Unlike Goldy, I didn't attend the first mayoral panel of the season on Monday, but I've been slowly making my way through the Seattle Channel video archive of the event by piece and parcel, with my own bucket of stale popcorn.
And there's one question—or rather, one response—that I don't think has gotten nearly enough attention. It comes at about the 52:30 mark, when moderator C.R. Douglas asks Charlie Staadecker, Tim Burgess, and Bruce Harrell to respond to this question:
Why do you think Seattle has the worst gender pay gap in the US and how do you plan to address it?
I really wish all candidates had responded to this question. Amidst fluffy questions about what people had stored on their iphones, professional regrets, or what their fantasy legacy as mayor might be, this was one of the most concrete questions of the night—the rare question that gave candidates a chance to talk policy while addressing an issue of injustice affecting half their voter base.
As it was, two out of three candidates flubbed their responses, hard.* Staadecker admitted that he didn't know the issue existed: "First of all, I will confess, I was not aware as a city that we were the worst in the United States. Therefore, if women aren’t being paid, if there’s a glass ceiling, that has to be through education and skills."
Worse, Burgess said this: "Well, if everybody had daughters like I did the problem would self correct, eventually." In other words, most women must not be as smart as Burgess's daughters? Or work as hard as them? Or something?
To be clear, I'm all for tasteless jokes—I make them, I love them. But if you're going to lead with a tasteless joke, you'd better have a solid answer to back it up. Burgess doesn't. Instead he throws some rambling praise for early learning programs, which are great but have nothing to do with addressing the gender/wage gap. At all. At least Staadecker had the grace to admit he didn't know what the fuck he was talking about. Burgess's answer was more than embarrassing; it was insulting, dismissive, and off point.
Only Harrell managed an articulate answer, for which he was rewarded with the biggest applause of the night: "The answer is simple—institutional practices. We haven’t paid attention to the institutional practices. Here’s the difference between the mayor and myself—when I read the report, I immediately went into action. I’ve asked the Seattle Women’s commission to develop a work plan with me to look at the policy changes we have to do."
I have no doubt this question will come up again and when it does, Burgess and Staadecker will be ready for it. Everyone will. The seven candidates fighting for McGinn's seat have months to groom themselves and polish their answers to suit our ears, which is why questions like this, which catch candidates completely, embarrassingly unaware (you want us to talk about women troubles? wha?), matter so much.
*Read their full, unedited responses after the jump.
Why do you think Seattle has the worst gender pay gap in the US and how will you address it?
Charlie Staadecker: First of all, I will confess, I was not aware as a city that we were the worst in the United States. Therefore, if women aren’t being paid, if there’s a glass ceiling, that has to be through education and skills. We’ve got to have equal skills and equal pay. Does the city need to mandate that, I think that would be a mistake. But I think that is based on, very much on education, expanding the opportunities in both biotech and life sciences. I wish I had a clearer answer for you on this one. I think it takes a city where employers recognize the value of women to succeed as much as men.
Tim Burgess: Well, if everybody had daughters like I did the problem would self correct, eventually. This report came out just a few weeks ago and it’s obviously very discouraging and I don’t know all of the factors that contribute to that in our city but it goes back to education. I’m a huge advocate for early, early, early interventions. We should start at birth, not at age five or even where Headstart begins at age four. It also requires an acknowledgement of the problem. Like Charlie, I just learned about this a few weeks ago when this report came out. I think we pride ourselves on making progress on issues like that and obviously we have a long ways to go.
Bruce Harrell: The answer is simple—institutional practices. [big applause] We haven’t paid attention to the institutional practices. Here’s the difference between the mayor and myself—when I read the report, I immediately went into action. I’ve asked the Seattle Women’s commission to develop a work plan with me to look at the policy changes we have to do. Years ago, a woman walked into office when I was a practicing lawyer and she says, “I work at Boeing and I’m underpaid compared to my colleagues.” I met with several women. That meeting turned into a class action lawsuit representing all the women. My candidacy is about that, when I look at the injustices that occur. It’s not like a lot of folks are saying, “hey, let’s smoke a cigar and discriminate against women.” That’s not what occurs, what occurs is that we don’t pay attention to the patterns and the disparate impacts. So we need a proactive leader who’s bold enough to propose new solutions. The STEM programs—my colleague Tim is absolutely right, we have to look at the pathways to success for everyone. We have exciting opportunities but it takes intent, intent, intent.