A Conversation with Hamdi Mohamed, Port Commissioner Candidate
Release Date: 04/28/2021
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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.
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.