Governing Seattle: What'll It Take?
By Jean Godden
Jenny Durkan has promised to complete her one term as Seattle mayor by working to help the city recover from the corvid crisis. While that's all to the good, the reality is that, at this time next year, Seattle will have a new mayor, its eighth chief executive since 2000.
Many lament that Seattle with its strong activism and many challenges is simply not governable. They say it is not possible to please every faction and seldom possible to satisfy even one. When labor forces are made happy, it may come at the expense of business interests. Or when neighborhood goals are favored, it may leave developers at odds.
However, even though this is a difficult city and these are tough times, a handful of candidates have already filed and a number are likely to enter the race before the May deadline. Among those who have filed are Council President Lorena Gonzalez; Chief Seattle Club Director Colleen Echohawk; Lance Randall, active in SEED, Southeast Economic Development; Andrew Grant Houston who describes himself as "Ace the Architect," and car salesman William R. Kopatich.
City Councilmember Alex Pedersen recently published a "dear potential mayor" letter in the Seattle Times. He issued 10 challenges to would-be mayors. Some of his challenges, like admitting government "cannot do things alone," are easy. Others such as "closing the internet divide" and "addressing the gender wage gap" are far more difficult if not impossible.
Several years ago, I came up with my own list of the qualities to look for in a mayoral candidate. Here are a few I consider essential:
Respect for Seattle values: A good mayor must have a feeling for the Seattle brand, keeping a city true to its can-do spirit, embracing new ideas while not discarding old ones. The mayor must ensure government transparency and accountability and work to encourage broad citizen input.
Dedication to justice and a safe city. The mayor's top job is to oversee police and fire departments. These two services, even if reconfigured to better achieve justice and equality, demand the lion's share of the city's general fund -- some 65 percent. These city services are essential factors in how a city relates to its citizens. Are streets safe? Is policing fair and nondiscriminatory? Is there effective citizen oversight?
Stewardship of resources: The city's infrastructure and assets demand constant attention. That means timely upkeep of roads, bridges, sidewalks and bicycle paths. It means overseeing City Light, the nation's greenest electrical system, and Seattle Public Utilities with its pure water and cutting-edge approach to recycling and drainage. It means support for the Seattle Library (hopefully with full reopening) and for the city's Metropolitan Parks system, the 465 parcels, some adversely impacted by illegal camping.
Business savvy: The mayor each year prioritizes city revenues and sends a proposed budget to the City Council. It's a monumental task, allocating $6.5 billion in assets and managing 12,000 municipal employees. Mayor and council must work together to make sure city funds are spent appropriately and equitably.
Political muscle: When needed the mayor must become the city's chief advocate. During the Trump years, the mayor had to defend Seattle against the federal government's misdirection on immigration, refugees, federal funding and health care. There must be no relaxation of that advocacy even under a friendlier new administration.
Compassion: The mayor must work to ameliorate and wherever possible to eliminate homelessness. In a city where many are priced out of housing, the mayor must find ways to increase shelter and services. A primary goal must be to build thousands more affordable units and dwellings.
Vision for the future: At a time when recovery is critical, there also must be attention to Seattle's future, community redevelopment and preservation. The mayor needs solid goals that will benefit communities and neighborhoods across the city.
Ability to unite: A mayor should be capable of bringing together diverse factions: labor, industry, business and community. What's needed is the talent to reconcile perspectives and reach agreement. A good mayor will convene, facilitate and clarify diverse thought.
This is a daunting list, maybe not completely achievable. But this is Seattle and, with luck, we will search out, find and elect the talented individual who will best govern our city on our behalf.