Leaving her position as a state representative was a difficult decision for Jessyn Farrell.
“I have loved being in the Legislature, and I have loved the opportunity to serve the residents of the 46th District,” she said, “but I have also been seeing really significant changes coming to my district.”
Among the changes, an increasing number of local schools with Title I status, meaning at least half of their students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
“That’s because people who are housing-vulnerable have a hard time living in the city, and I really believe that the best way to serve my constituents right now in the time of an affordability crisis, with major transportation stresses and with our homelessness crisis is to be the mayor, and to really use the skills and track record and progressive values that I share with the rest of the city to get some solutions in place on these issues.”
Farrell announced her entrance into the crowded mayoral race last month, weeks later officially resigning from the legislature to focus on her campaign. With more than 20 candidates on the ballot, she believes her experience on the key issues the city is facing is what sets her apart.
“There’s a real urgency around housing, whether it’s the homelessness issue or the affordability issue, and I am the only candidate in the race that has both worked on those issues in my career, but then has actually delivered on those issues as well, and I think that’s really the big difference, that I have a proven track record on this stuff,” she said.
As the executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, the group successfully advocated for $25 billion in bus, bike, pedestrian and rail funding across the state. In the legislature, she was a negotiator on key parts of the transportation package that included Sound Transit 3.
“In that, we really forced Sound Transit to do some innovative things around affordable housing near stations that are not being done anywhere else in the country.”
The city has a role both municipally and regionally in addressing transit, she said. While there are basics like filling potholes and building sidewalks on the city level, Farrell also wants to speed up the implementation of Move Seattle and its plans for bike infrastructure and is a supporter of Safe Routes to School.
On the regional and state level, the city also has an important function.
“The Mayor needs to make sure the bureaucracies are working seamlessly together and resolving issues as they come quickly so those projects stay on time,” she said.
Farrell said there needs to be a “bold strategy” around housing in the city, and while as a general rule she’s in favor of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (or HALA) recommendations, “the discussion around zoning is only a small tool in the toolbox.”
The now-former state Rep. wants a comprehensive inventory of surplus property owned by the city and other public entities, that could be used for very low-income housing, and also wants to create a neighborhood-based affordability plan that addresses the differences from one area to another.
“In some neighborhoods, there’s a real issue around displacement, and in some communities it might make most sense to give people rental vouchers so they can stay where they are,” she said. “In other places, there may be a real dearth of family housing.”
There’s also the potential, she said, for help from the philanthropic community to help fund construction that includes three-bedroom units for families in the city.
The mother of two Seattle Public Schools students (and a third that will soon join them), Farrell thinks the city needs to take “a much more proactive approach” in partnering with the district. In particular, she’d like to see more to address the opportunity gap that grows over the summer, with more summer job opportunities and enrichment efforts through the parks department.
She also believes that, through the next Families and Education Levy, the city could also address inequities in resources, with some schools able to cover certain needs through PTSA fundraising, and others not.
“That might be a really great place for the city to come in and fill in those gaps, so that every single school has a nurse, or a family support worker, or a library with brand new books that are culturally appropriate and age appropriate,” she said.
Having represented Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, and portions of North Seattle since entering the legislature in 2012, Farrell said she’s developed a broad view of the city’s role in the state ecosystem.
“We are not an island unto itself, and we have to act as a regional partner and as a state partner,” she said.
Another positive from her time in Olympia was learning how to negotiate, noting legislative successes on additional protections for pregnant workers, oil train safety, and affordable housing.
“When you’re in the legislature, you really learn how to listen and negotiate and find that place of compromise that’s values-based,” she said. “Sometimes compromise can be a dirty word, but when it’s at it’s best, it is about mutual interest and values based.”
At the same time, she said, there’s the hurdle of how broad the constituencies are in the city, compared to the rigid setup at the state capitol.
“The legislature is a really set game board, and it starts and theoretically finishes at a certain point, and there’s a certain number of players,” she said. “… Seattle is this big diverse city with diverse immigrant communities, diverse neighborhood communities, a diverse business community, the business community ecology is very diverse, and so I think that it is always a challenge for a mayor to be keyed in to the many different needs of our very rich ecosystem.”
While she said the city does have to work closely with regional and state partners, especially on issues like homelessness, there’s a balance to strike with championing progressive causes.
“Seattle should push the envelope,” she said. “We are a big, innovative city, and it is our job to push the policy envelope, whether it is on minimum wage and paid sick leave, whether it is on the tech economy, our job is to innovate and push the rest of the state. I think that that’s fine. I do think, though, that it’s really important that Seattle see itself in the broader context of the state as well.”
That collaboration could also be crucial in light of efforts to “Trump-Proof Seattle,” and the potential loss of funding that could come with protecting those that may be targeted under the current administration.
“I would want to be very clear that this is a city where everyone belongs no matter what the consequences at the federal level,” she said.
Farrell said the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has made strides about educating people of their rights, and conducting culturally appropriate outreach to residents. She’s open to asking the voters or the council to backfill funding to support city programs, but said it’s difficult to say what that would look like at this time, because “we don’t know the scope of the problem yet.”
To learn more about Farrell’s campaign, go to www.jessynformayor.com. To comment on this story, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.