By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
On Nov. 28, Seattle welcomed a new mayor — female, bold, and original. Even on day one, Mayor Jenny Durkan amazed many. And what an inauguration!
As the second woman and first lesbian mayor since the founding day of Seattle in 1851, Durkan decided to take City Hall directly into communities across Seattle, with five swearing-in ceremonies in Rainier Valley, Chinatown International District, West Seattle, Phinney Ridge, and Lake City.
Seattle has not voted in a female mayor for almost 100 years. Durkan is part of the new wave of female mayors elected in Washington state. As opposed to 11 female mayors in 2016, our state has nearly tripled that number to 32 this year. Durkan often joked in her campaign by quoting someone that “Seattle must be in trouble to elect a female mayor.”
Seattle is not in bad shape, but housing, homelessness, and affordability issues have been impacting the city — part of its growing pains with Amazon’s explosive development. With Durkan’s leadership and experience — a woman’s instinct and approach, she might be able to balance all the emerging forces and challenges with new perspectives and innovative direction.
Durkan said she is “breaking tradition” by showing that she’s mayor of the people, and not City Hall. No mayor in the history of the City has held an inauguration ceremony outside of City Hall. And none have sworn in five times in one day. Although her gesture is symbolic, it signifies the hallmark of her new administration, said David Della, Durkan’s transition team member.
On her first day, Durkan has already demonstrated her problem-solving ability to think outside the box. By choosing two marginalized neighborhoods (the ID and Rainier Valley) for inauguration, she has made a statement.
Durkan’s critics might view the repetitive ritual as fluff. Beneath these rituals lie a deeper message.
She picked the Wing Luke Asian Museum as the third inauguration site. “This is a place where it (the Wing) preserves history and makes history,” said Seattle City Council President Bruce Harrell, who introduced Durkan.
Smart as she is, Durkan understands the dynamics, potential, and contributions of the Asian community, the historical significance of the ID, and most important, its needs. “The Chinese International District stands for social justice equity,” she said. She also mentioned Aki Kurose (who has a Seattle public school named after her) and Wing Luke, the first Asian American elected Seattle City Councilman (the museum is named after him). Then, she acknowledged an issue dear to the community’s hearts — the loss of Donnie Chin, a community hero who died during one of his patrol in the ID. When she said she would be back to follow up on his unsolved murder as promised during the campaign, it drew instant applause and “thank-yous.”
Was this Mayor Durkan’s idea or her team’s?
It’s hers, according to her aide, Lyle Canceko.
Durkan’s detractors accused her of never setting foot in neighborhoods before her campaign. Now, she demonstrates her willingness to work with diverse neighborhoods on day one. She knew how to connect five different points of the city, highlight the diverse needs of each, and gave them a voice.
Subtly, she has lifted up these communities by bringing people together.
It attracted people like Beryl Fernandes, who drove 40-minutes from the north, to the Ethiopian Community Center at Rainier Avenue South for the first inauguration. Sara Cotto, who brought her kids to the ceremony, made sure that her 4-year-old daughter knew how to recite the mayor’s name.
And among the swarm of media on site, both ethnic and mainstream, some got a glimpse of the Ethiopian Community Center and the ID, for the first time. Thanks to our mayor, these communities have received valuable exposure.
When community members learned that Durkan’s inauguration ceremony would be held at the Wing, many were excited and touched.
Tony Au, a Seattle business owner, said, “She (Durkan) really cares about the community. I really like her as our mayor.”
“She wants to meet the communities where they are at,” said Dexter Tang, a banker. “Promises (she) made, promises kept.”
“It’s a good way to include everyone,” said Peter Tsai, a community volunteer. “The normal swearing-in ceremony at the City Hall is limited in reaching out.”Frank Nam, who works for the City, had followed Durkan to three or more ceremonies. Nam said the one at the Wing was the best. “I feel intimate at the Wing. I feel like I am part of it.” Over 150 people were packed inside the Wing, it’s maximum capacity.
I attended two ceremonies — ID and also first one, which was where the official inauguration took place. The remaining four ceremonies were for the signing of two executive orders. On each occasion, her speech was geared towards that specific community. Imagine how much work and organization it involved to make each ceremony seamless and smooth.
Different dignitaries were invited to each of the ceremonies. For instance, former mayor Charlie Royer and Consul General of Japan Yoichiro Yamada were present; former governor Christine Gregoire and her daughter Courtney Gregoire, a port commissioner, were at the Wing.
Lots of thought and detail were implemented in each unconventional swearing-in occasion. Durkan was introduced by former mayor Tim Burgess, and sworn in by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Jones during the first ceremony. At the Wing, Durkan was sworn in by Ruthann Kurose, a community leader.
“It’s a good start for her journey as mayor,” said Elaine Ishihara, a community leader. It’s not easy to organize the swearing-in ceremony in five different locations, she said.
Harrell said, “[Durkan] will be an effective mayor.” Our new mayor is a brilliant strategist and visionary. Everything she does, has a purpose; often, it is multi-functional. If her first day is an indication of her administration, I guarantee you, there will never be a dull moment.
Enjoy your ride with Mayor Durkan!
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.