Young adult leaders from Southeast Seattle drew the attention of some mayoral candidates Thursday during an hourlong community forum.
Fifteen candidates are currently vying to become Seattle’s next mayor. Six of those candidates took part in the “We Are Powerful” mayoral candidates forum emceed by Tuyet-Nhi Vo and Ikran Ali, both youth leaders of the SE P.E.A.C.E. (Prevention Education and Action for Community Empowerment) Coalition.
Prior to a live question-and-answer portion of the forum, coalition youth recorded interviews with Colleen Echohawk, M. Lorena González, Andrew Grant Houston, Bruce Harrell and Lance Randall, which event co-organizer Sareen Mokha compiled into a 23-minute video. Candidate Jessyn Farrell participated in the live-question segment.
Cleveland STEM High School student Alan Nguyen brought up some core issues the coalition is concerned with, including an increase in people overdosing from drugs laced with fentanyl and suicide among youths and young adults.
Nguyen asked, “What will you do as mayor to keep Southeast Seattle youth safe, healthy and drug and alcohol free without criminalizing our kids?”
Grant Houston, an architect and urbanist, said he’s focused on using an approach of harm reduction and preventive care to address substance abuse and addiction, and also supports decriminalizing drugs. He said getting more city residents housed and setting up more neighborhood-based community centers can help people stay safe and healthy.
Harrell, a former Seattle City Council member and attorney, who said he “grew up here in the streets of Seattle,” acknowledged the deadly consequences of substance use disorders. He held up a photo of himself with a couple of dozen friends from his adolescence. “In this group, we lost several people to violence or to dangerous drugs,” he said.
As an attorney, Harrell said he has represented many youths “who were overcharged” as criminals and wants to provide youths with access to positive mentors and role models. “I believe in helping kids where they are, whether it’s untreated trauma, drug and alcohol issues that get passed down from their environment,” Harrell said.
Randall is the president of the board of Southeast Youth & Family Services which provides mental health support and services to youth and families, particularly youths of color. He said he wants to create a citywide action plan requiring each city department to help address specific youth needs. Randall also called for more funding for behavioral health and addiction service providers.
“We have a lot of nonprofit organizations that are trying to help our youth deal with these different challenges they’re facing but [the nonprofits are] not getting the type of support that they need and because of that, they can’t hire people that have the skills and expertise to do the job. It’s most important that we hire people that look like the community itself,” Randall said.
González, the City Council’s current president and a former civil rights attorney, said, “Yeah, I want to be really clear that criminalizing our kids is the wrong approach.”
She said it’s important to invest in strategies and local organizations that are proven to work.
Echohawk, former executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, advocated for school-based mental health services and citywide naloxone (a narcotic that can treat overdoses in an emergency situation) distribution and training to help combat opioid-based drug overdoses.
Addressing the question of reducing substance abuse during the live portion of the forum, Farrell, a former state representative and senior vice president of the progressive public policy think tank Civic Ventures, said she wants to work with state legislators to expand the decriminalization of drug possession, particularly for youths, and that the city should work more closely with Seattle Public Schools to address the school-to-prison pipeline.
University of Washington student Saida Ddungu asked candidates to respond to violent crimes in Southeast Seattle, including recent shootings in the Rainier Beach Liquor and Wine and Safeway parking lots, and hate crimes against Asian American and Pacific Islanders and other ethnic groups.
Farrell, who lists gun violence prevention and addressing climate change among her top priorities, has a “zero shooting” goal for the city. “It is time for us to treat gun violence like the public health problem that it is,” she said.
Echohawk, González, Grant Houston, Harrell and Randall also support zero-tolerance approaches to gun violence. Randall proposed neighborhood “hate watch” groups to record and report incidents of hate and bias, as well as convening the city’s gang leaders to call truces as a means to prevent street violence and crossfire.
All six candidates also expressed zero tolerance for hate crimes.
González specifically cited a $1.5 million spending proposal developed with current Mayor Jenny Durkan and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda to support a new senior care facility and address hate crimes and incidents of bias in the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities.
Addressing a question from the audience about other ways the candidates plan on supporting youth, Grant Houston said he’s actively recruited and employed young people to work on his campaign and plans to integrate youth leadership into city departments. Farrell said she wants to create a youth green jobs career pathway and guarantee. Echohawk said she would create more youth internships within city departments. And Harrell wants to expand formal mentorship programs to meet youth where they are at. Randall said he would seek to expand the Seattle Promise free tuition program to four-year institutions, partnering with colleges themselves to fund the last two years of tuition.
Mokha, co-organizer for the event, said her generation is particularly motivated right now to be involved in the change-making process, even if not all youths are eligible to vote.
“It’s not just important to get youth at the table, you have to make them feel welcome there. Youth right now really care and realize they can be a part of the change,” she said.
The primary election is Aug. 3; ballots will be sent out July 14.