Mayor Jenny Durkan said she plans to provide free transit to all of Seattle’s public high-school students, work to pass new rights for domestic workers and propose legislation to encourage greener buildings. She also warned that the city’s economic growth won’t last forever.
Telling an enthusiastic crowd she’s been nicknamed “the impatient mayor” at City Hall, Jenny Durkan vowed to attack Seattle’s homelessness and affordable-housing crises with urgency as she delivered her first State of the City address Tuesday.
The city will be better off “when prosperity is shared, and is not just for the few,” Durkan said, arguing that disparities are threatening “the soul of our city.”
“We have a booming economy,” she said. “Yet far too many of us — our families, neighbors, artists, small businesses — are being forced out of the city that they love.”
In the speech at Rainier Beach High School, Durkan sketched out an optimistic vision of what she believes Seattle can be — while admitting that traffic and housing problems are today’s reality and will be difficult to solve. Also, the city’s economic growth is bound to slow.
“In preparing next year’s budget, I will be asking all the city’s departments to recognize we have to live within our city’s means,” she said, even as she previewed some new initiatives.
Durkan said her administration plans to build more low-income housing, provide free transit to all public high-school students by next fall and free community college to all public high-school graduates, work with the City Council on new rights for domestic workers and propose legislation to encourage the construction of greener buildings.
For the college program, Durkan wants to tap the city’s Families and Education Levy, which will be up for renewal on the ballot later this year.
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She paid tribute to Rainier Beach students who have advocated for transit passes, and to Rainier Beach graduates from immigrant families who are thriving in college.
“Rainier Beach is the place where people come together to get things done,” Durkan said, drawing applause at the South End school where graduation rates have climbed.
The mayor pledged to deliver basic services to Seattle residents “better and smarter” and several times touted a commitment to racial and social justice.
She pointed to a landmark court ruling in January that affirmed the city’s police-reform effort but said more work must be done, including “deep cultural change.”
“The next step is having the right permanent chief of police,” following the Dec. 31 departure of Kathleen O’Toole, Durkan said, encouraging Seattle residents to participate in an online survey as her administration carries out a nationwide search.
Elected and inaugurated in November, the mayor said her administration will “fight for common-sense gun-safety laws.” Gun violence was responsible for three-quarters of King County’s 74 homicides last year.
Durkan is Seattle’s first female mayor since the 1920s, and the first to deliver a State of the City address, the 59-year-old former U.S. attorney noted, urging the city’s young women to chase their dreams, “whatever those dreams may be.”
She opened her remarks Tuesday by reminding the crowd that Seattle is named after Chief Sealth and that the city “resides in the Coast Salish territories.”
“We believe every person is born with dignity and promise, and they deserve real respect and real opportunity. A person’s value is not based on her net worth. Or the country of birth. Or the color of skin. Or the gender of the person they love,” she said.
Durkan added, “Seattle will stand up to be a safe and welcoming city — especially with Donald Trump as our president. Our immigrant and refugee neighbors believe in the promise of America — and we will deliver on that promise.”
The mayor acknowledged the city won’t be able to solve homelessness overnight. Already, her administration is at odds with some council members over how best to raise and spend money to help people living on the street. Durkan didn’t mention a council plan to impose a new “head tax” on large businesses.
Seattle’s transportation woes are another conundrum.
“It’s no secret our traffic is bad and our buses are full,” and the congestion will get worse before it gets better, due partly to a series of construction megaprojects, Durkan said.
She cautioned about harder times ahead, saying Seattle’s economic growth spurt “won’t last forever” and City Hall’s recent spending surge “isn’t sustainable.”
“Unfortunately, a deficit is on the horizon,” she said, predicting some budget cuts.
But Durkan ended by heralding a “waterfront for all” coming to downtown next year, when the Alaskan Way Viaduct is razed and construction begins on a new park promenade. And she told hockey fans they can expect a professional team to take up residence soon at Seattle Center, where a major renovation of KeyArena is planned.
“Let’s resolve together that next year, we can look each other in the eye and we can say the state of our city is more just … because of our resolve, our actions and our love,” she concluded.