RE-AIR: How We Approached Interviewing Seattle City Council Candidates with Crystal Fincher and Shannon Cheng

RE-AIR: How We Approached Interviewing Seattle City Council Candidates with Crystal Fincher and Shannon Cheng

The makeup of Seattle City Council may be changing a lot next year, but the issues they’ll face won’t.

Over the six weeks leading up to ballots being mailed out for the 2023 general election, Hacks & Wonks presented our series of interviews with most of the Seattle City Council candidates!

On this topical show re-air, join Crystal and Shannon behind-the-scenes of Hacks & Wonks for a bonus (not-so) short episode where they discuss how questions got chosen and written, the why behind those kludgy SPOG contract questions, thoughts and observations after all the interviews, and their approach to editing. And also, a bit of venting.

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

Follow us on Twitter at @HacksWonks. Find the host, Crystal Fincher, on Twitter at @finchfrii and find Shannon Cheng at @drbestturtle.


Elections 2023 One-Stop Shop | Hacks & Wonks

Rob Saka, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 1” from Hacks & Wonks

Maren Costa, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 1” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 1 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

Tanya Woo, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 2” from Hacks & Wonks

Tammy Morales, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 2” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 2 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

Joy Hollingsworth, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 3” from Hacks & Wonks

Alex Hudson, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 3” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 3 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

Maritza Rivera, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4” from Hacks & Wonks

Ron Davis, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 4 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 5” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 5 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

Pete Hanning, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 6” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 6 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks

Andrew Lewis, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 7” from Hacks & Wonks

Seattle City Council District 7 Lightning Round” from Hacks & Wonks


[00:00:00] Crystal Fincher: Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm Crystal Fincher, and I'm a political consultant and your host. On this show, we talk with policy wonks and political hacks to gather insight into local politics and policy in Washington state through the lens of those doing the work with behind-the-scenes perspectives on what's happening, why it's happening, and what you can do about it. Be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review show and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, the most helpful thing you can do is leave a review wherever you listen to Hacks & Wonks. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at and in our episode notes.

Well, this is a little bonus short - I don't know, we'll wind up seeing how long this turns out to be. I am joined here with someone who you don't hear from on the mic often, but every time we do, it's wonderful. She is the person who does so much work for the podcast - this is a team effort. I'm here with Dr. Shannon Cheng. Hey, Shannon.

[00:01:14] Shannon Cheng: Hey, Crystal!

[00:01:16] Crystal Fincher: So Dr. Shannon Cheng - who is incredible, who works with me, who is a subject matter expert on public safety, is the guru for knowledge about like the SPOG contract, SPMA contract, that kind of stuff. She really understands and has the ability to actually explain it and share it in really accessible ways. But I just want to back up and talk about what you do and how you became an expert. What do you do, Shannon?

[00:01:44] Shannon Cheng: So I find myself involved in local policy and politics kind of by accident. I mean, you referenced that I'm a doctor - my doctorate is in Space Propulsion, I'm an aerospace engineer by training. And I guess if I try to think about the throughline of how I've operated in life is that I kind of don't want to end up doing things that aren't gonna let me go to sleep at night. So what happened with me with aerospace is - at one point - understanding that basically staying involved in that industry was contributing to weapons of destruction and war. And I just couldn't bring myself to do that. So through volunteering and activism, I guess that's how I met up with Crystal and got connected and have been doing a lot of things. I work on People Power Washington, which is focused on equitable public safety and policing across Washington state. We've worked on the Seattle, King County and State Legislature levels. We work on things ranging from budget advocacy to monitoring these difficult to understand police guild contracts and understanding how those get in the way of accountability, trying to work to pass charter amendments at the county level that would support better public safety and--

[00:02:59] Crystal Fincher: Shannon was instrumental in the passage of that 2020 County Charter Amendment to reform public safety. Instrumental.

[00:03:07] Shannon Cheng: And yeah, then recently I was invited to join the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability. And so that's been really a wonderful experience to just engage with families who have been directly impacted by police violence and brutality, and trying to work to have that not happen to anybody else ever again. So that's kind of me.

[00:03:32] Crystal Fincher: That is. Except you are the ultimate fun fact person. Like you have so many fun facts. A prior student of yours is currently on the Space Station right now.

[00:03:42] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, I mean - he was up there for a six month stint. He may have come back down by now, but - I think the launch was in February - and when they were showing the pictures, I was like, Wait, I taught that guy Dynamics.

[00:03:58] Crystal Fincher: You have a picture of you like in zero gravity working on a thing. You are an orienteering champion, which is a whole thing.

[00:04:07] Shannon Cheng: Yes. It is a sport that is not super popular in this country - it's widely popular in Europe, in Australia, New Zealand, those areas. But yes, you could say I am an orienteering champion of sorts--

[00:04:20] Crystal Fincher: You are literally an orienteering champion.

[00:04:24] Shannon Cheng: --thanks to participation and attendance.

[00:04:27] Crystal Fincher: And you being great. It's not like there were no competitors. Yeah, there are so many fun facts about Shannon - just awesome things that pop up here and there. But Shannon is talented at everything basically, and is just one of the best human beings I know. And an instrumental part of Hacks & Wonks. So that's why we're both here talking to you right now.

So we wanted to have this conversation to talk about just what we were thinking when we were putting together questions for the Seattle City Council candidate interviews. And we meet and kind of do a whole thing - have an approach anytime we do series of candidate interviews - this is no exception. But especially with all of them and this conversation, there's been a lot of tangential conversation brought up - a lot on social media, a lot in the community. And some of these questions have become even more relevant in the past couple of weeks, particularly the ones revolving around policing in the city of Seattle and the new contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild that is in the process of being negotiated. And so I guess starting out - when we start thinking about how we're going to do candidate interviews, what do we usually talk about? How do we usually approach that?

