Nikkita Oliver, who finished third in the primary election, figured into the heated exchange between candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon.

Share story

Seattle mayoral candidates Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon clashed over donations, wealth and privilege during a debate Wednesday night, pulling primary opponent Nikkita Oliver into the brawl as her voters weigh their options.

The fireworks started at the Rainier Valley Radio debate in Columbia City when Durkan was asked about being labeled the “business as usual candidate.”

“People like Cary Moon always want to point to big corporations,” the former U.S. attorney responded.

2017 Seattle mayoral race

“Less than 1 percent of the people who have contributed to my campaign are companies … and I’ve had volunteers out every weekend in every part of town and those volunteers come from every part of town.”

Moon replied by praising Oliver, who was sitting on the panel, and by linking Durkan to former Mayor Ed Murray. Murray endorsed Durkan in June and resigned last month amid accusations that he sexually abused teenagers decades ago.

“I haven’t run for office before and, as anybody can tell you, there’s a steep hill to climb,” Moon said. “If you’re a brilliant community activist like Nikkita Oliver … you can activate those networks and build a strong grass-roots campaign.”

She added, “I didn’t come to this with Ed Murray’s donor list and Ed Murray’s political machine. I didn’t come with a background in community support, but I’m working so hard to build that right now.”

Then Moon mentioned the $525,000 that Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political arm recently contributed to People for Jenny Durkan, an independent-expenditure committee.

“We call that the $525,000 panic button,” Moon said about the companies behind the money. “They want to keep the status quo.”

Durkan took the microphone from the moderator, determined to fire back.

“I need to respond to that,” she said, noting that she also is a first-time candidate and collected many donations before Murray’s endorsement.

“The one thing I haven’t done with wealth is fund my own campaign,” Durkan said, referring to Moon, an urban designer, who is spending about $141,000 of her own money on the race.

“So let’s at least be honest about who is stepping up and getting support from other people.”

The rivals circled back a few minutes later, when former Mayor Mike McGinn, also sitting on the panel, again brought up People for Jenny Durkan.

Such committees can take unlimited donations and spend unlimited amounts to support a candidate, so long as they don’t coordinate with the candidate. McGinn has endorsed Moon.

“I have no control over it … and I’ve called for them not to do it,” Durkan replied, then pivoted back to Moon’s personal spending.

“We are both very wealthy women, Cary Moon and I,” she said.

“I’ve put $400 in. She’s put hundreds of thousands of dollars in,” Durkan said, exaggerating the amount, “that if she didn’t spend, it would probably be Nikkita Oliver and I sitting here.”

Oliver won about 17 percent of the primary vote, finishing behind Moon by 1,170 votes. Durkan was first with about 28 percent.

“I’m not going to comment on this,” Moon said, inviting Oliver to speak and telling her, “It’s uncomfortable for me to see you used.”

On Twitter after the debate, Oliver said two white women using a woman of color “as a debate tactic … it’s racist.”

Earlier, Oliver had said she wouldn’t be endorsing either candidate but said her supporters want to know for whom to vote. She put the question to Moon and Durkan, asking what solutions they would offer to her supporters.

Moon said she would “share power across race, class and gender” at City Hall and would use “a racial-equity lens” in allocation of money.

“I’ve already started with that process by offering you two seats on my transition team,” she said.

Durkan pointed to her track record.

“I’ve been showing up in the community for a long time, for 30 years,” she said, citing her criminal-defense work as a lawyer and civil-rights work as U.S. attorney.

Election Day is Nov. 7.