McGinn picks ID for first neighborhood tour

Public safety was key concern

By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly

A crowd gathers around Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn as he tours the International District during his first neighborhood tour on March 18. (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn entered the Wing Luke Asian Museum on Thursday, March 18, for his first neighborhood tour in the city. There was no red carpet, receiving line, or bowing from his audience. What was notable, though, was that the crowd was much bigger than the crowd McGinn’s predecessors had gathered.

At least six media groups, both mainstream and community outlets, were present. A dozen Chinatown/International District community organizations and leaders welcomed the mayor. McGinn brought along several city officials and police officers. One of the city officials was Stella Chao, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods. She coordinated the tours for the administration.

Public safety was one of the community’s concerns, which McGinn addressed. He said he noticed the drug addicts, drunks, and transients in the area during his mayoral campaign last year. As if to emphasize McGinn’s point, an inebriated man yelled at McGinn’s crowd during the tour.

Earlier, McGinn and Seattle Police Department (SPD) Chief John Diaz had announced that the SPD will increase foot patrol in Belltown, Pioneer Square, and the International District (ID). The extra presence will increase police visibility and provide more direct interaction with people on the street, stated the office of the mayor. The police department said that foot patrols are even more effective than bike patrols because the former is more efficient — people on foot can get in anywhere.

From left: Dawn Cropp with her father, Sam Ung, owner of Phnom Penh Restaurant, and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn (Photo by George Liu/NWAW)

Councilmember Tim Burgess, chair of the Public Safety and Education Committee, has been working on a five-point plan, which includes an aggressive solicitation ordinance and instituting foot patrols.

An ID block watch group, made up of many senior residents, was enthusiastic about the mayor’s visit. Alan Lai, master of ceremonies, even presented a uniform to the mayor.

Although the tour covered only four blocks, those who accompanied the mayor had time to communicate their concerns, complaints, and proposals.

When the tour stopped at the Chinatown Gate, Tuck Eng, chair of the Historic Chinatown Gate Foundation, gave McGinn a brief history of building the gate, including how the community galvanized support from everyone to make it happen. Faye Hong, fundraising chair for the project, said to McGinn that he is willing to let the city take over the gate.

McGinn also talked to Sam Ung, owner of Phnom Penh Restaurant, who complained about aggressive parking enforcement officers. Ung said that his customers, who come to pick up takeout orders, are easy targets for citations even though they linger for only a short time. He suggested that the city provide more paid parking spaces rather than having white lines on the sidewalks, which restrict parking.

The senior citizens who met with the mayor for the first time said they were pleased to find the mayor so open and down-to-earth. As Lai said, immigrants are not used to talking to government officials directly. His example follows old rituals in Asia where citizens are supposed to kowtow when greeting high officials.

When asked what he thought of the tour, McGinn said the ID is an asset to the city, and there are many opportunities to work with the community to revitalize King Street South.

Hyeok Kim, executive director of the InterIm Community Development Association, said, “It was a positive sign to see so many members — elderly residents involved in the neighborhood block watch, business and property owners, and community leaders — show up for the mayor’s walking tour.”

Kim said it’s important for elected officials to see firsthand what’s happening at the street level, and to see that community members care.  She hopes that it is only the first of many more meaningful opportunities for the new administration to engage with this neighborhood.

The ID, selected from among the 12 districts in the city, is the first neighborhood to be toured by McGinn. ♦

Assunta Ng can be reached at assunta@nwasianweekly.com.

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