A Conversation with Hamdi Mohamed, Port Commissioner Candidate

A Conversation with Hamdi Mohamed, Port Commissioner Candidate

On today’s show  Crystal is joined by Port of Seattle Commissioner candidate Hamdi  Mohamed. Hamdi gets into her path to running for Port Commissioner,  prioritizing worker’s rights issues at the Port, and the importance of  the Port of Seattle in creating a just economy in our region.  Additionally, she underscores the importance of reducing the air and  noise pollution experienced by communities around SeaTac.

As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.

Find the host, Crystal Fincher on Twitter at @finchfrii and find today’s guest, Hamdi Mohamed, at @hamdiforport. More info is available at officialhacksandwonks.com.


Why the Port Commissioner Races Actually Matter: https://southseattleemerald.com/2017/06/13/why-the-port-commissioner-races-actually-matter/

Carrying coffins, Sea-Tac airline catering employees demand better wages on eve of busy travel day:   https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/carrying-coffins-sea-tac-airline-catering-employees-demand-better-wages-on-eve-of-busiest-travel-day/

Port of Seattle Human Trafficking Awareness Campaign Results in Higher Call Volumes to National Human Trafficking Hotline:   https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/01/23/port-of-seattle-human-trafficking-awareness-campaign-results-in-higher-call-volumes-to-national-human-trafficking-hotline/

Links between air pollution and cancer risk: https://www.fredhutch.org/en/news/center-news/2017/08/air-pollution-boosts-cancer-risk.html

Little understood, unregulated particles pollute neighborhoods under Sea-Tac flight paths, UW study finds:   https://www.seattletimes.com/business/boeing-aerospace/little-understood-unregulated-particles-pollute-neighborhoods-under-sea-tac-flight-paths-uw-study-finds/

Federal study confirms racial bias of many facial-recognition systems, casts doubt on their expanding use:   https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/12/19/federal-study-confirms-racial-bias-many-facial-recognition-systems-casts-doubt-their-expanding-use/

King County Code 2.15 Immigrant, Refugees and Language Access Ordinance: https://kingcounty.gov/elected/executive/equity-social-justice/Immigrant-and-Refugee/LanguageAccessOrdinance.aspx

New Public Maritime High School to Open in September, Applications Are Open for Prospective Students:   https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/01/14/new-public-maritime-high-school-to-open-in-september-applications-are-open-for-prospective-students/


Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00]  Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this  show we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into  local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work and  provide behind-the-scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full  transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at  officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.

I  want to welcome to today's show - very excited to have Hamdi Mohamed  with us, who is a candidate for the Port of Seattle Commission. Thank  you for joining us.

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:01:01] Thank you for having me. I'm happy to be here.

Crystal Fincher: [00:01:04]  Happy that you're here, excited about your candidacy. I guess I just  wanted to start off asking you - what brought you to want to run for the  Port? What motivated your decision to say, This is where I want to make  a difference?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:01:21]  Yeah, Crystal, that's a great question. I honestly never thought I  would be running for elected office. That wasn't the thing that I would  say as a child, right - What do you want to be? It wasn't, I want to be a  politician. I came to the US when I was three years old, as a refugee  from Somalia, and one of our first ports of entries into the United  States was at Sea-Tac Airport. My family came without a dollar in their  pocket, and was just entering the country to find refuge, just to  survive.

My mother  actually started working at Sea-Tac Airport, it was one of her first  jobs. And I watched her growing up, juggle her job at Sea-Tac Airport. I  started working when I was 15 years old to help my family make ends  meet. And I was always close to seeing - I was always seeing my family  struggle and my community struggle. I was always that person that was  always trying to figure out how to resolve some sort of issue and ended  up going to the University of Washington, studying Law, Societies, and  Justice there. Then I went on to work for a number of our local  nonprofits, I went on to work for US Congresswoman Jayapal. Now I work  for our County Executive Office of Equity and Social Justice as a policy  advisor.

And when this  pandemic hit, I just saw a lack of leadership. I think now more than  ever, we need strong leadership at all levels of government. There is  really no going back to the way things were. For me, this is a moment to  re-imagine and rebuild a new economy that works for all of us, that  works for all of our communities. And I believe that the Port can do  that, it is our largest economic engine in the region. It creates jobs  and opportunities for our community. And I decided to run for this  position because I feel like I can make a big impact there.

