Gossett-Zahilay Debate Centered on Skyway at Our West Hill Voter Town Hall

  Community Interest

by Devin Chicras

Nearly one hundred residents packed into the auditorium at Dimmitt Middle School on Thursday, July 18th to witness something not often seen in unincorporated West Hill: political candidates. Debating. On topics directly related to our neighborhoods, including Skyway.

Before the big King County Council District 2 debate at West Hill Community Association’s (WHCA) West Hill Voter Town Hall, residents were invited to meet and greet with many candidates on the August Primary and November General Election Ballots, including several Port of Seattle Commission and Renton School Board candidates.

WHCA provided a spread of food from local restaurants, including My’s Vietnamese Sandwiches & Deli, Catfish Corner Express, and Angel City Deli.

Questions for the debate were provided by community members, organizational leaders, and youth leaders. A special thank you to Skyway Solutions for submitting questions, as well as Maggie Block of Skyway Youth Network Collaborative (SYNC) for helping curate some wonderful questions from SYNC’s Youth Leadership Council.

WHCA Board President Jeremy kickstarted the debate portion with a rundown of some key information around voting and elections, and a note about the sole measure on the Primary ballot, King County Proposition 1.

The “Parks, Recreation, Trails and Open Space Levy” asks voters if an expiring parks levy should be replaced. Per the official statement, “If approved, this proposition would provide funding for county, town, city and park district parks, and for open space, trails, recreation, public pools, zoo operations and an aquarium capital project. It would authorize an additional six-year property tax beginning in 2020 at $0.1832 per $1,000 of assessed valuation with the 2020 levy amount being the base for calculating annual increases in 2021 – 2025 by the King County inflation plus population index or the chapter 84.55 RCW limitation, whichever is greater.”

With regard to how the measure would impact unincorporated West Hill, Jeremy explained:

“Skyway Park has a renovation project slated for 2020, bringing in better play areas, a mini-mod soccer arena, improved lighting, ADA accessible pathways, expanded parking, and upgraded fencing all to the tune of $1.3 million. Lakeridge Park will be getting new play equipment, new field grass turf, court resurfacing, ADA access improvements, and nearby irrigation and drainage renovations. That project is budgeted at roughly $1.9 million. Now, Lakeridge Playground is a Seattle Park, and Seattle is funding $1.8 million, but King County is chipping in $100k. So we do see these dollars being put to work in our local community. WHCA as an organization did not vote on whether or not we endorse this measure, but we did want to inform you all about the ways in which levies such as this one impact our community so you can make your own decision.”

Next, Jeremy introduced the evening’s moderator, Marcus Harrison Green:

Marcus Harrison Green is the South King County Reporter for the Seattle Times, the co-founder of the South Seattle Emerald, a former Reporting Fellow with YES! Magazine, a past board member of the Western Washington Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recipient of Crosscut’s Courage Award for Culture. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the neglect of news coverage in the area by local media, which taught him the value of narratives. After an unfulfilling stint working for an LA-based hedge-fund in his twenties, Marcus returned to his community determined to tell its true story, which led him to start the South Seattle Emerald, and eventually move on to cover the area as a reporter for the Seattle Times. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016.

Before introducing the candidates, Jeremy explained:

There is a third candidate running for this position, Mr. Stan Lippmann. Unfortunately, we were unable confirm participation in tonight’s with Mr. Lippmann, but we will be providing tonight’s questions to him and invite him to provide us with written responses to publish alongside tonight’s recording.

Next, Jeremy introduced the two King County Council District 2 candidates that had come to debate:

Larry Gossett is a Seattle native, graduate of the University of Washington, and current-serving member of the nonpartisan King County Council, representing District 2 which spans portions of Seattle, including Capitol Hill, Central District, Mt. Baker, Columbia City, Rainier Valley, and unincorporated Skyway. He was first elected to the King County Council in 1993 and served as chair of the entire Council in 2007 and 2013.

Girmay Zahilay is a Seattle lawyer with degrees from Stanford University undergrad and University of Pennsylvania law. He grew up in the South End, including Rainier Vista, Holly Park, and Skyway. He is the founder of a nonprofit called Rising Leaders, which offers mentorship programs for middle-school students.

