Leadership and resilience through tough times is the theme of The Seattle Times editorial board’s list of the people who have contributed to making our region better in 2021. The pandemic, racial reckoning, policing reforms and other crises have made this year a difficult one.

At the top of our list are Seattle voters, who decisively set a new course for a city battered by the pandemic, policing protests, rising crime, and deepening homeless and mental health crises. After feckless leadership by the Seattle City Council, the majority of which had supported defunding the police, voters elected progressive moderates Bruce Harrell as mayor and Sara Nelson as a City Council member. They also installed Ann Davison as city attorney over an abolitionist who vowed to limit prosecutions. Now the hard work begins.

The Rev. Harriett Walden, longtime voice for social justice, has been a pivotal voice for public safety (and against the Council’s reckless cuts to policing). 

In March, 16-year-old Stella Keating of Tacoma became the first transgender teen to testify before the U.S. Senate in support of the Equality Act, a bill to provide LGBTQ people with federal protections against housing and other discriminations. She helped start the national GenderCool project to raise public awareness of the challenges young trans/non-binary people face getting started in life.  

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, defied her party orthodoxy to deliver what is still the only public account of conversations between then-President Donald Trump and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy while the Jan. 6 insurrectionists rampaged through the U.S. Capitol. 

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, are fighting to shore up the free press efforts in their respective houses.


Minh-Duc Nguyen, once a refugee herself, is founder and executive director of Helping Link, a 29-year-old organization devoted to empowering Vietnamese Americans’ social adjustment, family stability and self-sufficiency while nurturing community service and youth leaders. 

House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, and Rep. Jesse Johnson, D-Federal Way, were the architects of most of the police reform bills passed by lawmakers. Rather than focusing on low-hanging fruit or feel-good proposals, the duo met regularly with stakeholders to create a suite of reforms intended to work together and avoid shifting the problem.  

Dr. Vin Gupta of the University of Washington medical school has been a prominent national spokesman for COVID-19 science and research and a debunker of myths about the pandemic. As a National Guard officer, he has also played an active role in fighting the disease during deployments in Oregon and elsewhere in support of local medical staff.  

Filling a void left by his cagey vaccine-resistant predecessor, Jake Dickert stepped into the acting head coach role for Washington State University football with grace, confidence and faith in his team. Under his leadership, Dickert coached the Cougars into a bowl game and an Apple Cup victory and landed in the permanent job.

As the delta virus hit in late summer, hospitals filled with unvaccinated patients. Nurses who fought through the first waves of the disease had to redouble their efforts. Retirements thinned their ranks, and many nurse unions are now engaged in fighting for retention and recruitment bonuses. 

Sue Rahr spent her career working to transform the culture of law enforcement, first as King County sheriff and later as executive director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission. She’s continuing that vital work in her retirement, collaborating on a playbook that will help communities around the country rethink policing and learn from others’ experience. 

Kennewick Police Detective Marco Monteblanco, president of Washington Fraternal Order of Police, embraced police reform, traveling the state to talk to police departments and city councils.

Andrea Suarez channeled her frustration with the accumulation of trash in Seattle’s public places into regular cleanups attracting dozens of volunteers. The work snowballed into helping unsheltered people get back on their feet. The group We Heart Seattle continues to make Seattle better by cleaning up green spaces and making one-on-one connections with unsheltered individuals who are ready to make a change.