[00:05:51] Shannon Cheng: I think we're - I know you are always wanting to kind of understand how would a candidate actually vote on issues that matter to people in this city? Because ultimately people can say things and have platitudes, but it really comes down to when there's a hard vote, which way are they gonna go? So I think, especially for the lightning round, a lot of our questions were centered around trying to ask these questions - and getting a Yes, No, or seeing if there was a waffle from these candidates - just to better understand how they think about these things and when push comes to shove, which way they would lean.

[00:06:23] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and I think that is my approach. And it is an approach that is the result of years of working in politics, years of seeing how candidates process information throughout a campaign, how they conduct themselves just in their general lives, and how that translates to policy, and whether they govern in a way that's consistent with how they campaigned. And certainly one thing that is a throughline is - especially when it comes to tough votes - everybody will say, I believe the children are the future. Everybody will say - yes, they wanna address root causes of stuff, right? But as we see, like we've seen recently in this city, when it comes to issues of public safety or homelessness, people have all these value statements - but it comes down to a vote. It comes down to - Are you going to fund something or are you not? Are you going to really put into place the necessary elements to successfully implement what you're going to say or not? Are you going to just fund what you said - Oh, we need to do more than that. - but if you're only like voting to fund that, that's a different thing. So we tend to ask more specific questions than sometimes we hear elsewhere - we're not the only people who ask specific questions, but I definitely try to do that.

And we try to figure out what votes are likely to be coming up, where are the big fault lines, especially for the upcoming year, going to be? What does it look like different interests are pushing for and where do they stand on that? Because it's gonna be an issue. There's going to be pressure put on them to vote certain ways. And if they can't stand up strongly for what they believe and be conclusive about what they're gonna say, that doesn't have a good track record of resulting in the kind of policy that people expect in that direction - if they're soft on that. So that's part of what we do. And I've interviewed people from different philosophical orientations, political orientations. And sometimes there are people who I think or suspect I'm gonna agree with, who are soft on things I don't expect. People who I don't expect to agree with, who - I hear their answers on some things - I'm like, Okay, that was thoughtful and informed. And I certainly have my opinions - you know that - we talk about my opinions on the show. But I really do hope - my goal isn't to super interrogate and like make all the points - it's really to get what they think on the record, out in the open. And really help people to make an informed decision based on what the candidates are saying, kind of without the - with the exception of the lightning round - without the time limit on - Okay, you got to get your answer out in 30 seconds or 1 minute. There's some nuance - sometimes it's more than that - or an issue is complex and we need to talk about it.

[00:09:01] Shannon Cheng: And I would just also add that we have a lot of first time candidates this year, especially with open seats. And so it's also understandable that maybe a candidate isn't well-versed in every single issue area that is going to come up. And so I think having this robust set of questions also can help educate - both them and the voters - what is coming up. And maybe if they feel a little weak, or they get a question and they don't understand what it's even about, that's a signal of - Hey, this is kind of important. Maybe you need to look into that, and understand what's going on, and figure out where you stand on it.

[00:09:34] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And I - we'll have candidates be like, Whoa, I hadn't thought about that before, I need to learn more about that. And I appreciate that - when someone - taking office, we can talk about all of these issues. But there will always be issues or events that happen, that pop up that you don't talk about while on the campaign. And so a candidate's always going to have to get up to speed on something new. Electeds have to get up to speed on new things all the time. And so how do they approach that not knowing - knowing that they don't know something - How do they approach that? Who are the people they turn to to help learn? What sources of information are they learning from? How do they process information? Those are all things that are useful to hear and to know. And so even if they encounter something that - okay, maybe they didn't think about, you have a perspective about how they process information.

So I guess in how we approach writing questions, what is the process for that?

Okay, Shannon right now is like, Okay, so Crystal is like - ties herself into knots and then tries to avoid writing the questions. And then it's - maybe we don't want to do interviews at all. And oh my gosh - they're too many, they're too few. It's a little bit of a tortured process sometimes, but you help bring some clarity and order to that whole process.

[00:10:55] Shannon Cheng: I mean, you've done candidate forums - so we look at what you've done for candidate forums in the past. And then my issue area - that I work on in my spare time - is public safety and policing, and so I had the opportunity to put candidate questionnaire questions about that topic in as possible questions to ask. So - I don't know-- [both laughing]

[00:11:19] Crystal Fincher: Well, with that.

[00:11:20] Shannon Cheng: It's very last minute. [both laughing]

[00:11:22] Crystal Fincher: It's so, yeah.

[00:11:23] Shannon Cheng: But I don't know that people need to know that. [both laughing] We'll edit that part out.

[00:11:28] Crystal Fincher: Well, it is - we do this in between our regular work. I'm a political consultant. Shannon works with me. We're busy doing that for most of the day on most days, and we squeeze this podcast in between them - with lots of coordination and research and preparation done by Shannon, which I sincerely appreciate. But it is a process and we're trying to figure out what makes sense to ask. We do still have time limits-ish - we stretch it sometimes.

But I do - maybe we should start off talking about some of these questions about policing in the contract because some of these issues have come up lately. Shaun Scott, who is a great follow on Twitter - I don't know if he's elsewhere, but on Twitter, certainly - he was talking about, Hey, the city passed an ordinance. And he's absolutely right - City passed an ordinance giving the city council and OPA? - I think, one of the entities - the city council subpoena power over SPD and other entities, but like including SPD. And they did pass an ordinance that did that. Unfortunately, the SPOG contract of 2018 superseded that. Basically, it had clauses that contradicted and said, No, we're not gonna do that. And then another clause that says, And if City law says that we need to do that, that doesn't matter, this contract is going to replace or supersede City law in that. So subpoena power was essentially taken away. A number of accountability measures were taken away. So the questions that we asked were more specific than we usually ask. It wasn't like - oh, everybody deals with this and talks about it all the time. It was more - these are some areas in the SPOG contract that might be opaque or obscure that haven't been widely publicly discussed, but that are very important in dealing with issues like we're seeing now in the news. How did you put together those questions, and why are those specific ones important?