The structure of the debate allowed for two minutes for an opening and closing statement, as well as two minutes apiece to answer each question.

King County Councilmember Larry Gossett (the incumbent) won the coin toss and began his opening statement:

I would like to first thank the West Hill Community Association for sponsoring this event. I would like to also let all of you know that for about 16 of the 24 years that I have served as a county council member, I have represented at least part of Skyway. I would like to say that my organizing and politicking style is always involvement of community folks around issues that impact them, with a special emphasis always on people and sections of our population that have been left out of the mainstream of American politics, and traditionally that has been people of color, working people, the unemployed, those who have sexual orientations that a lot of other people don’t like, et cetera. I have 25 years almost of sponsoring legislation that almost nobody has said could get passed and I have gotten it passed because I have had the ability to successfully mobilize people to support the issues and get the issues before the county council, and along with articulation of the issues, I make a lot of changes that have benefited people, and I look forward to any questions that will come from our audience and the moderator.

Challenger Girmay Zahilay then had two minutes for his opening statement:

Hi, everyone. My name is Girmay Zahilay, and I am running to be the next council member for King County Council District 2. I am running because I care deeply about the community that raised me and the direction that our region has been going for the past several years is extremely troubling and making life a lot harder every day for working class and low income people, but we all know as people who are in Skyway and somebody who was raised in south Seattle and Skyway, that inequality is nothing new to us. Growing up in south Seattle I saw underfunded public schools, a criminal justice system that refused to let young people move past their childhood mistakes, a lack of facilities and investment in south Seattle and Skyway and these experiences fueled my desire to go into public service. I have experience in anti-poverty work at the federal level advocating for tax reform and youth reform, partners with local middle schools that give mentorship and life skills training and now I want to design solutions for tomorrow that will make people’s lives better right here in south Seattle and Skyway, the communities that raised me. So far our campaign has been endorsed by every single legislative district inside King County District 2, including the 37th District, we have been endorsed by “The Stranger,” and hopefully at the end of day and continuing into the future I will earn your support as well. Thank you so much for having us today.

You can watch the full video of the event, or you can continue on for highlighted excerpts of the debate.

MODERATOR: Have you reviewed the draft of the Skyway-West Hill Land Use Subarea Plan? If so, do you support the current draft of the plan – do you see any particular strengths or weaknesses? If you have not had a chance to review it, what would you like to see in this plan to ensure the vision just described is achieved?

ZAHILAY: I have reviewed it. I thought it was strong and I really liked it. I also attended the zoning and land use forum that was held right here last month, and so this is a good step in the right direction. One thing that I didn’t like is under the equitable housing portion there was still a reference of a fee in lieu program, which says that developers instead of being mandated to build affordable housing, have that developer loop hold allows them to put money set aside rather than mandating them to include affordable housing.  I would not support that. 

My bigger issue is the lack of representation for Skyway. We all know that there needs to be better representation here. I think that the Office of Local Services needs to do more than just zoning. We need to have a mechanism to report issues that you all see every day. That office needs to be relocated here in Skyway so that the people who are in that department know what’s going on here.

There needs to be a list ‑ there needs to be a quarterly report out about what is happening in Skyway, where your tax revenues are going and how much is attributing ‑ is coming back and being reinvested in that community.  There needs to be an accounting of the jobs and contractors that are created every time we do a program or we invest in Skyway.  We need to know that those contractors and those jobs are being given to communities that are right here.

GOSSETT: I haven’t had a chance to review the sub-area plan for Skyway. I pushed the executive to work faster in putting together a plan that was responsive to the needs of people out here. I too generally support the plan.  Specifically, I was able to get in there issues that have been made clear to me by coming to meetings out here in Skyway. One is ‑ part of the sub-area plan calls for the development of inclusionary zones, identify places where a large number of affordable housing is going to be built and it makes it much more difficult for existing contractors, developers, to push people out of this area just because they find that they can make a lot of money, they have to identify with the number of houses that we have in the plan that need to be built in Skyway for people at AMI [Average Median Income] of 50% in King County, that’s about $45,000 or less. They also ‑ a lot of people in Skyway have brought up the issue of marijuana.  There is a way to mitigate against marijuana stores being able to exist out here.

