Casey Sixkiller, a longtime government staffer and lobbyist currently serving as Seattle’s deputy mayor for operations, jumped into this year’s race for mayor with an announcement Tuesday.
Sixkiller took his spot in Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office in early 2020 after two years as King County Executive Dow Constantine’s chief operating officer.
He’s been Durkan’s point person on homelessness, briefing and sometimes clashing with City Council members about services for unsheltered people during the pandemic. Durkan isn’t seeking reelection.
“If there’s one thing we can all agree on: The conditions in our parks and streets are unacceptable,” Sixkiller, 43, said in an interview. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done … to better support those living outside. But there’s no quick fix.”
The cornerstone of his plan: asking Seattle voters to approve a $1 billion bond measure to fund 3,000 additional housing units “in my first term,” he said. The measure would increase property taxes to repay the bonds over 30 years and the units would serve formerly homeless people, Sixkiller said. He also is proposing a “guaranteed basic income” pilot program.
Reared in Seattle, Sixkiller got his start in politics as an intern and legislative assistant to then-U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott. An enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Sixkiller later helped open the Cherokee Nation’s first Washington, D.C., office and worked on U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s legislative staff.
The candidate says he wants to seek common ground among residents with diverse backgrounds and opinions. “Cherokees call this ‘gadugi.’ That’s what I’ve been doing my whole life,” he said. “Bringing people together to solve problems.”
Sixkiller also worked as a lobbyist in D.C., first with McBee Strategic Consulting and then with his own firm. His firm’s clients included multiple tribes and nonprofits, King County, Motorola Solutions, a trade group for software makers, the pharmaceutical company Allergan, the military and government contractor Dyncorp International and the fishing company Ocean Peace.
The Phinney Ridge resident, introduced at a news conference in his front yard by his father, the University of Washington football legend Sonny Sixkiller, disagrees with demands to defund the police by 50% and reinvest the money in community solutions, though he said such solutions need more support. He says the city should consider adding density in certain areas but doesn’t want to undo single-family zoning altogether.
Sixkiller touted his work and Durkan’s on COVID-19 testing and vaccinations, and on pandemic relief like small-business grants.
He described himself as an “outsider” candidate who can deliver fresh ideas. That may not be the easiest sell, considering his recent jobs.
Sixkiller declined to identify specific policy disagreements with Durkan, though as a person of color, he said, “my life experience is going to inform how I view issues … that’s a key distinction.”
For much of 2020, Sixkiller and his colleagues opposed the council’s efforts to restrict removals of homeless encampments and defended the city’s Navigation Team, which matched police with social workers for outreach and removals.
Later, he worked with council members and outreach workers to develop a new system. That endeavor “caused some strain between the mayor and me,” Sixkiller said, because he “felt really strongly that we needed to come together.”
The city has been placing some people in hotels, he said, though advocates have said the Durkan administration was slow in adopting that strategy. “I don’t think it’s practical to say that removals will never occur, but I do think it’s important that when they do … that we lead with outreach and services,” Sixkiller added.
The candidate said he is still reviewing a business-backed initiative to impose certain homelessness policies through a city charter amendment, he said.
Sixkiller said he got involved in politics in high school, advocating for late-night gym hours at his community center. He’s “transitioning out” of his City Hall role to concentrate on his campaign, he said.
More than a dozen people have filed to run for mayor, including: City Council President M. Lorena González, Chief Seattle Club leader Colleen Echohawk, former council president Bruce Harrell, architect and urban designer Andrew Grant Houston, former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell and Lance Randall, who’s worked on economic development.
Staff reporter Sydney Brownstone contributed to this story.