By Ruth Bayang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“This is an example of her putting the city first.”
Those were remarks from Seattle Senior Deputy Mayor Mike Fong in an interview with the Northwest Asian Weekly, hours after Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she would not run for re-election.
“I admire that and it’s why I joined her administration to begin with,” said Fong. “I knew from day one when I took this job that it’s never been about Jenny Durkan. It’s about her genuine love and commitment for this city.”
Durkan, Seattle’s first female mayor in 89 years, faced criticism from all sides this past summer, over her handling of policing protests and the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” an area that stretched several blocks that protesters claimed as a police-free “autonomous zone.” Now, she said, she wants to spend the rest of her term dealing with challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“We still have to get through months of covid,” Durkan told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “Our numbers are going in the wrong direction, our hospitals are filling up, and we’ve got to get the virus under control.”
She stressed the importance of opening up the city to restore the vitality of businesses and neighborhoods. “We have to build back better, stronger, and more equitably and it’s going to be hard, really hard. And the only way we get through it is if we do it together.”
Durkan said she could not run a re-election campaign full-time and do the job as mayor.
“So I could either run to keep the job, or actually do the job. And I think the people of Seattle elected me to do the job.” She said she made and finalized the decision after the Thanksgiving break.
Seattle Chinatown International District Preservation and Development Authority Executive Director Maiko Winkler-Chin said she was not surprised by Durkan’s decision “as the job at this particular period of time has been relentless and thankless.”
She said, “I appreciate the mayor focusing on her job instead of running for office, fully expect the Durkan administration to leave the city in a better situation than we are in now, and wonder what crazy-brilliant-brave ideas can come from an administration not worried about re-election.”
Tony Au, captain of International Lion Dance team, agreed.
“Mayor Durkan has made the right decision given the pandemic situation.”
Durkan, 62, a longtime lawyer, and former U.S. attorney, was elected in 2017. She said she’s proud of Seattle’s efforts that made COVID-19 testing free citywide, in imposing a moratorium on evictions, and in offering relief and protections to small businesses, immigrants, and workers. Within the CID, Durkan said she is proud of making a unified police precinct a reality, and of committing to building 500 affordable housing units.
Her handling of nightly protests following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis drew condemnation from many. Officers used tear gas, pepper spray, less-lethal projectiles and flash-bang grenades indiscriminately, and they continued using tear gas even after Durkan imposed a moratorium on it.
Protesters demonstrated at City Hall and outside her home—between 10 to 12 times, she said— calling for her resignation.
“That didn’t influence my decision on whether to run or not, but it has made me appreciate that we need to have a conversation in Seattle about how divisive our politics have been.” Durkan added, “To have the president of the United States tweet and go against me personally, and to have the attorney general threaten to jail political enemies, to have the number of death threats that I received against me and my family… I think that we’re better than that as a city.”
“We need to focus on our common humanity if we ever want to accomplish our common goals,” Durkan stressed.
On defunding police, she said, “[Former Seattle Police] Chief [Carmen] Best and I took a lot of opposition for our position that we should not be defunding the police by 50%… that public safety was complicated and too important and we needed to be thoughtful about it.”
“We agree as a community that our policing needs change…in particular crowd control and how police responded to the protests.” Durkan said the city is working with oversight groups and that she has asked them to review policing.
Community activist Sharon Maeda told the Northwest Asian Weekly, “At this very difficult time for all, we need a mayor who will work to build relationships and work together to find solutions. Being a transactional mayor, Jenny Durkan, unfortunately, is the wrong person for these unique times.”
International Community Health Services President Teresita Batayola said, “It is really unfortunate that Jenny Durkan is now the fourth mayor in recent memory to be a one-termer. But we need leadership that can break through the tough issues of police accountability, racism, affordable housing and rapid gentrification while dealing with a pandemic and an economic downturn that is destroying our community businesses, increasing unemployment, hunger and homelessness.”
In a news release, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce thanked Durkan for her service to the city.
“She has remained steadfast during a time of unprecedented challenges and upheaval for our community. We have appreciated her partnership on major issues, from expanding the availability of affordable housing, to city support for education from pre-K through college, to supporting our small business community,” said Alicia Teel, a spokesperson for the Chamber.
When asked if President-elect Joe Biden had offered her a job in his administration, Durkan said Biden’s campaign has not reached out to her. But she said having Biden as president is going to help everybody in Seattle.
“Immediately, the fights we had to protect our immigrant and refugee communities will stop. Joe Biden has already had a conference call with mayors across the country and he told us, ‘I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, I’m going to help you.’ [Donald] Trump has never done that once in the time that I’ve been mayor.”
She reiterated the importance of working together.
“There is room to disagree on issues. But how we disagree is important to how we will make progress.”
Durkan’s decision to forgo a second term leaves an open field for next year’s mayoral election.
Her advice to the next mayor?
“Get out of City Hall, listen to the people, and focus on our shared humanity and common goals.”
Ruth can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.