MODERATOR: What equitable methods would you employ to attract small business to this area, especially with so few commercial developments? [From Fernando Recinos, age 14, SYNC Youth Leadership Councilmember]

GOSSETT: First of all, some of the economic development that has taken place out here over the last several years, we have already gotten involved with. At one point our primary store was having difficulty being placed out here in the economic development area, and the lawyer for the market came and talked to our office and we were able to get ‑ both our land use department to make some changes, so that your primary store could be built and operate here. Secondly a couple years ago there was a gentleman that owns a small coffee shop. He was going to have to close if he didn’t get a bigger place. We brought about the changes out of our office to allow him to get that place. Thirdly, we were able to identify a way in which our office of public services, or local services, can hire economic development persons, his name is Hugo Garcia, and his job was specifically to work with the businesses out there, and figure out a way to make sure that they are successful.

ZAHILAY: One thing I would slightly push back on the question, the question is how would you attract small businesses to this area. I would prioritize investing in the small businesses that are already here, and we can do that by first of all making it clear what information is available, what resources of information are available for small businesses.  When I talk to small businesses in the area there seems to be information disconnect. How can your county government be more helpful to you and we need to centralize that information. Whenever we have this transit-oriented development where we have hubs of business around transit centers, we need to also include small business incubators into those transit-oriented development areas where people know your county government can do X, Y, and Z for you, and these grants are available for you first, as somebody who is an existing community member and we will prioritize to you. And this will connect to the next question, but where is the money going to come from? I know that is a big question and a big response that you often get in Skyway. We don’t have the money to invest in you.  Well, the budget is always a reflection of the priorities that we have as a region. There will be money if we prioritize Skyway and that’s something I am going to talk about in the next portion as well.

MODERATOR: We consistently hear the county has no money/funding especially as it relates to investing in the growth and development of Skyway. Please share 1-2 examples of your creative and innovative approach in developing solutions and opportunities for Skyway.

ZAHILAY: So the big constraint that King County government has is that often the way it raises revenue is through regressive taxing systems, so we don’t want to continue increasing your property taxes and your sales taxes so that we can pay for services for you because that’s counterproductive. So I have thought of ways where we can use the money that the county already has in a more creative way to make it go further. 

So the two things that I want to discuss right now are first of all a public bank. If we have a public bank that would allow us to raise revenue and house our own revenues without paying fees and interest to multinational banks likes Wells Fargo, it would also give us more flexibility with what we can do with that money.  We can give low interest or interest‑free loans to people purchasing their own homes. We can also give grants to people out of that money or low-interest loans to people who are trying to start small businesses. 

Another thing that in addition to the public bank that we can do is a public investment vehicle. This will get a little bit complicated, but in places like New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles, their public employees have a retirement plan or a pension that’s already being invested in a diverse portfolio that’s national or global in scale. Think New York Stock Exchange, Vanguard, whatever it might be. 

If you go to a place like Dallas, their police pensions are invested in local roads, so a set of money that’s already with the county that’s going to be invested in local infrastructure. It’s good for the local economy, but it’s also good for the public employees because it provides a good rate of return. We can use that vehicle to invest in things like roads and infrastructure in Skyway, affordable housing in Skyway and also invest in the local business community as well, and that is all, again, done with revenue that we already have without increasing progressive taxes.

GOSSETT: The activity that I would like to speak to are also from resources that the county government already has. Sometimes these resources did come from the voters, like Best Starts for Kids, and we have invested this money in ways that has been beneficial to the young people who are out here, like we gave that program money that was started by the mother of a young black man that was killed out here, so the program provides supplies, tutoring and other kinds of assistance to kids that go to the public schools. 

Secondly, Creston Point is a big low‑income housing complex and we’ve over the years given money to programs that have provided sports and recreational programs, counseling for youth, Samoan, Asian, African‑American, and East African youth, and to get those youth to work better than they have in the past. Youth management programs, internship programs, and then we have another program called Communities of Opportunity, and we are using money out of COO to fund programs to get people involved, in organizing both the youth and to bring about change in Skyway.

