Meet Joe M-a-l-l-a-h-a-n
Joe Mallahan has emerged as a top contender for Mayor of Seattle after entering the race some 15 weeks ago as an unknown with a last name no one could remember. Seattle-ites relish familiarity- sometimes to a nauseating degree- yet overwhelmingly voted for Mallahan or his opponent Mike McGinn* (who is ahead in the results) because they were fed up with the policies, ignorance and management style of soon-to-be-outgoing Mayor Nickels.
With about 9 weeks to go until election night, Mallahan makes the case for why he is best qualified to lead Seattle in a direction that is progressive, responsible and equitable. Here is my discussion with him.
Mallahan describes his personal, professional background and his desire to serve:
3 Ways Nickels went wrong: I asked Joe to give me his top three concerns around policies and practices enacted by the outgoing administration, which moved into 3 issues that he feels are important for the city (which is fine, Nickels “bashing” (my words) is an easy out). In this segment he discusses his view of social justice:
What did Nickels do right? What policies and practices is Joe committed to continuing from the current administration- this took us into a conversation about seamless communication from government to communities and vice versa- we discussed how the Metro route 42 was nearly cut to save money, with no regard for those who utilize it every day- how do we prevent ignorant decisions like that from happening in the future? Our exchange:
The infamous Department of Neighborhoods: One of the most polarizing departments in the City, the DoN has a reputation for supporting certain neighborhoods and ignoring others. Where is the equity, and what is Mallahan’s vision for the DoN?
The City’s Office of Education, levies and the relationship between Seattle and SPS:
On the city side we have levies which support building maintenance and construction, as well as special programs. The costs of new buildings and proper maintenance for older buildings increases at a level that isn’t easily explained, and funding for programs via the Families and Education Levy managed out of the Office for Education within the city’s DoN has increased it’s practice of funding to the standardized test while decreasing services and programs which increase family involvement in childrens’ education and also help provide stability for the children themselves. Here is an example; the Families and Edu levy pays for family support workers (or what used to be) in the schools. It used to be that nearly every school had one- they were the social workers in the building and they served based on need- obviously they are a valuable part of the age old pedagogy of “teaching the whole child”. Now however, Family Support workers are tasked with proving their services help a set amount of kids pass the standardized test- their caseload is limited and is not based on need, but rather on test results. Said all of that to say, the city has a pretty big stake in the district, and takes a role as far as levies are concerned- should the Mayor’s office and/or the city council assert greater oversight or have a stronger hand in decision making where Seattle Schools is concerned?
Gangs, guns and SPD: As you know, in the past 2 years countless young Black men have lost their lives to gun violence at rates that are disproportionate to any other group. The media, law enforcement, elected officials and Seattle-ites at large have basically chalked these deaths up to “gang-related”. This stereotype often suggests that those who have been murdered in fact did something to bring it on, or did something to deserve it. The gang member stereotype also suggests that the victims’ lives are somehow less important than the store clerk who is murdered while on the job and in the end, the city is desensitized to the fact that young people have access to guns and are murdering each other with them.
The truth is that none of these young men were hardened criminals, and many were not gang members- certainly none of them deserved to have their lives snuffed out. Aaron Sullivan for example, who was murdered in July was not a gang member, yet that was the assumption everyone jumped to because he was young and Black.
Families and communities are frustrated that they are not being included in defining the problem and working towards solutions.
Additionally, Mallahan has been endorsed by the SPD and Fire unions- for some this is a comfort, while others question if such an endorsement means “he’s one of them”. His comments on the issues:
On stolen guns in the community:
Empowering and supporting Seattle’s youth: This one speaks for itself:
Campaign controversy: Probably the most “controversial” part of the interview centered around comments Joe made about Nickels decision to fire the former head of the Department of Neighborhoods, Jim Diers. Mallahan was quoted as saying Nickels terminated Diers in order to ‘pursue a “racial agenda”‘. These comments of course raised eyebrows and ruffled feathers, and cause the head of One America to suggest in a scathing article that Mallahan’s words suggested that he was talking in “code aimed at the same conservative voters who are afraid of immigrants overrunning our town.”
In my social/political circle it was the article written by Pramila Jayapal of One America and the concerns therein that caught people’s attention- particularly when the author mentioned the “code” talk- I am familiar with it, as I know you are because many of you asked me what I thought about this situation based on that article.
I asked Mallahan straight up if he was in fact speaking in conservative-self-preservation-White-man-code, and to clarify what exactly he felt he was trying to say. Here is his response:
Why Mallahan? There wasn’t a lot of talk about opponent Mike McGinn or McGinn’s campaign platform, but I did ask Mallahan what makes him the better man for the job:
Conclusion: I’m not going to tell you what to think or who to vote for- you’re smart enough to figure that out on your own. But my impression? Mallahan comes across as comfortable with where he is in the race for Mayor, but not cocky, or as if he doesn’t have a lot of work left to do. I felt like he was informed on the issues we discussed, but he certainly didn’t pretend to have all the answers. Did I agree with everything he said- no. But I also know that he heard me. He’s an active listener. We look for many different qualities when we are choosing our leaders. Two of those qualities for me are, one who listens, and one who has a conscience. Any politician or candidate can give the company line on any given issue. But only a person with a conscience is going to actually do something about it. It was clear to me that he wants to know the issues- the good, the bad and the ugly- he wants to know how City government is impacting the quality of life and community in Seattle- the most affluent and the most underprivileged.
The sense that I get from him is that he is looking at the issues, taking all of the variables into consideration and then using that information to formulate equations that result in measurable, progressive success. When was the last time a Seattle Mayor did that?
It’s very easy for a political candidate to bash his or her opponents in an election. “My opponent” this and “my opponent” that- give me a break. 99% of the time it’s all rhetoric and irrelevant. Tell me what you are going to do! Let your opponent tell me about himself.
Until a few weeks ago Joe Mallahan was running against Nickels and many have wondered how he would adjust his messages and strategies now that it’s just him and Mike McGinn. In my discussion with him, I got the sense that he is more focused on the challenges ahead and how to fix them- moving Seattle over the hurdle it seems to have been stuck at for a few years now. Mallahan is running on the issues (plural!), which one could argue means he is running against himself. Sure, as the weeks tick by, messages (and attacks) will sharpen, but Mallahan’s eyes are on the issues.
*For the record, I’ve sent multiple requests to Mike McGinn for an interview- his camp has not responded, and I hear he thinks I’m a big ‘ol meanie. Awww…