Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González is running for mayor, she announced Wednesday morning, making her the most prominent candidate yet in the race to succeed Mayor Jenny Durkan.
A member of the City Council since 2016, and council president since 2020, González has twice been elected to her citywide seat, winning with more than 70% of the vote in 2015 and 2017.
González, whose parents were undocumented migrant farm workers in the Yakima Valley, stressed her personal history in announcing her campaign and called for “bold and progressive action that overcomes the status quo.”
“When I first came to this city as a bright-eyed fifth-grader on a field trip, I remember just being in awe of what the city represents, in terms of giving people like me a shot and an opportunity to succeed,” González said in an interview.
She described the pandemic as both a turning point and an opportunity to build a city “that is truly going to work for everyone, not just the powerful.”
“We can think big, we can be bold and we can really look at how do we build complete neighborhoods that are livable, have access to child care, affordable housing, multimodal transportation, food access, internet, good jobs and really energetic vibrant small business districts,” González said.
Six other people, so far, have filed to run for mayor: Colleen Echohawk, the executive director of the Chief Seattle Club; Andrew Grant Houston, an architect and urban designer; Lance Randall, the leader of a South Seattle economic-development nonprofit; Henry Clay Dennison, who ran for governor under the Socialist Workers Party; Matthew Ervin and William Kopatich.
Durkan is not seeking reelection. The deadline to file as a candidate on the August primary ballot is May 21.
González moved to Seattle for law school and worked in private practice as a civil rights attorney for a decade before formally entering city politics. In one high-profile case, she represented a Latino man suing the Seattle Police Department after an officer threatened to beat the “Mexican piss” out of him. She won him a $150,000 settlement. The officer was demoted but not fired.
The case “reminded me about how oppressive our systems can be if we are not intentional about dismantling racism,” she said.
González was one of the seven (out of nine) City Council members who, this summer, called for cutting the Police Department budget by 50% in the wake of mass protests against systemic racism and police brutality.
The council ended up transferring or reallocating about 20% of the department’s budget.
González did not answer when asked if she would remain committed to a 50% cut. Instead, she stressed the importance of choosing a new police chief, which Durkan will likely leave to the next mayor. The department is currently run by interim Chief Adrian Diaz.
The next police chief, she said, will need to “be committed to transforming the police department and to reimagining what our public safety service model is going to be.”
Prior to running for City Council, González served as a commissioner on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and was legal counsel for former Mayor Ed Murray. In 2017, she became the first council member to call for Murray to consider resigning over allegations he’d sexually abused teenagers decades ago.
She briefly launched a campaign for state attorney general in 2019, before bowing out when Gov. Jay Inslee decided to run for a third term as governor and Attorney General Bob Ferguson opted to run for reelection.
On the City Council, she’s helped pass a broad swath of progressive legislation, including a 2017 police oversight reform law, secure scheduling for fast-food workers, campaign finance reform measures and gun safety ordinances.
She’s also, along with the rest of local government, struggled to deal with an ongoing homelessness crisis that’s been declared a civil emergency for the entirety of her tenure on the council.
Dealing with the crisis, she said, will require “additional resources.” Seattle last summer passed a new tax on big businesses (with González’s support) to help pay for affordable housing and homelessness services. But if Seattle is to become a “world-class livable city,” González said, “we are going to need everyone on board, especially big business.”
Homelessness, she said, is just a symptom, using her personal history to call for solutions to the root cause — poverty.
“I lived in child labor camps in Central Washington state where I didn’t have access to toilets and I didn’t have access to drinking water and I understand from a very deep level what it means to go without those basic needs,” she said. “As mayor, I would make sure that what we are going to be doing is looking at the system holistically to meet those basic needs to lift people out of poverty.”