MODERATOR: Youth Detention has been a contentious topic recently. In searching for other solutions – Daniela Cruz, age 18, SYNC Youth Leadership Councilmember – says, “Skyway youth are the future of these neighborhoods. These teens/young adults are capable of so much more with encouragement and opportunities. Our youth need more attention. What will you do about this?”

GOSSETT: Councilmember Gossett has been an innovative politician that has always put our youth first. One of the reasons that I am going to continue to serve on the county council, because we have made significant progress in providing program funding for programs that benefit low income and youth, particularly those in our criminal justice detention center, and we used to have 225 youth in there every day.  We got that down to 41. Mostly by investing in programs that we identified impacted kids in third and fourth grade and we started putting together ‑ I put out money for creative programming that has made a difference. Not only in Skyway, but in Federal Way, all over Seattle, and as a result we’ve gotten recognized for the significant reduction in the populations in our youth center and the number of youth that are involved in programming activity that is involved in community organizing these services.

ZAHILAY: Neither of my parents went to high school or college.  I grew up in south Seattle in a single-parent home so I know the social pressures that youth can face in our region when they don’t have the support that they need and that’s inspired me to found my non‑profit that support life skills training. It is an extension of one of my most fundamental beliefs, if we invest in our youth they will prosper. The thing that we have to understand is we acknowledge the progress that the county has made, but fundamentally you cannot say you are aiming for zero youth detention as you build a new prison facility.

Those two things do not go together.  And the way this conversation has been framed for so long about whether you leave kids in unsanitary dilapidated old facilities or build a new youth jail, that is a false frame and those are not the only two options because there are alternatives that research has shown, diversion programs and community-based solutions, the data shows they are better for youth in the long run and they increase public safety in the long run, and the first response that people give to me when I say that is what are you going to do about child murders, what are you going to do about the ones who commit extreme crimes. My first response we don’t make our broad policies based on the extreme cases.  We cannot do that.

So for non‑violent crimes, we got to put all those kids through diversion programs. They should not even touch the criminal justice system because the data shows that a non‑violent kid who touches the criminal justice system, it just increases their likelihood of committing crime in the future.  For the extreme cases, there are close to home facilities which are smaller facilities geared toward restoration and not punishment. So there is still a facility that’s secure, but the kids get the treatment that they need, whether that’s counseling, mental health services, and it’s close to home. It’s closer to the community where the youth was raised and that is a better option for us.

MODERATOR: Do you believe King County has been effective in creating policies and funding decisions that create equitable outcomes between Skyway and other neighborhoods in District 2. Please explain and/or explain how you would do it differently.

ZAHILAY: I spent all of my high school years in Skyway living here, and whereas most kids love summer break, my siblings and I did not love summer break because every summer we were isolated out in Skyway. We lived in a home where our mother was not home because she was working double shift and we didn’t have the same kind of parks and recreation, we didn’t have access to a library, we didn’t have enough public transportation, we didn’t have enough ability to get to our after school activities, and that’s psychologically damaging for kids and we know what a lack of investment does to a community. You can’t blame the government for everything, but should it invest more in a place like Skyway, absolutely. When I talk to community members out in Skyway, almost universally people feel like they have been ignored by their most local form of government, and so when you ask have there been equitable policies and funding decisions in Skyway, the answer is a resounding no. Absolutely not. And so that’s something that I would want to prioritize, as your next councilmember. I have felt the experience being in Skyway and not having the facilities and the investment that help youth and our senior citizens and people struggling to get by, and that’s something that I would want to prioritize for sure.

GOSSETT: I don’t think in Skyway or any other community we have been able to make adequate investments to help all youth. What I can say is that amongst those programs where we ‑ at the county level we have provided funding for youth, such as Best Starts for Kids, veterans and human services, parks and recreation, we have made sure that more money than in the past is going into Skyway …to fund programs that our community are working with, the youth of color and other low income kids out here. I think that one of the issues that makes it difficult historically to serve folks out here has been this whole issue of limited funds being available for unincorporated areas versus incorporated areas. But I see a significant change in the amount of money that has been going out here in the last few years from the programs that I just mentioned.

MODERATOR: How do you define housing affordability? How would you ensure that Skyway’s current average median income is taken into account as we develop affordable housing options in Skyway (understanding that Skyway’s AMI is lower than King County’s AMI)?