[00:13:30] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, so I think it's important to first understand that officer discipline is considered a working condition under state labor law, and that's why these union contracts are kind of the last stop for determining how things happen. So as you said, the City has passed, I think, multiple ordinances to try to give subpoena power to our accountability bodies - the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General. But the thing is that because we're governing under state law, unless that officer discipline-related provision gets negotiated into a contract that is accepted by the police unions, then it's not gonna be in effect. And so it's confusing, right? We see this all the time that there's these announcements made - Hey, like huge step forward in accountability. We managed to pass a law that says we have subpoena power. - but then what's left out is the asterisk that is, Well, once it gets negotiated with the union. And so I think that's the thing that gets lost a lot. And so I see that a lot. And so when we came up with our questions - literally it's from observing what the process has been, and then going actually through the contract line-by-line and trying to understand - okay, where are these provisions that kind of weaken the glorious accountability system that everybody likes to point to and pretend that we have. So knowing that going through labor contracts is not everybody's favorite thing, that's why we try to boil it down into - Okay, here's a few especially egregious things that seem like baseline we should try to get in the next contract - which is why talking to electeds about it is important because they are the ones who are gonna hold the power in terms of getting what we want in the next contract. So that's the process that we came up with our questions.

[00:15:23] Crystal Fincher: So, the question that we asked candidates in the lightning round was - Do you oppose a SPOG contract that doesn't give the Office of Police Accountability, known as OPA, and the Office of the Inspector General, known as OIG, subpoena power? Why is subpoena power important and what difference could it make?

[00:15:41] Shannon Cheng: Subpoena power is important if you're trying to do an investigation and the information you think is necessary to understand what's happening for your investigation isn't available, or if people involved aren't cooperating and giving you that information. So at that point, a subpoena allows you to basically demand that that information is shared with you. In the 2017 Accountability Ordinance that was passed, it was explicitly laid out that the Office of Police Accountability and the Office of Inspector General would have subpoena power. However, in the 2018 SPOG contract - I'll just read directly from the contract - they list those two sections and then they have an addendum that says, "The City agrees that these sections of the Ordinance will not be implemented at this time with regard to bargaining unit employees and their family members, and third party subpoenas seeking personal records of such employees and their family members." So basically, the contract said - there's no subpoena power for these two entities.

[00:16:40] Crystal Fincher: And yeah, I mean, we've heard and seen in several stories - the Seattle Police Department did not cooperate with the investigation. They can just say, currently - No, we're not gonna give that to you. No, we're not gonna share that. We decline to do that. And in issues - right now, there's an international conversation about both the killing of Jaahnavi Kandula and its aftermath with an officer mocking her killing. And the record of the police officer who was doing that, the records of officers overall. And we still don't know everything that happened with the East Precinct and it's leaving, we don't know what happened with CHOP - like those kinds of things - we still don't have answers because we can't demand them. We can't compel them. And this does. Not that that's gonna solve everything, but it is a tool of accountability. And at minimum, if you can't even get information about what happened, how are you gonna attach any kind of accountability to that? So it really is a very primary - we have to at least understand what happened, we have to be able to get that information. So that is what went behind that question.

Another question we asked - Do you oppose a SPOG contract that doesn't remove limitations as to how many of OPA's investigators must be sworn versus civilian? What is this sworn versus civilian issue about, and why is it important?

[00:17:57] Shannon Cheng: So the Office of Police Accountability has investigators - they're actually embedded in the Seattle Police Department - and a lot of their investigators are actually sworn officers. And so some people might think, Well, doesn't that seem kind of problematic? Because you would end up in this scenario where you have cops investigating other cops. Also, the cops that come into the OPA as these sworn investigators - my understanding is they kind of rotate in and out - so a cop going in could expect to then be back out at some point. And that would lead one to think, Well, maybe they wouldn't want to be as thorough in their investigations. So what the civilian aspect was - was that I think people would trust more to have a civilian who is not a sworn officer doing these investigations. And in that original 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance, there was provision made that there could be civilian investigators on this team within the OPA. However, again, that 2018 SPOG contract specifically said - and here, I'll again read from the contract - "The parties agree as follows: Unless otherwise agreed, at any time after the date of signing, the City may replace up to two (2) sworn investigator positions with up to two (2) civilian investigators." So they've basically limited the OPA to only have at any time two civilian investigators, and then that contract goes on to say, "Any case that reasonably could lead to termination will have a sworn investigator assigned to the case." So not only have they limited the number of civilian investigators, they also say those civilian investigators can't work on any cases that would lead to any kind of discipline that is on the harsher side of things. So that's why we asked that question.

[00:19:44] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and with these, it is important to understand - different jurisdictions have different things that they can do, right? They all have their own levers that they can push and pull. Some things you can only do at the county level, some things you can only do at the city level - in a variety of ways. And so we do try and focus in our questions also on what can they do in their capacity as a city councilmember. And because they do have the power to approve or reject this contract, putting - understanding what their conditions for doing so would be, getting them on the record about that is important 'cause this impacts how the police operate within the city and with residents.

The next question we asked - Do you oppose a SPOG contract that impedes the ability of the City to move police funding to public safety alternatives? Why was this a question?

[00:20:34] Shannon Cheng: This is a question because - as we all know, the City has been trying for a very long time to stand up a alternative crisis response that may or may not involve the police. I think a big hurdle to that being stood up is this concern that I've heard - that if the City was to stand something up that didn't involve the police or the police didn't agree with, that they could file an Unfair Labor Practice with the state and basically say - this is some violation of their contract, that kind of work that had been under the purview of the police department was now being taken away from them and given to somebody else. So it's - I don't know that there's wording explicitly in the contract that says that, but it would be the union invoking the contract to say that the City was taking work away from them, basically, that they wanted to keep.

