By Becky Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
In 1926, as the first female mayor of Seattle, Bertha Landes fought against bootleggers and speakeasies. Ninety-some years later, Seattle’s new mayor, Jenny Durkan, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, welcomes micro-breweries and tasting rooms on her watch. The prohibition era is gone. Also gone are the Chinese Exclusion Act, Japanese Internment camps, Dr. Martin Luther King, and President Obama. As the second female mayor elected after Landes, and the first lesbian mayor in Seattle, Durkan is determined to make her own history.
On Dec. 15, Durkan’s supporters from Seattle’s diverse communities celebrated her election victory with a festive dinner at China Harbor Restaurant. Over 300 supporters packed the event and showed their love for the new mayor. Durkan surprised the guests by bringing her longtime partner Dana Garvey, whom the mayor has described as unbelievably private. When asked if Durkan becoming the mayor has taken time away from home, Garvey said they are used to it after 23 years together. She added that Durkan was busy before she became the mayor. Garvey found the new chapter in their life “exciting,” though Durkan has said Garvey dislikes politics. Garvey seemed totally at ease in her supportive role. The power couple was welcomed by Northwest Asian Weekly Publisher Assunta Ng in her opening remarks.
“The impossible becomes possible,” announced Ng. Addressing Durkan as “Wonder Woman,” Ng called her “the most powerful woman in the City of Seattle, managing over 10,000 employees and with a $5 billion budget.”
Durkan took the stage amidst thunderous applause and a standing ovation. Fresh off from three full weeks as mayor, she thanked her staff and considered herself “the luckiest mayor that’s ever been,” being surrounded by competent team players. She told the attentive crowd that there are “great challenges ahead” because Seattle “has grown so fast” that “affordability is a real issue.”
Durkan promised to “work hard to get our arms around our homeless brothers and sisters, and get them housing and make Seattle affordable.” The room erupted in rousing cheers when she pledged to “make sure our kids in Seattle do get free tuition in college.” She concluded, “We need to define who we are as a city and where we stand on racial justice and social issues.”
Homelessness is a constant issue on attendee Red Wolf Pope’s mind. Pope is a member of the Western Shoshone Tribe and is the United Indians Communications Coordinator. He came to the dinner to evaluate Durkan in person. He said “a high percentage of the homeless are Native Americans.” For him, affordable housing is a pressing issue. He wanted to ensure a good relationship exists between the Native American community and the mayor’s office.
“She seems open and accessible,” Pope commented. He said other than a quick photo-op, he did not have a chance to chat with the new mayor. He liked what he heard and looks forward to future dialogues.
Sheila Burrus, executive director of the Filipino Community of Seattle (FCS), and board member Edwin Obras also want affordable housing in their community. They said Durkan supported their Village Project while campaigning. The project, a few years in the making, is an expansion of the existing community center on Martin Luther King Way. It will provide low-income senior housing with a lab for a science-technology-engineering-arts-math (STEAM) program for youth. The village will be open to all, not just the Filipino community.
Harsimran Brar, a corporate strategy manager for T-Mobile who attended the dinner with his father, also liked what he heard. Brar is Sikh and originally from India.
“She is pro community and pro diversity,” Brar said, and added “safety” in the Sikh community is of utmost importance to him. Since the World Trade Center bombing, hate crimes targeting Muslims or those who are perceived as Muslims have increased. Assailants often mistake Sikhs for Muslims because Sikhs wear a beard and a peaked turban called a dastar. In March, a Sikh man in Kent was told to “go back to your country” and then shot in his own driveway. Luckily, he survived. Brar, pointing to his father who wore a dastar and a beard, alluded to his concern.
Hate crimes is something Rosa Melendez knows a lot about. A retired regional director for the U.S. Department of Justice in community relations, Melendez worked with communities to prevent and respond to hate crimes. She believes Durkan can “bring people together to solve problems.”
Melendez said Durkan sees “the communities as one.” One city.
Three weeks is hardly enough time to fairly assess the new mayor. But according to Dennis Su, a retired Seattle architect and Chinatown/International District advocate, Durkan’s five inauguration locations throughout the city and her appointment of Asian American deputies already earned her high marks based on her willingness to reach out to the people.
The mayor stopped by all 35 tables and shook hands with many guests at each table. When she was asked what she hoped her legacy and effect on the Asian community to be, Durkan replied without missing a beat, “The protection of the people.” She cited the Chinese Exclusion Act and the Japanese American Internment as shameful chapters in our history.
“No mistakes again,” she stated decisively.
She was also asked about the bet with Toronto Mayor John Tory over the MLS cup match between the Seattle Sounders and the Toronto Football Club (TFC). She shook her head and said that “it was painful” to wear TFC’s red scarf after the Sounders loss, but she is a “woman of her word.”
Durkan signed several executive orders shortly after taking oath. One deals with rent vouchers and housing affordability, and another on race and social justice initiatives. She also signed one on free college tuition for high school students.
Jenny Durkan, mayor, history maker, and a woman of her word.
Becky can be reached at email@example.com.