Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's administration remains a work in progress, with glaring openings for department heads, stale policy ideas, and ongoing problems with downtown safety and civility.
After Mayor Jenny Durkan’s tumultuous first year, Seattle voters are wondering what sort of mayor they’ve got.
This editorial board gives her a C average for her first year’s performance. The grade suffers from cronyism and her administration’s lack of transparency, which won’t help build the community trust she needs to succeed in the next three years.
We’re especially curious to see if the former federal prosecutor, elected as the more seasoned and moderate choice for mayor, lives up to that promise. Or will she succumb to pressure from entrenched players and special interests to veer hard left, becoming another city manager who prioritizes spending over performance and accountability?
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Tax fatigued residents and beleaguered employers backed her because she seemed to offer less ideology, favored more data-driven solutions and showed respect for residents and employers alike. Year two will tell if this promise will be realized or not.
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A year into the job, Durkan has sorted through some of the detritus left by former Mayor Ed Murray, including a disappointing launch of the $930 million Move Seattle levy and the ballooning price of the City Center Connector streetcar project.
Big accomplishments include her role in sealing the deal to renovate the Seattle Center arena and secure an NHL team and getting her $5.9 billion budget passed with minimal fireworks. While we applaud Durkan for initiating a regional response to the homeless crisis, we are disappointed in the results and lack of follow-through on a critical issue that has bedeviled Seattle. Residents are losing patience with City Hall’s plodding response to homelessness, which consumes an ever-growing share of city spending.
Durkan’s administration clearly remains a work in progress, with glaring openings for department heads, stale land-use proposals from the Murray era and serious ongoing downtown safety and civility concerns.
And then there’s the coming traffic apocalypse with the Alaskan Way viaduct to be torn down and expansion of the state convention center, both of which promise to stress test the city’s “mobility” concepts that have reduced arterial capacity in recent years.
In other words, 2019 will make 2018 look like a walk in the park for the mayor.
Police reforms: A-
After a shaky start, marred by community protests, Durkan backtracked on her initial choice and picked Chief Carmen Best to fill the vacancy created by Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s departure. She then ended the stalemate with the Seattle Police Officers Guild over its overdue contract. This grade could change if the judge overseeing Seattle’s police-reform efforts decides the contract undermines hard-earned accountability and disciplinary improvements.
Housing policy: D
Rather than build consensus for a new approach to meeting Seattle’s growth challenges, Durkan is pushing divisive upzones in more than two dozen neighborhoods. Durkan should be working to preserve vibrant single-family neighborhoods instead of allowing them to be dismantled by ever more density. That’s despite city studies saying the upzone proposals may displace minority communities and have a marginal effect on housing affordability.
Durkan convened a task force that should increase the regional response to this ongoing crisis. Within the city, she showed spine by closing a troubled homeless camp at Licton Springs. But she still signed a 2019 budget providing additional funding to that camp’s operator, activist nonprofit SHARE/WHEEL, despite its poor performance. That calls into question her commitment to performance requirements added to the city’s homeless-services contracts. Even as city spending has shot up, Durkan has yet to articulate a broad vision addressing the crisis.
Safety and civility: D
Durkan has continued the push to hire more police officers yet downtown business and neighborhood groups alike have every right to be angry about pernicious property crime and safety of our streets. The mayor would be wise to invest time with her new police chief in coming up with proven policing strategies, particularly for neighborhoods most plagued by crime and lawlessness.
For most of the year, key departments were led by interim directors. Durkan apparently is close to finally hiring a transportation director but keeping details secret from the public. She secured a $720,000, no-bid consulting gig for Anne Fennessy, a friend and recent board member of Transportation Choices Coalition, further embedding the ideological advocacy group and raising questions about Durkan’s independence. Fennessy will be the point person on planning for light-rail lines to Ballard and West Seattle. During the head-tax debacle, Durkan’s top staff also flouted open-meetings laws and used private emails to consult with lobbyists.
Preschool and college levy: A
Durkan made a convincing case that Seattle should increase its investment in the city’s pre-K program and make community college free to residents. The $620 million levy was approved by 69 percent of Seattle voters in November. We’ll see if this affects Seattle school district tax measures come February.
This editorial, originally published Dec. 7, incorrectly stated that Anne Fennessy was a Transportation Choices Coalition board member when she received a $720,000, no-bid consulting contract from the mayor’s office. Fennessy, wife of Deputy Mayor David Moseley, was no longer on the board as of Sept. 10 and signed the contract Nov. 22.