Dear potential candidates for mayor of Seattle,
Are you seeking to bring Seattle together for a post-COVID economic recovery? Do you seek solutions from data instead of Twitter? Do you have what it takes to manage 40 departments with 12,000 employees investing $6.5 billion? Do your stump speeches encourage good jobs to stay, instead of chasing them away? If yes, please toss your hat into the ring.
Whatever you think of Mayor Jenny Durkan, she has been keeping city government afloat despite the colliding tidal waves of pandemic, recession and racial reckoning.
What’s on the horizon? A choice: Sink into dysfunction or row together toward an inclusive economic recovery.
Policy experts at The Brookings Institution — outside our City Hall bubble — examined smart strategies for an equitable recovery, which inspired much of this Op-Ed. Big picture: If City Hall wants to steer clear of an unfair K-shaped recovery that will harm our residents, it must work with — instead of against — Seattle’s employers. Priorities include:
∙ Prioritize common ground at City Hall. If a mayor asks all council members to list their priorities, I believe they’ll find common ground in key areas. For example, we all agree we must revamp the expensive police union contract to address institutional racism and to reimagine public safety. Yet City Council is sucking up precious time flirting with a divisive proposal to give legal defenses to those who commit misdemeanor crimes. Mayors and council members should advance shared goals, rather than doubling down on division. Employers require stability and effectiveness from their government as a stable foundation upon which to risk their investments and expand their quality jobs for the Seattle residents who need them the most.
∙ Admit government cannot do it alone. Local government must continue its leadership during the COVID-19 crisis, but it cannot alone achieve an inclusive economic recovery. Government spending comprises only one-third or so of the economy. Only the private sector has the potential to provide widespread upward mobility that the public sector wants for more Seattle residents.
∙ Protect Seattle’s tax base. We need tax revenues from the business community to fund the basics (safety, roads, etc.) and subsidies (food, affordable housing, etc.). Yet when elected officials demonize “business” and devise divisive proposals for public safety and homelessness, they alienate the same employers who form our tax base. With so many employees already working remotely, 2021 is the fork in the road for many employers to decide where to recover and rehire. To help all residents recover, we cannot afford to provoke employers to relocate to the suburbs.
∙ Radically reset recruitment. Seattle’s high cost of living requires that we retain and expand high-paying jobs. An equitable recovery requires more of those jobs for marginalized Seattleites. The next mayor must have the skill to encourage employers not only to stay within our city, but also to tap the talents of Seattle residents. Seattle companies, especially in our growing tech and real estate industries, must do better in recruiting and retaining women and people of color from Seattle. Requiring a four-year college degree for most jobs perpetuates the privilege of those with intergenerational wealth. Building on Mayor Durkan’s Promise Program, companies can work with community colleges on two-year degrees that provide the skills needed to enter upwardly mobile professions. Local tech companies and venture capital firms also need more diversity among their boards and managers which, in turn, hire more diversity. This is in everyone’s best interest because studies prove diverse companies do better.
∙ Rebuild infrastructure with union jobs. Make it easier for construction unions to apprentice more Seattle high school graduates and employ them to rebuild Seattle’s infrastructure. As an example of common ground, I worked with the mayor and council colleagues to renew Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District to reduce the cost of transit and fund infrastructure improvements, which will enable more people to get to jobs downtown as the recovery takes off. Let’s put people to work in well-paying jobs, fixing our aging bridges to make sure no more bridge closures interrupt our recovery.
∙ Close the digital divide. Build on common ground by implementing our “Internet for All” action plan to expand high-speed, affordable internet so everyone has access to online education, training and jobs.
∙ Address the gender wage gap. The pandemic has worsened the gender wage gap. Coupling the high quality Seattle Preschool Program and our other early learning programs with the recent rezoning to allow more child-care space, the mayor can incentivize large employers to aggressively expand on-site child-care to help lower income parents (disproportionately women) who dropped work hours to pick up additional household burdens during the pandemic.
∙ Expand ownership opportunities with condos and small business. To deliver upward mobility and a deeper stake in the community, a mayor can incentivize the rapid creation of condominiums in all neighborhoods with transit to enable thousands of Seattleites to become homeowners. Let’s incentivize larger Seattle businesses to buy more goods and services from women-owned and minority-owned small businesses. Let’s incentivize local universities to expand efforts to incubate new microbusinesses owned by people of color. A Brookings study confirms that investing in Black businesses would provide the double benefit of an inclusive recovery and expanding the economy of the entire city.
∙ Tap private-sector savvy for solutions. Build on Mayor Durkan’s Innovation Advisory Council that leverages Seattle’s tech sector to craft solutions for urban problems through a lens of race and social justice. Tap their tech savvy to enable city government to provide real-time data on shelter availability for those experiencing homelessness and to distribute COVID-19 vaccines faster.
∙ Invest in Seattle’s Office of Economic Development. Seattle has been spoiled by not having to fight to attract, retain and expand local businesses as other cities must do. Now Seattle is a high-cost city with growing urban challenges. The next mayor needs to empower our Office of Economic Development to focus on nurturing and expanding those sectors of our local economy best poised to provide well-paying jobs to the most people from marginalized communities. Regardless of what the City Council does, the mayor must methodically and extensively survey businesses to ask what they need to renew their leases, recover and grow our tax base in an inclusive way.
If we chart a course with many of these strategies, Seattle can speed toward an inclusive recovery.