Reprinted, with permission, from the Northwest Asian Weekly.
At 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7, during election night, Tai Tung Restaurant was packed with Seattle City Council candidate Tanya Woo’s supporters. A few were nervous and excited, including Woo herself, waiting for the initial vote count. At 8:15 p.m., Woo had a 54% lead. While this will not be the final result, it was a relief to many anxious people in the room.
Many left the party believing Woo’s win was solid. But the tide turned in less than 48 hours. Her lead shrank with ballots still uncounted. As of the latest count on Nov. 13, Tammy Morales had 50.64% and Woo 49.09%. Woo is trailing by 398 votes, and Morales has declared victory.
“But you are a journalist,” some say to me. Why can’t a journalist, with four decades of experience, distance herself from this story’s subjects? I am a journalist by profession, but I also have a heart. This time, my heart crumbled to see Woo’s lead chip away, hour by hour, vote by vote. For 40 years, the Asian Weekly’s goal has been to empower our community, to break the glass ceiling. I am passionate about lifting up Asian Americans — running for office, having a seat at the table, making the community seen and heard, and opening doors for the next generation of leaders.
Also, District 2 is my district, where I have been a resident for over two decades. My office has been in Chinatown-International District (CID) for 41 years and is part of District 2, which also includes Beacon Hill and South Seattle. So many of us have witnessed the CID’s neighborhood decay over the years, especially during and after the pandemic. It has been plagued by crimes, drugs, and sanitation issues. I wonder, why should residents and businesses be scared of being robbed and beaten in their own backyard, even in broad daylight?
Woo was supposed to be the winner and in less than three days, it’s looking bleak for her. It’s hard for many to fathom, as she is a better candidate than her opponent, Tammy Morales, the incumbent. Morales is ideology-driven. She forgets that she should represent the whole District 2 and not just the union, workers, and nonprofit organizations.
“Morales never showed up for anything (problems like shootings and robbery in the district),” said Tony Au, an entrepreneur in Seward Park, who grew up in South Seattle. “She has no heart, no compassion.” Au adds, “Tanya is a little left, too, but she has compassion.”
“Tanya Woo…connected one of the home-invasion victims to resources for his injuries when the city did not respond,” said Bettie Luke, an AAPI community leader.
Now with Morales winning, some community members, who didn’t want to be quoted, are afraid that she will abandon the CID. “I worry that she holds grudges,“ one said.
I started to analyze what went wrong with the Woo campaign, and what the community could do better next time. That process can help us to move forward, as long as it doesn’t turn into a destructive blame game.
First, I began with myself. I shouldn’t have told Woo’s mentor five days before Election Day that her chances were 50-50. I hated myself for being right, regretted saying it although my intuition was correct.
If Mayor Bruce Harrell had endorsed Woo, would it have changed the results? Harrell declined to endorse. He had endorsed in open races without an incumbent for fear it would jeopardize the city’s budget under the City Council’s control. Those he endorsed did win. Between a rock and a hard place, Harrell decided not to endorse Woo, despite the repeated urging from community leaders.
For those voters who sat out of this election, you are hurting the district directly. For those who voted against Woo but don’t really know her, your assumptions could be wrong. Have you ever talked to her to find out more about her?
I have known Woo since she was a little girl. I saw her grow up in Chinatown. Her father, Paul, owned a business and a historical building, Louisa Hotel in the CID, and didn’t remodel it as the task was monumental. It was also the site of the Wah Mee massacre in 1983. Woo took on the challenge, developed Louisa, and turned it into affordable housing with seven commercial spaces plus 84 apartment units.
Woo is unassuming and egoless. Unlike her opponent, Woo listens and is easy to work with. Right after the primary, my friend Ling Chinn and I had lunch with Woo in the CID. We only wanted to cheer her up and encourage her to overcome adversities, and not for giving advice. I was astonished she brought along a notepad to take down notes. She reminded me of City Council member Sara Nelson who took notes when she ran and visited the CID.
“How can I help?“ Nelson said. To learn and grow, Woo took notes during our lunch.
Woo is open and accessible to her constituents if elected. Morales declined to meet even her own neighbors in Seward Park, according to my non-Asian friends who live near her house. What kind of elected official is she who doesn’t want to meet her neighbors?
