Jenny Durkan says her administration will bring more urgency to Seattle’s battle against homelessness, using tiny houses and rent vouchers, and paying closer attention to community voices, which she says have been too much ignored.
Gains for workers. Steps forward on police reform. Activists pushing City Hall to the left.
Some trends that characterized Ed Murray’s time as Seattle mayor are likely to continue under Jenny Durkan, who defeated Cary Moon in Tuesday’s election.
Unknown is whether Durkan will succeed in setting herself apart by reversing another trend that marked the past four years — growing homelessness and gentrification.
Endorsed by Murray over the summer, the former U.S. attorney counts among her supporters many civic and business leaders who worked hand in hand with him. She agrees with Murray’s plan for growth and his push to change how Seattle funds homeless services.
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But Durkan says her administration will bring more urgency to the battle against homelessness, using tiny houses and rent vouchers, and paying closer attention to community voices, which she says have been too much ignored.
She says she may ask voters to raise taxes for mental-health and addiction treatment.
Rather than a stamp of approval for Murray’s policies, Durkan says she considers her victory proof that voters want a steady hand, collaboration and progress.
“The election is a clear indication that people expect results, and they trusted someone who had experience delivering results,” she said in an interview.
Labor leader David Rolf, whose union rallied behind Durkan after sexual-abuse allegations pushed Murray to abandon the mayoral race, sees a contrast.
“They have similar politics but very different leadership styles,” Rolf said, calling Durkan and Murray “pragmatic progressives” with a shared ideological lineage.
Murray was a temperamental mayor, while Durkan is more circumspect, said the president of SEIU 775, which represents nursing-home and home-health workers.
“Ed had been in the public eye for decades, having direct conversations with constituents, lobbyists and members of the media. He came into the job as a politician,” he added. “Jenny has worked for politicians, but mainly behind the scenes.”
Labor agenda, police reform
Under Durkan, organized labor could extend its winning streak in Seattle — with new rights for domestic workers.
The City Council has adopted a series of pro-worker policies in recent years, starting with wage-theft and paid-sick-time laws when Mike McGinn was mayor.
Then Murray and the council set the city on a path toward a $15-an-hour minimum wage and passed a law regulating the schedules of retail and restaurant employees.
Durkan won more union endorsements than Moon, and the council’s only newly elected member, Teresa Mosqueda, is herself a labor leader.
“I don’t think it’s possible to govern effectively in Seattle as anything but a pro-labor mayor,” Rolf said. “There’s just not the right political climate for that in this town.”
What’s next on the agenda, then? Both mayoral candidates said during their race they would try to help domestic workers, such as nannies and housecleaners.
Mosqueda has vowed to advance equal pay for women with new regulations, such as prohibiting bosses from asking about past pay.
Compared with the rapid-fire action on worker issues, progress on police reform has been gradual. But the city could pass a crucial milestone with Durkan as mayor.
More than five years after signing a consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice to stop the city’s officers from routinely and illegally using excessive force, Seattle is still working toward being found in compliance.
A law bolstering oversight of the Police Department’s disciplinary system, which the council passed during the summer, took years longer to write than Murray initially promised.
And aspects of the law remain in doubt because the city is locked in negotiations with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which has lacked a contract since 2014.
City Attorney Pete Holmes, who trounced challenger Scott Lindsay in Tuesday’s election, says striking the right deal with the union is the key task ahead.
“If we don’t achieve long-term contracts with both of our police unions that fully support and embrace reform, this will all be for nought,” Holmes said, also mentioning a new contract with the Seattle Police Managers Association.
The city attorney says he expects the police guild to test Durkan in the coming months.
“I’m really looking forward to having Jenny at the helm,” Holmes said. “She’s more aware than most what the issues are and how critical they are to the consent decree.”
During a news conference Friday, Durkan said she would soon meet with Holmes, who in September asked a judge to find the city in compliance. She said she anticipates Seattle will “put the consent decree behind us” within her term.
Activist pressure, managing growth
How Durkan responds to pressure from social- and racial-justice activists could help define her term.
Demonstrations played a loud role in local politics during the Murray years, regularly taking over the City Council’s chambers.
Hailing from community groups, issue-based movements and Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s Socialist Alternative Party, they pushed for the city to raise the minimum wage, boost money for homeless services, shelve the plan for an expensive new North Precinct police station and adopt an income tax on wealthy households.
The activists and like-minded voters had a rough election season, with mayoral hopeful Nikkita Oliver failing to advance from the August primary, Moon losing last week and council candidate Jon Grant, endorsed by Socialist Alternative and Democratic Socialists of America, losing by a wide margin to Mosqueda.
But Shaun Scott, a Democratic Socialists organizer who helped run Grant’s campaign, said he expects the advocacy to continue.
More than 40 percent of the city voted for Moon, whose strongholds included the Central District and parts of Southeast Seattle.
Earlier this month, a crowd organized by the new Housing for All Coalition packed the council’s chambers to rally against Seattle’s evictions of unauthorized homeless encampments — then spent the night outside City Hall in tents.
In conceding to Mosqueda, Grant urged his supporters to rally Monday against the evictions, Scott noted.
Durkan supports the evictions, with caveats. She describes the encampments as dangerous blights, saying they should be cleaned up and their occupants sheltered.
“We saw Mayor Murray become more responsive to extreme amounts of pressure,” Scott said, mentioning the income tax and predicting that proposals to tax businesses could become a major flashpoint. “I expect a similar dynamic with Mayor Durkan.”
Rolf says he backed Durkan, Mosqueda and council incumbent M. Lorena González because they were pro growth.
To help solve the housing crisis that is pushing ordinary people out of Seattle, the city must add apartments all over, he says.
Moon identified as an urbanist, based on her planning background, waterfront-park advocacy and ideas about cities. And she was more critical of the city reserving so much land for single-family houses, describing the policy as exclusionary.
Rolf says Durkan was more consistent in her support for the “grand bargain” made under Ed Murray, which calls for upzones in more than two dozen neighborhoods while requiring developers to contribute to the creation of low-income housing.
While Durkan says additional community conversations must be held, she wants to see the legislation swiftly approved.
The council’s 2015 move to district elections has yet to yield a resurgence in neighborhood power.
“Jenny understands that housing and homelessness have to be at the top of her list,” Rolf said.
“What I don’t know is whether the city as a whole will be willing to do what needs to be done to build an affordable city,” because that will entail businesses paying more taxes and homeowners accepting more neighborhood development, he said.
Before Murray dropped out, Rolf saw the results of a poll asking about a pair of nameless mayoral candidates: a coalition-builder who would bring labor and business together to keep Seattle moving, and an outsider with new ideas who would shake up City Hall.
Three in four respondents preferred the former, the union leader said, and Durkan sounded a lot like Candidate No. 1 in the speech she gave Tuesday night.
“Unity triumphs over division,” she said, talking about how she views Seattle values. “Equity over inequality. Progress over gridlock.”
Will the Candidate No. 1 approach provide relief from homelessness, rising rents and a housing crunch while keeping the Amazon-powered tech boom going? Time will tell.