I  also ran for this position because of the lack of regional  representation. The Port of Seattle's operations significantly impact  cities in South King County. The Port's largest asset is Sea-Tac  Airport. Over 70% of the ports' revenue comes from Sea-Tac Airport. And  currently none of our port commissioners live in South King County. So  for me, it's time that we have regional representation, that our voices  are at the table, a community that's significantly impacted.

Also  I want to be able to bring my expertise in equitable economic  development, in job creation to the Port of Seattle,and I have some  exciting ideas around how we can help our communities build back better,  how to help them re-enter the workforce. So many people have lost their  jobs and have been hurting during this pandemic, I've seen it very up  close. I have been serving on King County's COVID-19 response team since  the pandemic hit. And so I've seen the devastating impacts that this  pandemic has had on our whole region. And I've seen the data when you  look closely, there are certain communities and neighborhoods that are  heavily impacted. And so now more than ever, we need strong leadership,  we need leadership that are going to have their boots on the ground  doing the work. And that is what I'm known for, and that's what I do -  when I see a problem, I think of a way to resolve it and I do it with  community, I do it in collaboration. And so I want to be able to bring  my expertise, and skills, and lived experience to the Port of Seattle.

Crystal Fincher: [00:05:23]  Well, and I appreciate that, and that's really important. And you  talked about how important the Port is economically to our region. And  there has been long-time conversation about the need to make sure that  the entities that the Port supports and interacts with remain  competitive, how important trade and tourism are and how the Port  interacts with that. But also how critical it is to treat employees  fairly, to make sure we are not leaving anyone behind as we seek a  better economy, more stable economy, more prosperity for everyone. And  so often the conversation around that pits those in conflict with one  another. Do you think they have to be in conflict with one another, or  can we make sure that we grow our economy, support tourism, travel  companies, trade organizations, and provide a livable wage for folks and  a secure living?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:06:32]  Yeah. No, I agree with you. Those things should not be in competition,  those things should complement each other, right? In order to have good  businesses that are functioning, in order for us to have tourism and  trade, we have to be able to have workers - employees keep these things  functioning and keep the airport moving. The Port in itself, the seaport  and the airport, are able to function and bring - add to the economy  because of employees. Everyone must be paid a living wage. Businesses  should be invested in ensuring that their workers are protected. And  elected officials who are elected by the people, that should be their  number one top priority. They get put in those positions by the people  to ensure that, to keep our government transparent and accessible. For  me, those things - they don't compete with each other, they complement  each other.

We have to  make sure that we have strong recovery plans for small businesses, that  we are ensuring that we have a seaport that its operations are moving,  that we have a smooth operations happening at our seaport, and  investments are being made there to ensure that folks do want their  containers to come through the Port of Seattle, and that we're being  competitive nationally and on a global scale. To me, these things are  things that go together, but I think for a long time, we've seen  leadership that do not step up for workers who've helped elect them. And  I really do think that needs to change, we need to stand with working  families and support them, and I think it is in the best interest of  businesses to do that.

What  I hope to do is bring that sort of lens, that sense of partnership to  the Port of Seattle. To ensure that our businesses and communities and  workers are working well together. This is a time where we need to come  together. If we are going to truly build back better, we've got to get  on the same page, and we need to align our systems, align our workforce  systems, and to ensure that resources are getting out to our  communities, and that we're addressing issues and looking at where the  needs are greatest. So that's the spirit and the sort of lens I will be  bringing to the Port of Seattle.

Crystal Fincher: [00:09:15]  You've talked a lot about running because you felt like current  leadership hasn't stepped up and there does need to be a change of  direction. You chose to run against an incumbent, so I'm wondering why  did you choose to run for the position you're running for and against  the incumbent that you're running against?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:09:37]  Yeah, that's a great question. The decision that I made was based off  of ensuring that we have strong leadership in place, that brings a  strong equity lens, that can address the needs of this moment. Crystal, I  don't know if you've looked at some of the data, but just recently in  March 1st, 2021, there were over a 100,000 folks who received  unemployment benefits in King County. And if you look closer at those  numbers, the top zip codes in King County with the highest unemployment  UI insurance claims, are cities that surround the Port's largest  operating site, SEA Airport. A lot of the people who live within those  communities also go to work for the Port or the airport. Nearly 60% of  those claims come from folks who were working in our food service  industry. These are folks who are my neighbors - I live five minutes  away from Sea-Tac Airport.

