize how international the job of being Seattle’s mayor has become.
And I’m not just talking visiting dignitaries and Boeing exports.
Seattle is one of the most globally-connected cities in the country.
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Our leader has to know about trade with China and the challenges facing Mom-and-Pop-sized aid and development organizations.
He’ll also have to connect with international populations that include everyone from Indian-born tech professionals to Somali refugees.
So what do our two candidates — one from Long Island (McGinn) and the other from West Seattle (Murray) — know about the rest of the world? How do their stories connect to the increasingly global narrative of our city?
For Murray it starts with roots — specifically his Irish roots. “All four of my grandparents were born over there and I’ve gone probably a dozen or more times in my life,” says Murray. At 19, he worked in a “peace program” in Belfast and his travels since then have ranged from India to Mexico City.
McGinn went on his first overseas trip with his wife when he was 32. He had just finished law school when they took six months to travel through Asia, including a stay in the mountains of Tibet and even a stop in Burma.
He calls the experience “an eye opener” and jokes at not having picked up any languages, calling himself “an enthusiastic communicator and a lousy linguist.”
Both candidates can rattle off plenty of examples of international connections in our region, but what they highlight differs.
“We have an amazing global philanthropy and global development sector in Seattle … one of the tops in the world,” says McGinn who is proud of our city’s “outward-looking” nature and “constellation of nonprofits.”
For Murray, trade tops the list.
“China,” he says when asked for the top global connection to Seattle.
Murray is also interested in developing a stronger trade relationship with India, calling it a huge potential market that can draw on the connections of Indians living here.
Both candidates see Seattle’s growing international population as an economic and cultural benefit, but they acknowledge the challenges that come with that.
“The challenges are particularly for the refugee population,” says McGinn “People that come here from hardship and don’t have a lot of assets other than their personal skills.”
Murray agrees, citing “serious economic challenges” in the East African refugee community as an example, but goes on to say he sees an opportunity as well.
“Locate [new businesses] where we have a large concentration of East Africans and then connect that company and those folks in that neighborhood,” says Murray, explaining that partnerships between the city, community colleges and startups could help train refugees for those jobs.
McGinn cites the Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs opened under his tenure as an example of what the city can do to help new arrivals.
He also wants to help community organizations founded by refugees build capacity and sees progress in things like the increased availability of women-only swims for Muslim women at neighborhood swimming pools.
Both Murray and McGinn connect to these global themes personally, as well.
McGinn talks about a family trip to Japan where he visited the shrine of his wife’s ancestors and had a family reunion with many relatives that live there — an experience he describes as, “very, very cool.”
Murray spent a recent Friday evening at a mosque on the invitation of the Islamic Ethiopian community in Southeast Seattle.
He says he and his husband loved being shoeless and enjoyed the food (though Murray mistook the goat for lamb until he was corrected).
It’s clear both candidates are aware they’re running for an international office, as well as a local one.
Sarah Stuteville is a multimedia journalist and co-founder of The Seattle Globalist, www.seattleglobalist.com, a blog covering Seattle’s international connections. Sarah Stuteville: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @SeaStute