[00:21:26] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and it's a big major issue. And right now we're kind of at an impasse - alternative responses and funding non-police public safety responses and interventions is one of the most popular things supported by Seattle residents right now. They vote for candidates who say they're gonna support that. Polling shows that north of 70% across the board, it's been over 80% in some polls. When asked explicitly - hey, if your tax dollars are gonna be spent, what do you most want it to be spent on? Highest thing is standing up alternatives to policing to address things like behavioral health crises. We all see that this is so desperately needed and that - it used to be five years ago, kind of pre-2016, pre-George Floyd, when police used to have no problem. They said all the time - we aren't social workers, we don't have the tools to handle this other stuff, we wanna do our core jobs and not handle all these other things that we don't really have the tools for. And it seems like because of fear of losing funding, losing headcount, whatever, that stopped and they started clinging to everything that they could have. So like we ask a question - Do you think parking should be housed within SPD? Lots of cities are having conversations, especially since police are saying that they're short-staffed to say - Okay, how can we more effectively deploy police officers and take things off of their plate that shouldn't be on there in the first place, that are not core to what a sworn officer - a sworn armed officer - is needed for. But the challenge is that that is coming up against, as you described, those feelings that - Well, that's something that we, you know, that was in our sphere of responsibility, funding is attached to it, headcount is attached to it. And if we lose that, maybe that's gonna be a slippery slope to losing other things.

So like in the City of Seattle, the city council has actually funded alternative police responses. They have decided they wanna move forward with that, they've allocated money for that. And once that happens, it's basically up to the executive - currently Bruce Harrell, before with Jenny Durkan - to use that funding and implement the thing. Well, it's kind of stuck there. The money isn't being used. And for a while, especially with Monisha Harrell, when she was with the city, they talked about, Okay, well, we wanna do all that, we're just gonna do it with an internal department of public safety that will also house civilian responses. And I think part of standing that up as an internal department was to address the concern of the issue of headcount. And if the headcount decreases, even if it's just parking officials who do not need a gun to enforce parking, that - hey, let's not call that like a regular response, let's not use sworn headcount to do that, we can deploy that more effectively. But that is a problem that is stalled. And so the question really is - will they ensure that in the contract that is currently being negotiated, the contract that the council will be voting on, can they eliminate that as an issue? And obviously this has to be negotiated by both sides, but is there something they can come to that enables the City to move forward with what the residents are demanding and what leaders have committed to do? We've gotta find a way to have the contract not impede the progress that the city is repeatedly begging to make and promising to make. So that's what went into that question.

Another question we asked - Do you support eliminating in-uniform off-duty work by SPD officers? Why is this an issue?

[00:24:53] Shannon Cheng: So the current contract that we're under explicitly gives SPD officers the right to work off-duty. And this is in-uniform, so one factor in this is that this is basically allowing them to use public resources, meaning their uniform - and they retain their police powers while they're working for not us, not the public that's paying them, but for private clients who they work for. So, a lot of these things are things like security or traffic direction, and they get paid a lot of money for these jobs - sometimes I think even more than they make as an officer. And so one of our concerns is that, especially in a time when it's short-staffed, then allowing in-uniform off-duty work - it creates confusion with the public, for one thing, when you see a police officer not working in their official capacity as a police officer, but dressed as one and maintaining all the same powers that they do - it just doesn't have clear boundaries between their professional work and then their side job. And then with the short staffing, these added hours that they're doing on top of, in theory, their full workload at SPD, plus potential overtime that they're gonna have to do - this is just gonna lead even more to officer fatigue. And we can see how that could lead to more of the poor decision-making or judgment calls, and has detrimental consequences for all of us in the public. And often - with their history of biased policing - would affect certain populations more than others. So that was why we asked this question.

[00:26:29] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and with these questions overall, some people are like - Well, why are these all like accountability questions? Are there any other things? Like, do you just hate cops? And to me, hating cops is not the issue, right? This is about public safety for everyone in the city and in the region. And every candidate who's run - I collect and keep political mail, advertising, blah, blah, blah - and what is really astounding is kind of the revisionist history of members of the council who are known for being moderate or conservative. Everybody's like - Well, you know, they elected me to be moderate and conservative. Or like people covering them - They elected someone. But when you look at what they said when they were running, when you look at their mail and what they communicated to voters - to a person - they talked about the importance of police accountability and reform. And, you know, some people wanna go further than others, but they all promised that. And so, if that wasn't just BS - anyone who's serious about that, and even if you're working towards community-centered, different things - anyone who is serious about what we're currently doing, and this contract is currently being negotiated, we really do have to contend with these things. And if we aren't, then we're not really serious about doing anything about accountability, let alone re-imagining what public safety can actually be.

So no matter what someone's ideological position is on the council, they should be engaging with this. This is in their sphere of responsibility. They're gonna have to vote on this contract. And so we need to know - we should know, and we should be talking about - what these parameters are. It's very important and consequential, and can determine whether we wind up in similar situations to now - where we have an officer where basically the globe has said, That's disgusting and should be unacceptable. Why is this officer still there? And we have City electeds basically going - Oh, there's nothing we can really do about it. The contract, you know, like, can't really fire them. There's no precedent. - and like, those are all legal issues because of the contract. But they approved this contract - Bruce Harrell approved the contract that we currently have. He's not the only one - I think Debora Juarez was on the council at that point in time. Lorena González used to be, and said she regretted the vote. Like, this was consequential. We talked about this at the time - not many people were listening in the wider community. But like, this is not a surprise that we're seeing problems because of the overriding of accountability measures passed by the City and supported by people in the city. So that's why we asked those public safety questions.

We asked a bunch of questions in the lightning round about how people vote. Why do you think these were good questions to include?