And  I have worked closely with individuals who've been impacted by  COVID-19, in my position at the County as a policy advisor. And I've led  initiatives that invested $1.5 million in small businesses that have  been impacted by displacement, and fundings to our community-based  organizations that were on the frontlines of this pandemic. Really,  these numbers and the issues are devastating. And they're devastating  our communities and disproportionately BIPOC folks, immigrants,  refugees, women, poor white folks with lower educational attainment. The  data is showing us that, and to me, we have to have a sense of urgency  to address these issues and that's what I bring. I bring that vision to  the Port of Seattle, so when I was deciding to run, it wasn't  necessarily me deciding to run against one particular candidate, it was  running because I have a vision for the Port of Seattle.

But  the question about the incumbent, when you look at the incumbent that  I'm running against also, we differ on a number of things. On votes that  she's taken - the incumbent voted to use taxpayer's money to file a  legal challenge against SeaTac's $15 minimum wage. And that is a  position that I would never have taken. I stand with working families.  When I look at the workforce that that $15 minimum wage was going to  help, it's a workforce that looks very similar to me, that our histories  are the same, my mom was once part of that workforce. So $15 minimum  wage we know is not even a living wage. So taking positions like that, I  think, really goes against my beliefs. Most recently, the incumbent  voted against the leasing of the Duwamish Valley Community Resource  Center. That resource center was going to go to creating green job  programs, internship recruitment, supporting small businesses and  workforce development. I just think we would have taken different votes  and we bring a different vision for the Port of Seattle.

Right  now, I've been talking to rideshare drivers and truck drivers, who've  been sharing stories with me about how they don't have access to  restrooms on the job. To me, everyone should have access to a restroom  at their workplace. Truck drivers who've shared not having adequate  access to testing and vaccination sites. And so these are all really  issues that I would lead and ensure that we were addressing, whether  that is standing up vaccination sites for truck drivers at truck stops,  ensuring that they have PPE and adequate equipments to keep themselves  protected. Also today, there are a number of workers at Sea-Tac who  actually do not get paid $15 minimum wage, catering workers at Sea-Tac  who do not get paid $15 minimum wage. I think it's these type of issues  where right now, now more than ever, we need strong leadership around  it, we need folks who are going to protect those workers, who are going  to stand with them, and to ensure that they have the sort of support  that they need to continue to help build our economy.

Crystal Fincher: [00:14:39]  Right. And so Stephanie Bowman is the incumbent that you are running  against. Certainly you just talked about your issue with that $15 an  hour vote of hers. So are you saying that you will ensure that all  workers that are directly employed by the Port of Seattle, you would  want to vote to ensure that they make $15 an hour at minimum?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:15:04]  Absolutely. As a Port of Seattle Commissioner elected by the people,  one of my top priorities would be to advocate for living wages and to  support workers by showing up intentionally for them, and also  co-creating with them to bring solutions. So absolutely I would  definitely advocate for living wages and truly support working families.

Crystal Fincher: [00:15:30]  Excellent. Now there is a lot of conversation, and justifiably so,  about the Port's contribution to, and ability to help fix, the amount of  pollution in our region and overall. Is that a priority for you and how  do you address that?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:15:53]  That's a great question. I am committed to addressing that, right, as  someone who lives in the airport community - working to reduce things  like noise pollution from planes, and investing in quieter jets, and  ensuring that we transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy - is a  top priority for me. Right now there's research that has been done by  the University of Washington that found a specific type of pollution in  the air called ultrafine particle pollution, which is basically a  pollution that has been connected to multiple types of cancers. It is a  pollution that comes from aircraft that has huge health impacts for  people. I know so many people in our community that live around the  airport community who struggle with all types of health situations, who  have high blood pressure, asthma, and we know that the aviation  contributes to that.

So  we have to think responsibly, move aviation to being more sustainable.  There are projects that's happening right now to invest in alternative  jet fuels, I'm in support of that. We need to be doing that - we need to  reach the Port's Century Agenda goals to transition from fossil fuels  to renewable energy a lot faster. I'm in support of accelerating the  implementation of sound installation programs for airport communities  and advocating for federal investments in noise and emission mitigation.  That's an FAA issue as well, and so I've been talking to our  Congressional delegation about that. I've been endorsed by US  Congresswoman Jayapal, I've been endorsed by US Congressman Adam Smith,  and talked to the both of them about that.

And  really, I think we need a strong regional leader in this position  that's going to bring our elected officials and communities together to  help address some of the most pressing issues that are impacting our  community and thinking creatively about it. We shouldn't just wait on  the FAA to help mitigate some of these situation, but what can we do as a  Port? How can we bring our business community together and think of  different pots to help address these issues. And also thinking about the  communities that we are impacting, and how do we support them.

