Colleen Echohawk, executive director of the Chief Seattle Club, is running for mayor of Seattle, promising a “people-first approach” with a focus on affordable housing and homelessness.
Echohawk, who has been involved in the city’s police reform efforts as a member of the Community Police Commission, joins a still-slim list of people vying to take over after Mayor Jenny Durkan, who has said she will not run again in 2021.
“I’m running for Mayor of Seattle because I love this city, and we have a once-in-a-generation chance to rethink how it works, and who it works for,” Echohawk, 44, said on her website to announce her run. “If we take a people-first approach to renewal then we can become as transformative as our communities demand us to be.”
Andrew Grant Houston, an architect and urban designer, and Lance Randall, who leads a South Seattle economic-development nonprofit, also have announced campaigns for mayor. City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda announced earlier this month that she would not run for mayor, while City Council President M. Lorena González is thought to be considering a run. The deadline to file as a candidate on the August primary ballot is May 21.
In an interview Monday, Echohawk, an enrolled member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation who lives in North Seattle, said “it’s time for a really big change” and that starts with housing.
“We have to build housing, we have to find truly affordable ways to get housing into our city,” she said.
That means, Echohawk said, both rezoning and likely more tax revenue. She said Seattle is still dealing with the impacts of redlining in its neighborhoods.
“We are going to look at our zoning because some of it is not equitable,” she said. “The neighborhood groups are going to come into this, but there is a problem — we don’t have enough density.”
Echohawk has led the Chief Seattle Club, which provides housing and services to Native people, since 2013, and has had an up-close view of how the community has struggled with homelessness and the coronavirus pandemic.
With Echohawk’s advocacy at the helm of the National Coalition to End Urban Indigenous Homelessness, King County changed the way it conducted its annual point-in-time survey of homelessness in 2019, resulting in a near-tripling of the number of Native people experiencing homelessness who showed up in the count.
Her activism has also influenced the way the county prioritizes Indigenous people for housing and has resulted in first-of-a-kind local housing projects that aim to tackle the disproportionate impact of homelessness on Indigenous communities.
In August, after a push from Native organizations including Chief Seattle Club, King County said it would begin adding tribal affiliations to its homelessness database.
Durkan announced last month that she would not run for a second term, after a tumultuous year marked by pandemic, police protests and a city budget cobbled together in the midst of declining revenues.
Asked what she would have done differently than the incumbent, Echohawk said “I would have been down there protesting with the community.” She said she only attended one or two protests — out of COVID health concerns — but “I think that our community has declared strongly that this is a time for reckoning and for Seattle to live out our progressive values.”
But she said she’s not fully on board with activists’ push to defund the Seattle Police Department by 50%.
“I understand why the 50% number was put out there because the community was angry and frustrated,” Echohawk said. “We’ve got to defund, I don’t know if it’s going to be at that 50% level.”
Echohawk said she will remain director of the Chief Seattle Club for now, but will take time off in August for the primaries and will leave the organization in October.
Staff writer Sydney Brownstone contributed to this report.