[00:29:06] Shannon Cheng: I think they're good because this is an instance where they had to sit down with their pen in hand and make a choice - bubble choice A or bubble choice B. And so in this process of trying to figure out how these candidates think and where they stand on things, asking them about times where they actually did have to make a decision and knowing what decision they made, I think that's why we asked those.

[00:29:30] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. And it's fair to ask. And it gives you insight into how they process information when it does come time to make a choice on one or the other, even if they think - maybe they don't think either choice is perfect, but they do need to make a choice and what they made is informative. In these, you know, also informing on different issues, where they stand there. We asked also issues about housing. We asked them if they rent or own - and that's an important question to ask, it's an important thing to know. And it's wild that we don't talk about that more because that is one of the biggest dividing lines in Seattle politics. It's one of the biggest dividing lines in voters. When you look at any results map of an election, you basically see the results of homeowners versus renters, higher income, higher net worth people versus lower income, lower net worth people. That is a fault line in Seattle politics. And looking at how votes happen, we see people voting aligned with their housing status a lot. It's something that matters, that is predictive pretty regularly. And so we wanted to ask that. We wanted to understand if they rented, if they own, and if they're a landlord. Some candidates were, some candidates were not. And then we face questions - the council actually passed an ordinance that was vetoed by Mayor Harrell, just about some more accountability for landlords and more sharing of information to try and better poise the City to address the housing affordability crisis. And so that's why we asked those.

We asked the question about allowing police in schools because that has been talked about in some meetings. It looks like there are some influential interests that want to make that happen and encourage that. I don't think that's wide-ranging, but there were a couple of powerful and well-placed people who - that was coming from their camps - and so we thought it was important to get people on record about that. We asked about trans and non-binary students - making sure they could play on sports teams that fit with their gender identities and using public bathrooms and public facilities - and got a range of answers on this one. Why did you feel this was so important to ask?

[00:31:37] Shannon Cheng: I think this is a community that's been under attack just nationwide, at all levels. And so it's important to know - I think Seattle touts itself as a progressive, inclusive, welcoming city - and we want to make sure the people who are leading us actually are.

[00:31:55] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And respecting people's humanity without condition, without making them less than. And unfortunately, the sports issue is propaganda. It's propaganda. I understand why the propaganda campaign caught on - it's using very cynical tactics - but we do have to stand up and say, That's propaganda. We can't be like - Okay, yeah, trans people, we accept everybody - live, love, and light - all that kind of stuff. And then say, Yeah, but if your kid wants to play on a sports team - which is a very important formative part of growing up for many people, if they choose to do that, and also not just sports, just any kind of activities attached to school, which is something that so many people partake in - and say, Yeah, but not that. Like that is an issue of just fundamental humanity and inclusion - and so we should be explicit about where people stand, and we should talk about that, and we should force people to be accountable for where they stand on that. And make sure people know - before they vote - whether people plan on including every member of this community in our community.

We asked about the economy, the JumpStart Tax - which there's been lots of talk from different interests about, from some Chamber interests saying, Maybe we need to divert some of that to help restart, relaunch downtown's economy. There are other people saying, Hey, this might be something that we need to increase to help with the upcoming budget deficit. And some people who just disagree with it overall, and think that we - that that's placing a burden on business, and that's gonna be bad for residents - and usually coming from the same people who say the sky is falling every time that there is a minimum wage increase, and then more people move here and are happier than they are in other places, so it seems like we would stop listening to people who continue to predict that and are wrong, but we don't do that. But wanted to get people on record for where they stand on that, because - in Seattle politics, interests are tied to taxes - that that's where a lot of corporate interests are really concerned about. And they will use other issues as wedge issues in messaging, but their primary concerns are about taxation and the maintenance of their capital. That's really what's driving a lot of this. And so the JumpStart is going to be at the heart of that interest and conversation.

[00:34:09] Shannon Cheng: We hear businesses - obviously they don't wanna pay more taxes, but at the same time, we also hear businesses complaining that they're not getting the services that they expect the City to deliver to them. And so I think it's pretty telling that - you don't wanna pay for it, but you wanna get it.

[00:34:26] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and we also asked about how candidates can better support small business. I do think there's a conflation of gigantic multi-trillion dollar mega-corp interests and - in the business community - and a small mom-pop shop, local business who is - hired a couple of people from the neighborhood and is trying to make it. Both businesses, both part of the business community - but usually very different interests and needs. And we have a lot of small businesses who are struggling. Small business - business is important to the economy across the board, right? But we need it not to be extractive. We need not to say, Oh, it's so important. So like Boeing, we're gonna give you more money than we've ever given anyone before with no accountability. We did this because Boeing is gonna create jobs and we need lots of jobs. But then we don't get a refund when Boeing lays people off and leaves town, right - that's a problem. And we have trillion dollar corporations in the city of Seattle who frankly use small business owners to say - Oh, please, we're suffering and we need help, and we shouldn't pay any taxes. When most residents, according to polling and election results, feel that businesses like - mega corporations are not paying their fair share. There is a conversation to be had - some kind of income inequality and differences in access and challenges that small businesses are facing compared to large businesses. It's kind of similar to what lower income people are facing in comparison to larger income people. Small businesses are having problems affording rent - that's a really, really, really big issue - they are suffering from predatory rent increases. Also, that's putting people out of business. But there's a lot to be discussed. And if you talk to business owners - we've done shows with different business interests - and their needs are broad and varied and they should be listened to, they are part of the community. But we do need to talk about them as part of the community and not as this super entity or something like that. So that's what those questions were looking to get at.

And then just some perspective stuff - asking if they're happy with Seattle's waterfront, asking about return to work mandates - just helping to further get inside their minds, how they think, what their perspective is, where they're coming from, and who and what they may be sympathetic to as interests and as bills - when that comes up. Transportation and transit related questions - we have absolutely seen a difference in engagement and thoughtfulness, willingness to fund and include provisions that are helpful for pedestrians and people on transit, people riding bikes from leaders who actually use them. And we suffer when leaders are responsible for transit policy who don't use and ride transit - all sorts of distorted and weird policy and perspectives come out when we have people governing systems that they don't themselves engage with. And so we asked those questions to try and see - are you actually using the system? Because we hear different things from people who do take them versus things that don't. And just, that's a useful thing to know. Similarly, Pike Place car traffic is something that we talk about - just another one of those perspective things in there.