Crystal Fincher: [00:18:38]  You also talked about, just going back a little bit, supporting workers  and certainly supporting families, supporting the region. You are very  strongly in support of making sure workers for the Port of Seattle will  be making $15 an hour. You also referenced a lot of the gig workers who  are not directly employed by the Port of Seattle, but rely on the Port  of Seattle, who are servicing and working in conjunction with rideshare  drivers and other vendors. What can actually concretely be done? What  could you enact to help increase their standard of living and their  working conditions?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:19:27]  Yeah, that's a great question. Well, one, the access to restrooms, I  think is - it's one that we need to address and address that quickly.  The fact that our rideshare drivers and truck drivers, both, don't have  adequate access to restrooms is a big problem. It's one that I'm  currently even talking to some of our port commissioners about, to help  them address that. But it's also making sure that we are making the  Port's operations accessible to them and transparent, that we are  supporting them, providing opportunities - whether that is job training  opportunities, whether that is standing up COVID testing sites or  vaccination sites, providing them with the appropriate PPE so that they  are protected and can keep showing up to work and doing the work, giving  them the sort of tools that they need to be able to be successful on  the job.

And so really,  showing up for our gig workers is so so important. And being a port  commissioner that listens, that brings their voices into the  decision-making process. Standing up advisory groups that are made up of  our gig workers, to help us make those decisions at the Port that also  benefits them and benefits the businesses that are at the Port. So I  would be hosting regular listening sessions and town hall meetings to  have those conversations with them, in addition to attending the monthly  commission meeting or study sessions. But really being able to engage  with them and being intentional about it - most folks already know what  their needs are and the solutions to the problem. We just have to bring  folks to the table and give them the opportunity to engage with us so we  can resolve some of the most pressing issues that they're facing.

Crystal Fincher: [00:21:43]  That makes sense. Looking at a lot of what the Port is responsible for,  and the Port is a very large entity - what the Port is responsible for  and just the size of the jurisdiction is quite vast. And the Port has  its own police department and also interacts with Homeland Security,  ICE, Customs and Border Patrol, in a variety of ways. And so how, when  you consider, I guess starting off with just the issue of policing and  sharing data with immigration authorities, Customs and Border Patrol.  Obviously that has been something that a lot of local cities within the  Port's jurisdiction have prevented. What do you think needs to be put in  place? Do you think what's currently in place is adequate, and what is  your stance on making sure that data isn't inappropriately shared with  ICE and Homeland Security?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:22:49]  Yeah. That is a great question, I think it's one that sometimes people  forget that the Port - how large the Port's operations are. They manage  billions of dollars, there's the partnership between the Port of Seattle  and the Port of Tacoma as well. And so, there's the marine terminals  and they have a fire department, in addition to a police force. It's a  good point that you bring that up, because I think sometimes a lot of  people don't even realize that the Port is a government entity in a lot  of ways. So that's a good point that you bring up. As far as - how does  the Port engage with the community around police reform, or just  thinking about the Port's police department, we have to ensure that they  are accountable, that they're also listening to recommendations on the  national level and locally.

Also  for me, as a port commissioner, it's really important to partner with  that police department to ensure that we are addressing really urgent  matters that face our region like human trafficking. Human trafficking  is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world today.  And we are, as a state, Washington state is a hotspot for human  trafficking because of the abundance of ports, the vast rural areas that  we have, there's the international border with Canada. So really  ensuring that we are protecting people is so so important. I've been  talking to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who've endorsed our campaign,  around combating human trafficking at the Port of Seattle and to build  on existing work. Right now, if you look at the Port's Century Agenda,  it doesn't include language access. If we are truly wanting to combat  human trafficking, we need to make sure that the Century Agenda includes  language access, we have to be able to address language barriers. A lot  of the times, folks end up getting trafficked or not able to report  being trafficked because of language barriers, or lack of awareness to  services, or the fear and suspicion of law enforcement that folks have.

So  addressing that is important and I bring strong skills around that.  When I was working for US Congresswoman Jayapal as her Deputy District  Director, I oversaw her Constituent Services team and carried the  immigration and international relations portfolio for her. Often I  worked very closely with US Customs and Border Protection and our US  consulates to address issues like child abduction. We worked on bringing  political prisoners home and we successfully helped reunite so many  families. Also I had to work with ICE when someone was detained at the  Tacoma Detention Center. Constituents would call our office and want to  get in contact with their relatives, figure out what sort of legal  support that they can provide to them. And often I was picking up the  phone and calling those agents, officers, to ensure that folks' rights  were not being infringed on. So I will continue to do that, I will  continue to work very closely with our immigrant advocacy organizations  to ensure that our family and communities are protected and continue to  address some of the most pressing issues that are facing our immigrant  refugee populations.