GOSSETT: Starting on July 30th, I will be putting forth a set of legislation that we have been developing over the last couple of months that deals with the issue of anti‑displacement of poor people, and part of that is first having to just cause evictions, people not being able to ‑ put out of their house because they are having difficulty paying the rent. Secondly, we are going to invest money into assisting people who have ‑ who are renters to be able to stay in their house and not have the rent raised when it could be identified and shown that the apartment or the complex is dilapidated. We are putting forth legislation for that. And we are putting forth specific legislation to protect renters so they can’t just be systematically and arbitrarily kicked out on 20‑day notices, and we are being very specific as to how we can successfully create this legislation where it has an impact in our socially isolated communities that many of the poor people live in out here in Skyway.

ZAHILAY: I believe the proper term for being rent-burdened is when more than 30% of your total income goes to your rent. So how do you define housing affordability? Making sure that will we are using Skyway‑specific average median income to define affordability. We can’t use average median income of the whole county because, again, the income of Skyway on average is lower. So when we are putting into place the requirements for developers to include affordable housing, we are using the metric of Skyway specifically saying that the units here have to be affordable for people in Skyway, less than 30% of their income is going to rent.  Housing affordability not only means renting, but helping people with homeownership. We can talk about community land trusts, putting more investment behind those to promote homeownership for families where the mortgage and broker fee and all of that is a barrier to entry to homeownership, so a nonprofit is going to own this land and you can be tenants here and as you leave you are going to benefit from the appreciation of and value of the property. Making sure people who live somewhere can stay there and so when we talk about affordability, we have to make sure that we are giving people shallow rent subsidies for the people who can’t get by on one month or two months’ rent and that’s the difference between them and slipping into homelessness. We all know that the best way to solve homelessness is to prevent it from happening in the first place, so subsidies would allow us to give people a leg up in their times that they are most down.

MODERATOR: How do you plan to combat the gentrification that is already occurring in Skyway, which is moving away residents who have lived here all their lives? – Daniela Cruz, age 18, SYNC Youth Leadership Councilmember

ZAHILAY: When I talk to people in Skyway, there is an anxiety that they and us are going to become the next Central District, the next Columbia City, the next Rainier Valley, because that economic tsunami is coming for Skyway next. The question is how do we build density so that we can put in affordable housing units and house people without displacing the communities that have already been there? And when I came to a forum here last month, the community had some exceptional ideas because, guess what, when you listen to the community they always have exceptional ideas. 

The anti‑displacement, it would require developers to put in the number of affordable housing units that they destroyed in the process of building and then some. Inclusionary zoning policies that again say some percentage.  Units that you build have to be affordable based on Skyway’s average median income, and, no, we do not support a fee in lieu program which is a developer loophole for you not to include affordable housing. We need mandatory inclusionary policies. We also need to promote more community land trust because we need to think about homeownership. As housing values go up, we need to make sure the communities that are here are benefitting from that. 

And finally, we need to think about property taxes and how increasing property taxes are burdening especially our senior citizens who are retired, who worked their entire lives to retire in dignity.  And when I knock on doors and talk to senior citizens, they are telling me, now I have to go to Airbnb and allow strangers in my house. We need to think about more tax breaks for our senior citizens so they aren’t also not losing their homes.

GOSSETT: Many of the points that Girmay just made are included in the ordinance that I mentioned a few minutes ago. Putting forth to the county council on July 30th, and towards the end of August, we already have some specific measurements for creating land trusts based on the actual conditions that exist in central and southeast Seattle, and Skyway.  And as a result of this legislation, we also plan to have inclusionary zones in those areas where it’s going to make land much more difficult to put people out of their apartments, give them 20‑day notices, and I asked the residents of Skyway to come out and participate in these hearings that we are going to have so that we can see when it is ‑ we will eventually come up with by the end of August, that we will put into place, and the displacement measures that will be very effective here in Skyway. We can do it with the support of the community.  We have shown that before, and we will do it with this new legislation.

