Everett mayoral hopefuls meet on Casino Road

More than 100 people attend first candidate forum of primary race
By Nicholas Johnson | Jun 28, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Everett mayoral candidate Cassie Franklin, a current City Council member and CEO of Cocoon House, speaks during a candidate forum Monday evening, June 26, at the Children’s Village on Casino Road in south Everett.

All four people vying to replace Everett’s longest running mayor agree the city’s current administration has come up short in addressing poverty, crime and economic stagnation in south Everett.

“We have not done enough for this neighborhood,” candidate and current Everett City Council President Judy Tuohy told a room packed with more than 100 people at the Children’s Village on Casino Road.

The candidates came together Monday evening, June 26, for the first forum ahead of the Aug. 1 primary election, hosted by the Casino Road Academy, a coalition of the YMCA, Edmonds Community College and Seattle Goodwill Industries that offers English classes to the culturally diverse community.

Garth Fell, the county’s elections and recording manager, said with voter turnout typically low in odd-year elections, south Everett could hold sway in this year’s local races.

“This is a race that could be close, and every vote will count,” he said.

Four Casino Road Academy students and a Mukilteo School District staff member each posed prepared questions to the candidates on affordable housing, gang activity, undocumented immigrants, small business and social services. Though the candidates generally took similar positions on all issues, a few nuanced differences emerged.

County Council President Brian Sullivan, who has previously served as a state legislator, as well as a Mukilteo City Council member and mayor, agreed with his fellow candidates that undocumented immigrants should feel welcome in Everett, but said the city’s “safe and welcoming” resolution doesn’t go far enough.

“What does the resolution do? We need more than that,” he said, noting that city police and firefighters each face shortages of at least 18 people. “We need to hire those police officers. I’m just blown away that the city of Everett has been unable for 12 years to fully fund and man the police department.”

All four said immigrants should feel welcome in Everett, and all four said they would hire more police officers, firefighters and social workers to serve the area.

“Everyone should feel safe in our city,” said Cassie Franklin, a City Council member since 2015 and CEO of Cocoon House, a nonprofit that serves homeless youth. She drafted the city’s “safe and welcoming” resolution in December 2016.

For candidate Shean Nasin, the question of feeling safe in south Everett came down to a lack of economic opportunity.

“When I was living in the projects on Casino Road and in The Jungle, the only thing I wanted was an opportunity,” Nasin said.

The Everett native said neighboring cities such as Mukilteo, Edmonds and Mill Creek should take more responsibility for providing social services, noting that Everett has 13 percent of the county’s population but provides 60 percent of the subsidized housing.

“We need to start spreading these things around the county so we can start building up our median income and building a 21st century city that’s going to give these kids opportunities so they don’t just look at their homies down the street who are gang banging.”

Nasin said the rate of home ownership in Everett is 44 percent. Sullivan said that’s the lowest rate in the state. Tuohy said she would create a community loan fund to help middle-income families buy their first home.

“Many of our folks are spending more than 50 percent of their income on rent or their mortgage,” Tuohy said.

Both Franklin and Tuohy said incentives for developers could help increase the affordable housing stock, while Nasin said no government incentive could overcome the losses developers face in Everett.

“Everett is still in the ‘70s where we build arenas and other things hoping to make Everett really cool,” Nasin said. “We need to get those tech jobs here, which will raise the median income and allow development, which will bring the supply we need to offer affordable housing.”

Sullivan agreed, noting 55 percent of the county’s workforce lives below the poverty line. He said small business is one way for people to find economic security. Tuohy said her plan for a community loan fund could provide micro loans to get small businesses off the ground.

“I think what has hurt Everett’s smaller businesses is we don’t any longer have a chamber of commerce,” said Tuohy, who has been executive director of the Schack Art Center for 22 years. “We need to pull that back together. We have a great economic alliance for the larger companies, but smaller businesses have different needs and challenges.”

Franklin said she would form a small business advisory council in the mayor’s office.

“We also need to support our women- and minority-owned business community,” she said. “We need to connect those business owners with those [state] resources and help them grow.”

Nasin said economic development starts with attracting large companies that bring jobs.

“We have 3,000 people living in downtown Everett today, and we need 7,000 yesterday,” he said. “I’m speaking about downtown Everett because that’s going to be the economic driver, that’s going to bring the tech companies in, the young people in, and that’s going to drive jobs.”

Nasin said commercial air service at Paine Field airport will be “one of the biggest projects we are affiliated with in the history of Everett.

“An hour and half and you’re in Silicon Valley in your meeting,” he said. “That’s what we sell to tech companies.”

Sullivan said he would work to create workforce training programs and summer job programs for youth.

“And we need to pay them a minimum of $15 an hour,” he said to applause. “The city can do more, it can reach out to our communities and help to employ our youth.”

Ed Glazer of northwest Everett asked whether the candidates support a citizen initiative to split the city into electoral districts. All said they generally agreed.

Citizens began a campaign to get the initiative on the November ballot after the city’s Charter Review Commission in 2016 chose not to put it on the ballot and the City Council in February decided not to push for it.

Sullivan said the council does not represent the 25 percent of Everett residents for whom English is a second language. He also said diversity in the police department is lacking, noting that the city has hired two black officers in 45 years. He said city officials told him they had done well, however, to hire more women.

“I checked into that,” he said. “We have 6 percent women in our police department. That’s not solving the problem.”

When pressed on why they didn’t work harder to push a districting plan, Councilmember Tuohy said she could see the votes weren’t there while Councilmember Franklin said she supports districting, but not based on geographic lines that ignore racial and economic disparities.

“I don’t want to see the community of Casino Road divided, nor do I want to see our Delta neighborhood looped in with northwest Everett, which currently has the majority of our councilmembers,” she said.

Aaron Powell, who lives in the Pinehurst neighborhood, asked how the candidates would improve transparency when citing projects like the low-barrier housing complex off Evergreen Way.

Sullivan said the county provided $1 million to that city project.

“What I did not know is that the city of Everett would not have a transparent and open process for citing the facility,” he said. “That is absolutely wrong.”

Tuohy said a more transparent process is needed for future projects. Franklin said the city stumbled on the process for citing that housing project, but defended the chosen location.

“It’s about the best location you could create for this type of facility,” she said. “Every facility impacts any kind of development, whether it’s a store, a Jiffy Lube, a housing project, whatever.”

Nasin said that issue is evidence that districting is needed.

“If that area had a representative on the council at the time, I guarantee you that either wouldn’t have gone through or we would still be talking about it today as a proposal.”

The next Everett mayoral candidate forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County, is set for 6:30-8:45 p.m. Thursday, July 6, in the Robert J. Drewel Building at 3000 Rockefeller Ave. in Everett.

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