Crystal Fincher: [00:26:42]  In that vein, also the use of biometrics is a big concern. Basically  going and using eye scans or face scans to identify people within the  airport, and that data also being fed to or shared with federal  authorities. We had a conversation with another port commissioner  recently, who talked about the work being done on this. And a huge  concern, certainly overall and specifically impacting communities of  color, is that biometrics are less accurate for people with darker skin.  People are misidentified more, there are more errors. And with that  information being shared with law enforcement authorities - more  misidentification, and people experiencing harm and impacts and adverse  effects from being misidentified. So as they consider whether or how to  use that, certainly that should be a huge consideration. Do you feel  like the work group, or the work that they're doing to address that  right now is adequate? And what, I guess, work and protections do you  feel should be put into place to make sure people are feeling secure  that their data isn't being collected without their knowledge or  consent, and also shared with authorities that they may also not consent  to?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:28:22]  That is a great question and it's one that I think we really need to  ensure that we are protecting folks' information, that we are upholding  privacy laws, and also working with our Congressional delegations. It is  a federal issue and so as a port commissioner, it will be really  important to work with those federal agencies and to work with our  Congressional delegation, to ensure that information is not being  breached, that folks' - whoever gets a hold of these information are not  misusing it and are not profiling our communities. So that will be a  priority of mine. I have experience working with our federal agencies,  as well as our Congressional delegation.

And  also around immigration. King County has an ordinance in place right  now, King County Code 2.15, which is the immigration and language access  code, which basically says that the County will not share information  with federal agents, unless it's accompanied by a judicial warrant. What  we know is, often when there are those sorts of protections put in  place, people are - especially immigrants and refugees, are more likely  to access County services, government services, healthcare services, and  they're likely to report things like crimes against themselves or their  community. And so for me, it will be a priority to be able to ensure  that we have policies in place that are protecting the privacies of all  of our residents that contribute to our economy and our whole society  here. That is something that needs to be addressed and it is a federal  matter, and it's one that requires partnership, and I'm prepared to do  that.

Crystal Fincher: [00:30:31]  Well, thank you so much for joining us today. We are at our time, but  I'm so happy to be able to hear from you. I guess just as a very last  closing, and in evaluating this vote between you and your opponent, what  do you think voters should weigh the most in making that decision?

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:30:51]  Yeah, no - that's a good closing sort of statement. I think what - if  folks understand that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and this is a  moment where we have to re-imagine and rebuild a new economy that works  for all of us. And recognizing that we can't do business as usual. We  truly need new leadership. We need a regional leader that will make the  Port's numerous operations accessible and transparent, a leader that  will be a strong voice for working families and businesses impacted by  COVID-19. I will be that leader. We didn't talk about this, but I'm  proud to serve on the Maritime High School Advisory Board, and will be a  strong advocate for expanding educational opportunities for our youth  to ensure that they are also prepared to enter the workforce. After this  pandemic, we're seeing labor shortages all across this country. And so  really investing in the next generation is so important.

And  we're truly running a grassroots campaign. A 100% of the donations that  we have received so far have come from individuals. We've been endorsed  by over 30 elected officials, including US Congressman Adam Smith,  Attorney General Bob Ferguson, our County Executive Dow Constantine, US  Congresswoman Jayapal, and so many of our community leaders. Folks are  ready to see a regional leader, and I'm ready to step up and do this  work. I have the lived experience and the work experience to be a strong  commissioner that works for the people that have elected me, or when I  do get elected. I hope they base it on that, and they also look at  records - look at the work that we've done and the facts - that will be  really important. I have over 15 years of experience working in King  County, and I bring the experience of advising on our County's $12  billion budget and have led initiatives that invested millions of  dollars into our community. And so those are the sort of skills and work  experience that I will put into the Port of Seattle.

Crystal Fincher: [00:33:06] All right. Thanks for joining us and have a wonderful day.

Hamdi Mohamed: [00:33:10] Thank you so much.

Crystal Fincher: [00:33:13]  Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks. Our chief audio engineer  at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks & Wonks is Lisl  Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii spelled  F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I, and now you can follow Hacks & Wonks on iTunes,  Spotify, or wherever else you got your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks  & Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe, to get our  Friday almost-live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast  feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links  to the resources referenced during the show at  officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for  tuning in, talk to you next time.