We obviously asked about the upcoming revenue shortfall in the City of Seattle for $224 million. Everyone is going to have to contend with that. Every candidate on the campaign trail, every candidate that we interviewed has talked about wanting to implement new things that are going to require additional revenue, that are going to require resources. And we're moving into - Okay, we're going to have fewer resources and either we're gonna need to raise revenue or make cuts. And so it's just not a serious position to be in to say we should be doing all of these other things - these new things that require revenue - when there's going to be less of it. And everyone is kind of dodgy usually when it comes to cutting things, but they're going to need - odds are it's gonna be a combination of cuts and attempting to pursue new revenue. If someone is saying they aren't gonna pursue that, then we need to view their other plans that do require revenue differently. If someone is saying, I'm gonna go after revenue hard - that's great, but we should also know if there are any cuts that they think they may need to do. Revenue may take a while to come in. We will probably need to do some trimming in the meantime - just because the City's mandated to have a balanced budget. And so that's something real that they're gonna have to contend with. And those are really hard decisions. And you can see how hard they are by how unwilling or unable candidates are to answer how they're gonna prioritize cutting, where they think they should come from. If revenue doesn't pass or come through, what does that mean? How are you gonna approach that? And we do need to press on those tough decisions 'cause those are gonna be really consequential things.

And I think sometimes candidates - we've talked about this on this show before - think that just like the hard part is running, and then you get elected, and then you can exhale. Running for office is the easy part - it only gets harder - and the spotlight on you gets hotter and brighter when you actually do have to make a decision that's consequential for the people in the city. And so we should poke and prod about that and try to get as specific as we can. We don't always do perfectly with that - I'm reflecting on the answers that we got. There were so many vague answers - and try and poke and prod - and some people just don't wanna answer specifically, or just are unable to answer specifically. But hopefully, as you said before, that is an indication that they should think about that seriously. And they're gonna need a game plan 'cause it's coming and they're going to have to deal with that. And it's going to be bad if they just start engaging with that after they take office and have to really make those decisions and move forward with it.

[00:40:16] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, I mean - I feel like in response to that question in particular, we heard a lot of answers to the effect of - Well, we need to look at the existing budget and look at where there are inefficiencies and you know, blah, blah, blah. And I am curious how many of those candidates - we have an entire City Budget staff, right? - who works on that kind of stuff and auditing. It's not like there aren't people looking at that. I just wonder how much have those candidates engaged with what is already out there? Have they found things that have been already identified? Would that even be in their process of trying to figure out how to reallocate resources, if that's the way they're going to go?

[00:40:54] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, absolutely. And with these - I think it's important - obviously I have my own perspective, and I think it's important to ask questions and to frame them appropriately for the moment and for what's happening. And when I ask a question, I do - with these - try to give people a fair shot to respond, to give whatever their response is, right? I'm not going to cut them off in their response. I want voters to be able to hear what they think - even if I disagree with what they think, they get to hear what they think. But one observation I do have certainly, and formed definitely from working with candidates over the years, is that - we do hear, we heard a lot, we heard more than I was comfortable with, like, Oh, we do need to take a look at that. We need to start to understand where this stuff is. We need to ask tough questions. Like, you decided to run for office. This information has been out there, it's publicly available. There's a ton of information and resources just on the City website itself to walk you through the budget - each budget process - and hearings and a ton of Information. That's not usually where the issue is. The issue is when it's time to make a decision about what to cut, people are hesitant to do that. They're afraid of making people mad. And so we have these situations where candidates either don't feel like they need to come with a game plan, but we are in multiple crises. We need people who are saying - Okay, I have talked to community, I have done homework on what's happening, and this is my plan for what I think will fix it. We need people coming with solutions. We need people coming for proposals. That's the job. The job isn't to ponder and examine and to have endless meetings, right? That's part of the problem in Seattle and many places is that they want to task force something to death and workgroup it and blah, blah, blah. And then we end up in the same place that we were.

I do hope that they get some more concrete solutions and process because that is going to enable them to hit the ground running. And it really does make a difference. If you don't understand the budget - the basics of the budget - just the, you know, like not every line item, that's a really hard thing to do. But have you even bothered to go on the City website and look at the budget documents they do have? Have you bothered to read and recall where some of the major issues of funding and major decisions were before? If you haven't, maybe you should. Maybe that would help inform you as to what's possible. You know, even if you think there's waste, fraud, and abuse - as they talk about with all that stuff - well, where specifically? 'Cause that general nebulous thing of we've been - it's not like this is the first rodeo with the City with a budget shortcut, it's not like all of that. And I'm not saying that there's nothing that can be reallocated - that should be looked at - but that information is out there and available. You can find that out. And I'm continually surprised - not necessarily surprised - I'm continuously dismayed by the number of candidates who say - Oh, I don't know that. You know, how can we know that? Or I'm not sure, I haven't looked into it yet. Well, look into it. You decided to run for office - get it together, figure out what you wanna do, and share that. But it's a risky proposition to have someone go - You know, I need to figure out what's going on, we need to look into that, I'm not sure what it's gonna be. And meanwhile, trust me to make this decision. Based on what? That's my personal opinion - that was a little venty, but I do feel strongly about that. And as a political consultant who works with candidates and gotten people up to speed on this kind of stuff - people can do better. People can do better. People need to be better. The city needs the people to be better, to deal with stuff like this.


