The Urbanist has a core commitment to education, fairness, and transparency in our endorsement process. To those ends, we recently shared with our readers a comprehensive overview of our endorsement process and requirements.

As part of this process, The Urbanist requires that candidates complete a standardized questionnaire to be eligible for consideration, which is then published for our readers. We use this required questionnaire and an optional in-person interview to determine our endorsements.

This year, our questionnaire contained a mix of short answer and yes/no questions, offering candidates the chance to both outline their vision and bring clarity to their positions on important issues. We believe that yes/no questions serve this end and mirror the tough votes that our elected officials are called to make.

Without consulting The Urbanist, Jenny Durkan’s campaign recently publicly released a copy of her questionnaire and a statement explaining why she felt compelled to do so.

We would like to take a moment to clarify the situation.

Questionnaires were due from all candidates on Tuesday, June 6th. We received answers from Ms. Durkan’s campaign at 11:30 PM that evening. Rather than completing the standard form, the campaign provided answers via a PDF and answered the yes/no questions with long-form answers. A “yes” or “no” answer was not discernible in several of her responses. No request for accommodation was made by the campaign prior to the receipt of these answers.

We informed the campaign the next morning that the answers did not meet our requirements, and offered a one-day extension to modify her responses. The campaign declined the offer. Out of fairness to the other candidates who were able to complete the questionnaire on-time and as required, we informed Ms. Durkan that we were regretfully unable to consider her for endorsement.

Each campaign cycle, we evaluate our process for improvements to create a better process for candidates, for our volunteers, and most importantly for our readers. We always welcome feedback about our endorsement process, and we plan to incorporate lessons from this experience into our process moving forward.

The Urbanist does not publish questionnaires until all in-person interviews are complete, so that candidates cannot unfairly review the answers of fellow candidates. As of this writing, The Urbanist has conducted some mayoral candidate interviews, while others are still remaining. We contacted Ms. Durkan’s campaign to explain this and to request a removal of the responses until after our in-person interviews are complete. This would avoid giving some of her challengers an unfair advantage over others. We are disappointed that, as of this writing, she has not done so.

We will continue to ask candidates tough questions and hold them to fair, consistent standards. We look forward to releasing our endorsements in the coming weeks.

Photo courtesy of Daniel X. O’Neil on Flickr

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15 COMMENTS

  1. Meh, at the end of the day your endorsement, or lack there of, will have zero impact on this race.

  2. This reveals something important about Durkan’s campaign, I suspect. I like her, and I’ve considered myself open to the possibility of supporting her. But her statements about her positions and plans have been a lot more vague and hard to pin down than other candidates I’m considering supporting.

    I think we now can say with some confidence that that vagueness is a strategy, not an accident. If I were to guess why: she thinks she can get through the primary without really committing to anything, but she doesn’t know who the other candidate to make it through the primary will be. If she avoids commitments now, she can pick and choose what positions to advocate based on her general election opponent.

    For her as a candidate, if she’s in as strong a position as she thinks she is, this makes strategic sense. But it does a disservice to voters trying in good faith to evaluate her candidacy. It reveals an ugly arrogance. If she wants to make it through the primary round with this strategy, she’ll be doing it without my vote.

    • I see what you’re saying but to me this is a pretty cynical viewpoint. More importantly, I don’t think any candidate in this city has to worry about holding positions back for the general (spoiler alert: the Democrat is going to win). Yeah, it could be there’s a grand strategy of vagueness but it’s a lot easier for me to believe she actually has nuanced positions that can’t be reduced to yes/no.

      • I don’t think it’s cynical to note that politicians shouldn’t be assumed to be paragons of public virtue and might occasionally engage in some politics. “Preserve flexibility and don’t get pinned down on controversial issues when you can afford to do so” really isn’t that bad as far as politics goes.

        The general will be against another Democratic politician (or Oliver), but the different Democrats hold different views, and have different weaknesses. Flexibility to adopt issue/position A if against Oliver but B if against McGinn, etc. is potentially useful.

  3. This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever read. How dare a candidate provide a thoughtful response to a question. Thanks Urbanist for contributing to the dumbing down of our city’s politics.

    • I’ve been on both sides of this. As a former candidate, I had to fill out many questionnaires. These questionnaires varied widely in levels of quality and competence. I’ve also helped to create questionnaires (and debate forum questions). This is an important process for organizations to get a feel for candidates’ views on the issues. Not only that, but it’s critically important for educating candidates on issues. If you’re a candidate who supports the $15 minimum wage, but aren’t familiar with how difficult it is to get enforcement against employers who violate Seattle’s minimum wage laws – a question related to Office of Labor Standards (OLS) funding requires you (or your staff) to do some research and discover what issues are plaguing OLS enforcement.

      If a candidate doesn’t like how a question is phrased, they always have the option of not answering it. Regardless of how they feel about the question, the organization and its endorsement process should be respected. By putting her questions online before the interview process was complete, the Durkan campaign is damaging this process. This is unacceptable, and I’m glad to see The Urbanist call her out on this.