MODERATOR: What plans do you have for ensuring the safety of people who are either homeless, immigrants, or individuals with drug addictions in King County? – Jimwell Paclibar Dumaguing Jr., age 18, SYNC Youth Leadership Councilmember

GOSSETT: I will start with the one on individuals with drug addiction in King County. Some county council members have been very extensive in trying to figure out what we can do about this problem. We think or at least I think that treatment is culturally relevant, should be made available, by addicts, by families of young or older people who think that their child, their loved one, is having trouble with drug addiction. We do not yet have that. I also think that the program that they have in Canada should be implemented where people who have addiction who are not ready to give it up have much safer and more humane places to address their addiction and get help from counselors and other people that work in these facilities, and I think that the way we are moving we will have more of these programs. In terms of what plans do you have to make the community safer, I think that we are getting better, having a balance between safety and equitable opportunity to survive as human beings.  We are not going to be able to reduce violence unless we create opportunities for jobs, more culturally relevant education.

ZAHILAY: I will start with immigrants because we are in terrifying times right now. If we are talking about keeping people safe, we are talking about keeping immigrant communities safe from our own federal government, which is absolutely mind-blowing. As I.C.E. continues its nationwide raids, tearing families apart, I am proud that we live in a sanctuary county, in a sanctuary city.

If you are undocumented, that does not mean you are less than human so we need to make sure that we continue to protect our undocumented neighbors and say that just because you are undocumented does not mean you don’t deserve privacy. If we are going to say that you deserve privacy as an undocumented person, that your information won’t be handed out to I.C.E., that we have to define what privacy is. We have to train the Sheriff’s Office and our detention centers to make sure that they are handling our privacy of undocumented neighbors with care because we saw what happened in the past couple of weeks where those institutions were giving information to I.C.E. That is completely unacceptable. There need to be consequences for those kinds of actions. For people with drug addictions, I really, really think that our ‑ the LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] diversion program has been very successful. We need to put more investment into that. If people were committing crimes of property or addiction, we are not going to handle them through the court process and through the prison system, but we are going to put them into diversion programs where they will get treatment, they will get counseling, job opportunities, and the data shows that that is wildly successful. People who go into these diversion programs rather than to jail or to the court system, their likelihood of being arrested in the future drops by 60%. So the data is telling us what is more effective and we need to listen to that. How do we protect people who are homeless, the best way is to give them homes.

MODERATOR: On the subject of gun violence, how would you approach prevention, taking into consideration the potential for biased policing?

ZAHILAY: There are so many ways to address gun violence.  One of the most important ones ‑ I am assuming a young person asked about more biased policing. We need more opportunities for our youth. Again, as somebody who has founded a youth development nonprofit, when we invest in our youth they prosper. We need to get every single student, in the public school system here, reliable mentors who will be with them from the very beginning to the very end, somebody that they can lean on. We need to promote homeownership in their families, invest more in childcare so that parents don’t have to leave their children alone at home. These are all things the data shows us are more effective than continuing to increase police presence and putting kids into jail early on. That increases their likelihood of committing more crime in the future by 23%. That’s why San Francisco became the first city in the nation to close down their juvenile hall in preference for systems that have been shown to work better. We need to take guns away from the hands of repeat offenders and people who are likely to commit gun violence, like domestic abusers. Those are people who are going to use guns, so we need to have strong regulations in place to make sure they don’t get their hands on a gun. We need better gun technology to show that people ‑ to make sure that guns that are lost are easily identifiable and recovered so they don’t fall into the wrong person’s hands. There are lots of things that we can do to prevent gun violence and I look forward to working on those things with you all.

GOSSETT: In Seattle as well as in King County, we have a long history of developing community responses to increased gun violence. In the Central Area, we organized the Gun Violence Coalition. Right now we are considering spending $315 million on something that ‑ money that’s coming through Sound Transit, that we call the Puget Sound Assistance Program, whether the money should go for five to eight or postsecondary, I think the development programs that can take place in all, but I think the focus has to be in the area, and King County is taking the lead and that is funding programs that start working with kids in the elementary and middle school, trying to prevent access to guns, violence, expulsions, and suspensions in schools and creating culturally relevant programs that they can enter into that mitigate against them feeling that that’s the only way that they are going to get out.  So I am hopeful that will, again, people will come down in a couple years, to make sure that the $300 million that’s available now goes for the youth programming that makes the biggest difference in mitigating against gun violence.