We also asked about climate change and specifically 2030 climate goals. This is happening amidst a backdrop where it seems like every major body - 5, 10 years ago, people were like, Yay, we're totally gonna make these 2030 goals. We take climate change super seriously, and we've set forth these ambitious targets that we're gonna achieve. Everybody loved announcing those goals and that those goals reflected their commitment and blah, blah, blah - which is part of my problem sometimes, celebrating the press release instead of delivering the result. But when it came time to make the tough decisions in order to get there, they punted, punted, punted, punted until we've gotten a rash of announcements over the past couple of years that - Yeah, so those 2030 goals, we're not gonna hit them, but we're totally gonna hit our 2050 goals, right? And so if we can't hit this milestone, this benchmark, we're not gonna be on track for that. And the issue really is people just don't wanna make the decisions that are necessary to get there, right? Like, incrementalism isn't gonna get us there. And we are experiencing the impacts of climate change and it's not pretty, and it's not gonna get any better, right? Like this is the best it's going to be for a long, long time - and it's worrisome. So this is important. And specifically, it is 2023 - 2030 is right around the corner. There's a lot that can be done. And there's a lot of money being raised by the carbon credit auctions from the Climate Commitment Act. There's a lot of investment available throughout the state. Do they have plans to pursue and get some of the - what are the plans here? But we need to get on track and be serious about 2030, get back on track for 2030. 'Cause if we can't hit that, we can't hit anything. And we're in for a world of hurt. It's a serious thing.

[00:46:22] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, I mean, I think it's trying to understand - does this candidate have or feel a sense of urgency around this? Are we actually gonna put a honest effort into trying to meet these goals? And what are their ideas about how to do that? Because as you said, we needed to be doing this stuff yesterday, but the next best time to do it is starting now. And so what is the plan?

[00:46:47] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, and there were some candidates - a couple that I'm thinking of - that had some good concrete ideas for this. There were others who very much did not. But also with this - candidates also learn from each other during the campaign trail. And one thing that I do think that we need to do is to encourage that more. The more candidates can learn - like actually engage with solutions - is a good thing. Sometimes - obviously if someone's biting a speech word-for-word, which happens sometimes in politics with candidates - that is irritating, especially for the people in campaigns sometimes. But if there's a good idea and someone else is - You know what, that makes sense. - that's a good thing. We should encourage that. And so I do hope - with a number of these responses, and definitely this one too - that people pay attention to what other candidates, even if they aren't in their same district, say because there are some good workable, achievable plans and ideas on the table that could definitely help. And if a candidate hasn't really engaged with that or thought about it before, there are other candidates who are great resources for them.

[00:47:51] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, I think so. I think my experience, having gone through all these candidate interviews, is just every candidate is unique and is coming from a different place to run for office. And they do come with different expertise and experience. And so I think it is kind of a helpful resource to look at for other candidates, whoever ends up getting elected, people who are just concerned about our community as a whole. What are these candidates talking about as being the issue? Why are they stepping up to do something that - to me, sounds like an awful thing to have to do - put yourself out there, and get scrutinized, and knock on doors every free moment of your life. I don't know - I mean - but they wanna do it.

[00:48:35] Crystal Fincher: Shannon is a notorious introvert, yes.

[00:48:38] Shannon Cheng: They wanna do it. And there's a reason why. And maybe listening and trying to understand - what is that reason and what can we do about it? What are they saying would be helpful to them to address the thing that got them to do this incredibly hard thing?

[00:48:53] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, definitely. Another question we asked was just - was about childcare, which is a really, really big deal. We talk about - housing is on everyone's mind, it's on everyone's agenda because it's such a major expense and it keeps rising wildly. It is unsustainable, right, in this situation. The number two expense for most families, which sometimes creeps into number one with multiple children, is childcare. We talk about groceries, we talk about gas and people definitely feel those, but people are feeling childcare in a way that is wild. It's more expensive than college and college is wildly unaffordable, right? This is so expensive and it directly impacts whether people can work - period - whether people can participate in this economy. It is cost prohibitive to get childcare for a lot of people. It's cheaper just not to work, right? And that impacts people's upward mobility, likelihood to be in poverty, to be able to get out of poverty if you are in, whether they're going to need government assistance, right? This impacts so many different things. And the way kids develop depends on the quality of care that they receive from early childhood on. And so this is directly impacting many families, indirectly impacting everyone in the community - from businesses, the regional economy, other parents, community members. And so we don't talk about it enough still. There are a lot of people who are and that's awesome and great, but I think it needs to be elevated even more. And for anyone who's talking about issues of affordability, who's talking about inflation, who's talking about just families having a hard time dealing with expenses - you cannot have that conversation in any credible way without talking about the cost and accessibility of childcare. So that's why we talked about that.

And then, just general - Why are you running? What are the differences between you and your opponent? I will tell you - just from my perspective as a political - this is a question that I would ask candidates before deciding to work with them. And I'm looking, in that question, to hear specific and tangible things that they wanna do for their community. It is a big red flag when that answer doesn't include how they want to help people. If the answer is just about them - Well, you know, this was the time for me and lots of people came to me and like, blah, blah, blah. People know - different jurisdictions are different. They suit different leadership types, personality types - depending on what you wanna do. So is this someone who's running for every open position available under the sun? Or do they have something specific that they wanna do in the role that they're seeking? Do you have something tangible you wanna accomplish? People should have tangible things they want to accomplish, and not just running for vanity or because power is attractive, or it's something to put on the resume or whatever - run to accomplish something to help people. I am drawn to people who are rooted in that and have answers with that. I will say just in my experience overall - that determines how someone, absolutely determines how someone governs, how consistent they are to governing - and the way that they ran absolutely has an impact on that. And even beyond, even for candidates who lose, right? Usually candidates who are like - You know, I'm running because I see this as a problem impacting lots of people, and I think that I can be part of the solution in fixing it. - is that if, even if they lose, right, they still stay engaged in the community and working on that. You can see the motivation is not power for me - to them. It is actually doing something to help the community. And so, I look at a variety of different people who've run over the years, and it's interesting to see the people who are still active in community versus those who just disappear. And it was like a phase - them wanting to be involved. Now that's - obviously there's nuance to this conversation - people don't owe their lives to serving and all that kind of stuff. But if you are saying this is an important part of who you are, it seems like that would continue beyond a campaign and that you would see consistency there. So that for me, as a person who is either deciding who I'm gonna vote for, or who I'm gonna work with or in support of - that answer matters a lot to me. That motivation matters a lot to me. How do you see it?

