Surrounded by a cast of local political insiders, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan today launched one of the most formidable mayoral campaigns of the year without saying much of anything at all.
Seattle, Durkan said, is a city of "quirky, fun, irreverent, engaged people," the city that "gave you coffee on every street corner." But the sorts of riches produced by street corner java hasn't reached everyone, Durkan said, essentially echoing every candidate running in the newly wide-open race for mayor.
"In too many ways for too many people, our incredible successes are also creating two Seattles," Durkan said. "Too many people are being locked out. They cannot keep up with the rising prices."
Seattle, Durkan said, must continue to welcome immigrants and stand against President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “I promise you," she said, "they do not want to pick a fight with me.” Durkan, the first ever gay person appointed U.S. attorney, also noted, "We are a city that has led the nation on LGBTQ rights. I am proof of that.”
She promised to be "relentlessly focused" on basic city services and to ensure the police and fire departments "have the people, the training, the resources to do the jobs they need to do."
"We don’t lack for ideas," Durkan said. "We don’t lack for rhetoric, but we need leadership to get beyond the noise."
But on policy, the candidate offered few specifics and dodged questions.
On homelessness, Durkan said the city should expand public-private partnerships and spend more on drug treatment and mental health services. On housing, she praised Mayor Ed Murray's work, including the Housing Affordability and Livability Act, and said she would lobby state lawmakers to reduce property taxes on older homeowners.
Asked whether she supports safe consumption sites, which would flout federal law but could save lives, Durkan said, "We have to have a place where people can go," but "I think we can't fool ourselves and call it safe sites because what we really need to do is make sure that people have help and services to cure their addictions as well."
Answering a question about property tax increases, she said the city has an "obligation to make sure we're using [existing] money wisely." On a potential city income tax on high earners, Durkan said she would "sit down with city leaders and talk to them about how they see that city income tax proposal working because what we know right now is that... [it] is probably not constitutional, would be subject to legal challenges for a long period of time, and it's not going to be the solution we need now." (The legal challenge is the whole point.)
Asked about competing proposals for a new basketball arena, Durkan said, "The one that gets the Sonics here, I'm all for it."
Seattle City Council member Sally Bagshaw, an ally of Mayor Ed Murray (most of the time), stood alongside former Council Member Tom Rasmussen, King County Council Member Joe McDermott, and former King County Executive Ron Sims to endorse Durkan today. In an interview, Bagshaw said she believes Durkan will be able to bring together people "of diverse opinions." Durkan has no direct experience on housing or homelessness. When I asked Bagshaw, who chairs the council's human services committee, what gives her faith that Durkan can address those issues, Bagshaw said simply, "She'll work with me."
Former Governor Chris Gregoire, whom Durkan legally represented during her political career, said Durkan will "take on the toughest issues."
"This city has amazing values, amazing potential, but we're in troubling times," Gregoire told The Stranger. "We need an experienced leader who will stand up to all that's coming out of Washington, D.C. She's done it."
Promising to take on Trump feels monumental to mainstream Democrats—the type of politicians gathered in the room for Durkan today—but Seattle's left say those kinds of promises should be a given. It's not exactly courageous to be anti-Trump in this city.
Durkan called Seattle's police reform efforts a "model to the country." Maybe, but that does little to acknowledge people who still see problems in the department's relationships with communities of color or people who think the current reform proposals don't go far enough.
"I signed the original order granting the consent decree," Durkan said. "As your mayor, I am looking forward to signing the order that takes it away and says we don’t need it anymore."
Durkan also staked out a business-friendly position in a city where the left is skeptical of big business and advocates urge elected leaders to make the wealthy pay their fair share.
"We also know businesses are the engines of our economy," Durkan said, "and without them we would be lost."