“Tanya is not ‘running against [someone],’ but ‘running for’ issues such as public safety, homelessness, and affordable housing contributing to the wellbeing of the whole community, according to Matt Chan, a campaign advisor.
What was right
There were things the Woo campaign did right though, and the community’s effort should still be applauded. And many are proud of Woo’s comeback. Three months ago, Woo was 10% behind Morales in the primary. Some people wrote Woo off after that, saying she was an unknown, new to politics, and didn’t mount an aggressive campaign.
But Woo didn’t give up. United in spirit, her advisors, mentors, and volunteers worked hard to reach their goal. Woo had doorbelled 10,000 houses. Through her team’s creativity, Woo’s campaign message sharpened with wit and power. During the primary, Woo never attacked Morales.
However, in the general election, a PAC called Friends of SE Seattle including Uwajimaya, printed flyers to mail to voters hitting Morales for not showing up with a headline, “Neighborhood leaders ask: Where is Tammy Morales?” The flyer’s other side had the endorsement of four powerful women of color, Black, Native American, Asian, and Latino. Woo was not involved in that flyer’s content.
For the first time, business owners connected with CID got involved in politics. Some became community organizers. It’s not often that Uwajimaya gets involved in politics. But this election was too important for community members to sit on the sidelines. Though Uwajimaya contributed $7,500 to the PAC, the funds strictly went to support Woo. Denise Moriguchi, Uwajimaya CEO, acknowledged that it’s significantly a higher amount compared to the past. “We want to support a bigger amount (for Tanya). How can you not support Tanya when she tries to make things better?” she said.
The media’s role
It is gratifying to see so many media outlets come together to report on Woo’s run. During election night, several mainstream networks and the Seattle Times were present. The Times‘ editorial-page endorsement featured Woo prominently at least four times during her run for District 2.
Woo began her political journey when she was one of the key organizers for anti-Asian hate crimes. She also led protests and rallies to fight against King County’s mega Sodo homeless shelter and lobbying for the city’s support. Jonathan Choe, an independent journalist, the Times, and TV stations followed our community’s movement. To see The Medium endorse Woo was unexpectedly delightful. It had inspired Black votes. And to see the Puget Sound Business Journal reporting that former state representative Dawn Mason withdrew her early endorsement for Morales and endorsed Woo instead was marvelous. Was that even a business story? I chuckled.
The early stories had set the stage for Woo to run for office. But the later stories gave Woo the much-needed exposure for her run. These stories serve as a tool to educate the larger community on the CID’s struggles and injustices.
It’s exciting to see more people of color elected to the City Council than ever before. For the first time in history, the city has elected three outstanding leaders of color, including two Blacks — Joy Hollingsworth for District 3 and Rob Saka for District 7 — and a Latino, Maria Rivera, in District 4. How far people of color have come along! That’s amazing progress in our city. But what about us Asian Americans?
It’s a shame to see the Asian community without representation even though Asian Americans are the largest minority in Seattle. We thought we could finally have one of our own to represent one of the most diverse districts, South Seattle, only to see that dream being blown away by less than 400 votes. Sad. Unjust. Incomprehensible.
Our ancestors settled in Seattle as early as the 18th century. The only Asian council member, Kshama Sawant, is not running for reelection. But Sawant is no different from Morales, who is known as Sawant No. 2. One-sided and ideological, both voted similarly on issues. They ignored the urgent needs of their own district, and they never showed up for our community or their own district.
Sawant is an embarrassment to many Asian community members. The Asian community has never identified her as one of its own — and vice versa. That motivated the community to work relentlessly for Woo’s campaign. It’s Woo’s first attempt at running for political office. Though she might not make it, I see it as an accomplishment. It is not uncommon for someone to win on their second try for office. In fact, Morales lost in her first run against Bruce Harrell eight years ago.
Since at-large Seattle City Council member Teresa Mosqueda has won a seat at the King County Council, she will leave the city council by the end of the year. The City Council can make history by appointing an Asian American for the vacant seat, making it the most diverse council since the founding of Seattle in 1851.
Woo is the most qualified candidate. She is familiar with many urgent issues confronting the city. I trust the new City Council to do the right thing in 2024 by appointing Woo to the vacant position. Please don’t turn the clock back.