[00:53:17] Shannon Cheng: I agree with a lot of what you just said. What I really liked about the interviews we did was that opportunity you gave them to just talk without time limits that forums often impose. And it was refreshing to kind of hear people kind of being more their authentic self. And I think that's just - I don't know that I can describe it, right? But I think just you have to listen and hear how they talk about things. And that was - there were many candidates who came on who, just based on reading, doing all the research ahead of time for their interview and reading about them - and then when they came on, they were not what I expected. I mean, some were. But there were some surprises as well. And I mean, that was, it was really great to - ultimately, these candidates are all people. And I think on the campaign trail and it can get heated - sometimes it can get kind of boiled down to a caricature almost, or just what their campaign website makes them out to look like. And I don't know that that really is the most informative in terms of understanding who these people actually are. And for me, that just feels like - I wanna know that the people who are making these hard decisions for myself, and people I care about, and neighbors who I care about - even if I don't know them directly - I just want them to be good people.

[00:54:45] Crystal Fincher: Yeah, I want them to care. I want them to see the people and the humanity. I want them to not see statistics. I want them to understand that it's people. I want them to not celebrate the fact that they - it's fine and good - Hey, we passed something. But that then has to be implemented in a way that is felt by the people who it's intended to help. And if that doesn't happen, it all doesn't matter. And I feel like we don't pay enough attention to that part of it a lot. And so I personally, as a voter, am looking for people who understand that and who at least value writing legislation that has a reasonable shot at being implemented well and can deliver on the result. And who track that and who are willing to course correct there and not just paper over things that may not be great and act as if they are - 'cause the goal is to help people.

I do wanna talk about - so we took a little bit of a different approach to editing. Candidate interviews - I know how things can get in campaigns and being a candidate is not easy, it's nerve-wracking and being in these interviews - and editing can make people sound better, sound worse. Sometimes people take a pause to consider, or - and that is a, Shoot, I don't know, or like, will say different things, right? And so the approach that we took to candidate interviews - particularly when we had both candidates in the race - we wanted to present them as straightforwardly as we could, to basically not edit their answers. Because there was a lot - we would lose things on a variety of sides, right? And my goal is to not interject our presentation of the candidate. It's to give you the candidate. And I think people can hear throughout these interviews that you can hear someone thinking, you can hear someone processing, you can hear someone being - dodging, or like really contending with someone - like that whole thing mattered. And it seemed like we didn't - editing that, that was just gonna be a no-win situation for - Are we making someone look better? Are we making someone look worse? Are we interjecting what we think into there? So we actually decided just to - sometimes I would flub up a question, right? And like that's edited out, but we let candidates just answer and let their answers be their answers. And you can hear them. And they are people, right? And this isn't easy. And people can be super nervous in an interview, right? Like this is - I get nervous sometimes before I do things - that's totally fair. So I - if someone - I'm not looking for someone to sound perfect or perfectly polished, right? There are some times you can sound too polished. But just to give people an accurate impression of who they are, and how they're engaging with the answer, and can make their own call on whatever that is. But basically it was like - we don't record live, but you got the answer as though it was. So that's the approach that we took there. 'Cause we did get a couple of questions on - Are these edited? Or like, How, like, are you going to do that? Or like, Did you, you know, take - No, that's, that's exactly how it happened.

[00:57:50] Shannon Cheng: Yeah, we cut out things like coughing fits or the ever-present train siren behind Crystal.

[00:57:57] Crystal Fincher: Yes, yes.

[00:57:58] Shannon Cheng: Otherwise - tried to keep it real. I mean, you know, our goal with this project is to educate people about who they are going to make choices between and hopefully inform them in that decision that's coming up. November 7th!

[00:58:13] Crystal Fincher: Absolutely. You can register to vote online. Even if you have been convicted of a felony and have been incarcerated, the moment you are released, you are eligible to re-register and vote again. Just be involved in making this decision. Voting locally is really important. It's more consequential than all the federal stuff that's going on. Although we hear wall-to-wall coverage and every news program every night is talking about Congress and the president - and not that that's not important. But like, look at how different states are. Look at how different Washington and Alabama are. Look at how different Forks and Seattle and Cle Elum and Spokane and Ellensburg - that is how much control cities have over who they are and how they operate. It can be as different as all of these different cities. They can be night and day difference. And that is all the impact of these local officials that we're electing in the elections that we're having this November. So that's why I do this show. It's really, really important to talk about this stuff and not enough people do regularly. And I'm not saying that it's easy - we make it hard for people to understand and participate in these issues. So just trying to make that more accessible to more people and to help understand where it may be helpful to focus and consider and engage. But this matters, and it matters to try and elect people who will actually deliver on the policy that you think they should be delivering and implementing. So that's why we did this and appreciate you listening to our little explainer about our approach.

[00:59:47] Shannon Cheng: Thank you everyone!

[00:59:48] Crystal Fincher: Thank you!

Thank you for listening to Hacks & Wonks, which is produced by Shannon Cheng. You can follow Hacks & Wonks on Twitter @HacksWonks. You can catch Hacks & Wonks on every podcast service and app - just type "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get the full versions of our Friday week-in-review shows and our Tuesday topical show delivered to your podcast feed. If you like us, leave a review wherever you listen. You can also get a full transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced in the show at and in the podcast episode notes.

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