      • This is incorrect. Clearly, she did not “have the option of not answering.” They kicked her out of the process because, in their own words, “a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer was not discernible.” If that’s the case, why not simply consider it a refusal to answer the question and then move on, rather than disqualifying her completely?

        The Urbanist damaged their own process by disqualifying a candidate for trying to do the best job they could to answer fully and honestly. Glad to see light being shed on

        • You are correct that we required an answer. We discussed how to craft this process extensively and required all candidates to play by the same rules. At the point at which Durkan’s campaign responded we had two choices:

          1) Hold all the other candidates to the implication that they had to provide a yes or no answer but carve-out an exception for Durkan’s questionnaire.

          2) Disqualify her from the process.

          We chose the latter.

          As we mentioned in the article, we take feedback on how to improve the process. If you personally don’t like yes/no questions, that is feedback we’ll take for future processes. However, we have no intention to let different candidates play by different rules.

          • Thank you for disqualifying yourselves as a reliable campaign endorsement. I will be sure to ignore any recommendations made by this very flawed process. Candidates should be expected to elaborate on their policy statements. Manipulating an endorsement questionaire to forbid this is not good for voters.

          • Hi Natalie,

            We offer a mix of both short answer and yes/no questions, as is common practice in endorsement questionnaires and in candidate forums. We appreciate your feedback on the yes/no questions as we evaluate our process for future cycles. Please feel free to email me directly if you have any other feedback.

            -Ben

          • I don’t like yes/no questions, especially for a mayoral candidate. The $15 an hour debate is a great example. On the surface, it is a very simple question (which is it, do you support it or oppose it?).

            If pressed, I would answer “yes, but…”. It is pretty clear why, if you’ve ever talked to a small business owner in this town. The regressive B and O taxes as well as the competition (unfair in my opinion) from big businesses make it very difficult to survive. A large, sudden increase in the minimum way would be really tough for a lot of them (many of the owners work for way less than minimum wage).

            The solution is one that I’m sure a lot of people thought of. I did, independently. Slowly raise the minimum wage, but raise it faster for big businesses. Fairly simple and elegant. If asked about the minimum wage issue (back in the day) that would be my answer. It is only one sentence.

            But it isn’t “yes/no”. It is a thoughtful, responsible answer — exactly the type of thing you want from a mayor. As it turns out, it was exactly what we got.

            Back to the questionnaire, I can see why you didn’t want to make an exception. Someone might give an answer (yes or no) yet have the exact same opinion about the issue. They were simply forced by your questionnaire to provide an oversimplified answer, and picked one. So it would be unfair to allow one candidate the luxury of a thoughtful, subtle answer to a question, while all other candidates are forced to pick between the two choices.

            But I don’t understand why you automatically rejected her questionnaire. Just assume she didn’t answer those or gave the worst possible answer.

          • Hi Ross,

            We require candidates to answer all questions fully in order to be eligible for endorsement. This ensures that candidates aren’t able to avoid tough questions. As she declined to answer the questions as required, even when provided an extension, she regretfully disqualified herself from consideration.

            We also appreciate your feedback on yes/no questions. We’ll use this to evaluate our process for the next cycle.

            -Ben

          • I want to speak up at least a little for the utility of yes/no questions. You lose opportunity for nuance, no question; a questionaire that was nothing but Y/N would be impoverished for it. But sometimes (and at least some of your Y/N questions fit this category) it’s worth sacrificing nuance to make people take a stand. Nuance can be great, but it can also be a crutch for people who want to play both sides and avoid making a commitment or taking a stand. I’ve been concerned that’s how JD’s campaign has been going, as noted above: the demand to take a stand usefully exposed that. Farrell, Moon, McGinn, Oliver, etc are perfectly capable of nuance, but presumably they felt able to complete this exercise while remaining true to themselves. Durkan’s inability to do so is in itself revealing. Forcing politicians to cut to the chase and take a stand once in a while is by no means the big picture, but it’s an important part of how journalists can hold them accountable.

          • I am inclined to support yes or no questions, but my understanding this was one of the questions:

            “Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single-family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?”

            I don’t think this is the right phrasing for a yes-or-no question:

            “”Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single-family zones?” strikes me as the right phrasing.

            If I were a candidate I would answer the latter yes, but have a hard time with the former. (The reason is not “contributing to growth.”)

            I think pinning folks down is a great goal but compound questions may raise real issues.

        • She still has the option of not answering the question. The consequence of leaving it blank is not getting an endorsement. It’s a simple choice that someone running for elected office should be more than capable of making, assuming they’re qualified for the role.

          I can’t speak to whether she was “trying to do the best job they could to answer fully and honestly,” or was just trying to give a non-answer. Politicians routinely do both on these questionnaires.

          However, burning your bridges by publishing your answers when you’ve been asked not to is.. politically unwise.

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