Jenny Durkan has left City Hall… and a legacy of being in charge during an unprecedented time.
While we didn’t agree 100% with all the decisions she made, we applaud her for her swift action in dealing with what would become a global pandemic.
When people avoided the Chinatown-International District (CID) in droves from the misguided fear that Asians caused the spread of the coronavirus in the beginning of 2020, it was Jenny Durkan who brought her staff to CID restaurants to dine, a show of confidence that CID establishments were safe. And she paid for those dining experiences out of her own pocket, not with City money. Durkan encouraged other city leaders to also patronize CID businesses.
It was in March 2020 that Durkan issued a proclamation of civil emergency to help the city respond to the outbreak—giving her special authority to address the threat to public health and safety. With that power, Durkan was able to bypass regulations and steps usually required for city spending, contracting, borrowing, and temporary hiring. And she had the power to close city facilities and cancel events to prevent the spread of the virus.
It was this decisive show of leadership that put Seattle at the forefront of the pandemic.
Though the outbreak began in our state and our city had, at first, more coronavirus deaths than anywhere else in the United States—a year later, the Seattle area has the lowest death rate of the 20 largest metropolitan regions in the country, according to the New York Times.
When Durkan announced last winter that she would not run for reelection, she said it was so she could focus on bringing the city out of the pandemic without being distracted by politics.
By June 2021, Seattle became the first major American city to fully vaccinate 70% of its residents, aged 12 years and older, a testament to Durkan’s commitment to put public health and safety first.
Women, in general, are discouraged from bragging. And Durkan was no exception. We found out that Seattle’s first female mayor since the 1920s donated her entire 2020 salary to the City.
“When Covid hit, I knew it was going to have devastating impacts on families, workers, small businesses, and the city’s ability to help because of impacts on our budget. I talked to my family and we felt it was the right thing to do,” Durkan told the Northwest Asian Weekly. “The city was in so much pain….I decided to work without pay and they concluded the law required I get paid, so ‘donating’ it to the city was the only way to do that. It was automatic. The funds were not paid to me.”
We also appreciate her for being a good friend to the CID, for being responsive to our needs via her AAPI deputy mayors, Shefali Ranganathan and Mike Fong. Fong was in charge of all the city departments and mobilized resources for the CID when we needed them. He showed his support by showing up in person to many CID meetings and events.
Durkan also approved funding for at least three affordable housing projects in the CID.
Dealing with a pandemic, along with Black Lives Matter protests and death threats when the address of her personal residence was disclosed that put her family in danger, Durkan had a tough job, one that no other mayor will likely face in our lifetimes.
She did the job with strength and grace, and we salute you, Jenny. Thank you.