Former U.S. Attorney Durkan boasts executive experience in bid for mayor

For Jenny Durkan, the election of Donald Trump made it “very clear” to the former U.S. Attorney that “the hope of America was going to be here locally.”

“I look at what America can be for my kids, and that America is possible only if cities like Seattle step up and lead,” she said.

Durkan too, believes she’s ready to step up and lead. That’s why she’s running for mayor.

“We are facing critical issues, and you have a large bureaucracy, many agencies, a huge budget, and you have to be able to hit the ground the first day, and have a plan for how you’re going to get it done and how you’re going to tackle things,” she said. “I think I have a track record of showing that I cannot only run an organization, I can tackle big problems, bring people together, and make decisions.”

Among those big problems facing Seattle is the well-documented homelessness crisis. Durkan said the city needs to rework both how it approaches homelessness, and how it achieves its goals of getting people sheltered.

“There’s no one-size fits all approach,” she said. “People end up on the street for very different reasons, and if we don’t gear our strategies to help those people recover from those reasons, we won’t move them into homes.”

While the use of navigation teams to connect unsheltered individuals with services is one effort that has seen success, she said, the types of short-term, high-barrier shelters around the city now aren’t compatible with the strategies needed to get people into long-term housing.

That, however, ties into the affordability conversation.

“We’ve become a very expensive city,” she said. “We have a shortage of housing, affordable housing both for low-income and middle-class, and we need to create those options quickly, because now there’s not enough places for people to move from homeless shelters to housing solutions.”

With the city’s rapid growth, greater density is coming, and between the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (or HALA) recommendations among others, some upzones are “inevitable.” Where and what that looks like, however, remains up for debate.

“I think we have to be cognizant about how we do it, where we do it, what designs look like,” she said. “Are they centered around transit so that we have walkable, livable neighborhoods? Are we ensuing that in every neighborhood there’s a range of housing to low income to middle to market rate … so we’re actually keeping a fabric of a city very textured so that it’s open to all people?”

There’s a balance in that conversation though, between the city’s rapid change and preserving the character of the various neighborhoods, which Durkan said “have always traditionally been a source of strength for Seattle.”

On the topic of revenue, Durkan said she’s in favor of a high earners income tax, but is skeptical that the measure will be sustained in court. But, if it isn’t, such a measure should also come in tandem with decreases in sales and property taxes to create a more equitable system.

“I think we need to be looking statewide, regionally, and citywide at how we shift that tax burden from low earners to high earners, and how we make sure we have a steady budgetary process we can count on in good times and bad times,” she said.

Along with the backing of four current city councilmembers — Tim Burgess, Sally Bagshaw, Debora Juarez, and Bruce Harrell — Durkan has also picked up the endorsement of outgoing Mayor Ed Murray. Though she said his style of tackling tough issues and moving ahead may strike some as similar to her own, and that they share same vision “for where we need to be as a just and equitable society,” they’re far from the same.

“I think anyone who knows Mayor Murray and I knows that we may agree on very much, but how we approach things may differ, and at the end of the day we’re very different people,” she said.

But along with what differentiates her from her potential predecessor, Durkan also believes there are several key factors that set her apart from the rest of the crowded primary field.

Despite never having held elected office, she calls herself one of just two candidates — the other being former mayor Mike McGinn — with significant executive experience, citing her tenure as U.S. Attorney.

“I understand how a large enterprise operates, and I understand the pace of government and bureaucracy, and how to move and push it to achieve things either more quickly or more justly,” she said.

Her time as an appointee of President Obama also meant spending a week every month or so in Washington, D.C. as a member of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee, working with leadership from both the Department of Justice and the broader administration.

Her work in the criminal justice realm has also made her a party to police reform in city, serving in three different oversight positions before becoming U.S. Attorney. The work on reform, she said, is never done.

“A city doesn’t remain static, its policing needs don’t remain static, and the way police engage with citizens never remains static,” she said.

While she said reform efforts have had great impacts on the streets, and “people are alive because of them,” the death of Charleena Lyles at the hands of Seattle Police last month shows that there’s still work to be done.

“We must learn from incidents and tragedies to make sure that we’ve got it right,” she said.

The other element of those reforms, she said, is that they’ve increased transparency, making for better oversight and scrutiny of the department.

“Before police reforms, we wouldn’t know all we know about what happened with Charleena Lyles, and we will get more information about it, and it will be information scrutinized by not just the new team that investigates, but by the federal court monitor and ultimately the judge,” she said.

Ultimately, Durkan said, the values she cares about, and the values Seattle cares about are in stark contrast to those of the Trump administration. That leaves it up to the city itself to lead the way.

“No answers or positive movement on things I care about are going to come from Washington, D.C.,” she said.

She believes she’s the right person to do it.

“I think all of us have to step up,” she said, “and I believe I have been fortunate and blessed with having a broad range of experience, and love this city too much not to get involved.”

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