MODERATOR: From “The Seattle Times” editorial board, “Name a current policy issue where you disagree with your opponent and tell us why you’re right”.

GOSSETT: An issue that I brought up with Girmay just a few moments ago, that has to do with the ability to deeply appreciate the impact that incarceration is having on many, many African Americans, particularly Native Americans, Latinos, that are incarcerated, either as adults or youth in our jail. I have been both in our youth center and jail three or four times a week. I have been going there for 25 years because of the conflict with various families, so I know how difficult it is to create just a modicum of a plan that will help these young people or adults get out of jail and stay out once they get out, but we have had a lot of successes because we have community‑based organizations and an elected official that has gone in there and worked with these folks and made a difference. The idea of identifying with zero youth detention is an aspiration or goal. Yes, that’s something we look for, but I have made every effort in this county that has radically reduced the number of youth in the jails. 77% reduction, from 2018 to 2016, we were recognized by a national organization for success if that regard. It’s not sufficient, that’s why I am running for reelection.  We can do even better.

ZAHILAY: We are fortunate enough to live in a city and a county that at least racial equity is a stated goal. It’s a conversation that we have, everything that the city and the county does they say they are doing it through a racial equity lens. But what we have in Skyway is the highest percentage of African Americans anywhere in the region. What we also have in Skyway is a childhood poverty rate that’s three times the average of the county. What we also have in Skyway is a lack of investment, a lack of attention, a lack of resources, and so when we talk about racial equity, are we just talking the talk or are we walking the walk? And so that’s the major thing that I have a disagreement with, and it feels like out in Skyway there hasn’t been the attention, the investment, the representation that this area deserves, especially if we are saying we promote racial equity. These are things that we need to address and we need to address immediately. We need to talk about the racial disparities and ownership of marijuana shops. We need to talk about tax revenues going back into these communities, to make sure that people are being uplifted. We need to make sure we are promoting homeownership. We need to make sure we are put being into place strong anti‑displacement measures so people are not losing their homes. These are all things there are extremely important and that we need to work on immediately.

MODERATOR: Girmay, you will go first with your closing statement.

ZAHILAY: Thank you all so much for coming out today. Thank you to the West Hill Community Association. Thank you to Skyway Solutions for coming out here today. Thank you all for making your voices heard. I know that when we work together we can make sure that everybody in Skyway and everybody in our region has a better life because our government is paying more attention and investing more in these areas. I know that our campaign is the only campaign that is not accepting corporate PAC money.  This is a commitment that we made in the very beginning of this race because we all know that big money and politics is one of the biggest issues that we see out there. We also have been endorsed by all of the local democratic organizations. These are democratic organizations with the uppercase and also the lowercase “D” because they are all you, the voices of you all coming out and showing who you are supporting and so together I know that we can make some special changes happen and I hope that we have earned your support tonight. Thank you so much.

GOSSETT: I would just like to close by saying that I am a person that has had a long history of doing many of the things that both Girmay and I spoke about this evening, and equally important has had some success at implementing changes that have been beneficial to the people. I believe that over the next couple of months the policy prescriptions that we are putting forward at this point, my anti‑displacement legislation at King County will make even a higher ‑ a bigger difference than many of the therapeutic programs that we have had in the past, and if we continue to get some significant cooperation from the community organizations in Skyway and many of the families that reside out here, we will show that difference over the next few years. And that is one of the primary reasons that I am running again for King County Council, to show that we can be a greater community out there and bring about change, during to the intersectionality of the community groups, community‑based organizations, and progressive legislators working together in areas that people say you can’t bring about a change.  I have been doing that all my life.


Again, you can watch the full debate on our Facebook page. Thank you to Bibiana Van Dyk for providing communication access real-time translation (CART), also called open captioning or real-time stenography, or simply real-time captioning.

Primary Election ballots are due Tuesday, August 6th, and must be in a drop box or postmarked by 8pm. There is a drop box at Skyway Library, but if you choose to put it in the mail, remember – you no longer need to add a stamp!

Thank you to King County Elections and Seattle Foundation for helping make this event possible through the Voter Education Fund. Thank you to WHCA’s Advocacy Committee for organizing, and thank you to WHCA Board Member Beth Hintz for all of event photography.