After Mayor Jenny Durkan announced her plan to peace out after one term, everyone and their many-gendered mothers placed little bets on which Seattle City Council member might seek to fill the role. Well, everyone who bet Council President Lorena Gonzalez would step up can now cash in their winnings, because now she has officially entered the 2021 mayoral race.
When it looked as if some positions were opening in state government, Gonzalez made an early bid for Attorney General she now says the events of the last year convinced her that Seattle “is the city I want to serve,” Gonzalez said, her voice cracking as she reflected on the last year that has been tough on her family and families across the city.
Gonzalez grew up working the cherry fields in Yakima Valley with her family. As a kid she helped her father translate his negotiations with the orchard owner, and in doing so helped him win higher pay for her family and the other workers. She later worked as a civil rights lawyer for a decade until 2015, when the people of Seattle elected her as the first Latina to serve on the council. As the first Latina mayor of Seattle, she plans to continue to fight for more affordable housing, more progressive taxation, and more police reform.
Gonzalez has been at the center of major decisions on the council, and so a bunch of idiots have sent her a lot of mean emails and phone calls. Along with the other women on the council, Gonzalez felt the heat for voting against street vacations for the Key Arena remodel, for voting to support 2018's head tax (which she later voted to repeal), and for daring not to give her full attention to a serial public commenter.
This year, the scrutiny ramped up as Gonzalez assumed the role of council president, and as the entire world went to shit. In her first term as the council's top dog, Gonzalez oversaw the transition to remote meetings (fighting for municipal broadband is on her mayoral to-do list), and she steered the race and equity conversation in the wake of Seattle's civil rights protests during the heat of last season's budget rebalancing deliberations. All the while, Gonzalez stood against Durkan's gaslighting and voted to overturn two of Durkan's vetoes.
But, the protesters who showed up at her house reminded her, she did not defund the police by 50% as she indicated she would in a tweet this summer. Activists called her a clout-chaser. Though in an interview she didn't say which cuts she'd make to SPD next year, Gonzalez said that as mayor she would be committed to "taking a hard look at police budgets," which she considers "moral documents." In the 2021 budget, Gonzalez voted to defund SPD by 20%, though a vast majority of that "defunding" came simply from moving certain departments out of SPD.
Gonzalez dismissed accusations of clout-chasing when it comes to police reform. She described her work as an attorney as a decade of "primarily suing police departments for police brutality." In her most famous case, she pointed out, Gonzalez secured $150,000 for a client after an SPD officer yelled at him and said, "I'll beat the fucking Mexican piss out of you, homey."
"As a civil rights attorney, I made it my life’s mission to hold police accountable for when they hurt people," Gonzalez added.
When asked whether she believed the culture at SPD could be changed, Gonzalez paused for a minute. She took a breath. "I have ongoing concerns with the culture at SPD," she said. She mentioned the number of SPD officers who attended the Stop the Steal rally at the US Capitol, and highlighted the fact that SPD made up one of the largest contingents present in D.C. that day.
"The next mayor of this city has to be profoundly and deeply committed to sending a clear message to the rank-and-file officers that that behavior, those attitudes, and those mentalities are not welcome in our police department or anywhere in our city," Gonzalez said.
Part of that job will be hiring a permanent police chief who is "committed to transforming the police department and changing the culture of gun-and-badge jobs," she said. After former SPD Chief Carmen Best resigned last year, Durkan said she would not look for a permanent replacement.
Aside from police reform, Gonzalez hinted at a few other policy priorities. She expressed support for "eliminating our exclusionary zoning laws" in order to "increase the amount of affordable housing and housing choices to stop the human suffering." She also said she'd explore another income tax on wealthy households, like the one she voted for in 2017. That tax passed, but the Washington State Supreme Court blocked it from being enacted.
"If we want to have a world-class city then those who are not currently paying their fair share are going to be required to step up," Gonzalez said.
As it stands now, the mayor's race is starting to fill up. Colleen Echohawk, the executive director the non-profit Chief Seattle Club, just became the first candidate to qualify for democracy vouchers. Other than Echohawk, Gonzalez will be facing off against Henry Clay Dennison, a railroad worker and socialist; Matthew F. Ervin, whose only campaign information is just the line "Make Seattle Great Again;" architect Andrew Grant Houston; car salesman William Kopatich; and SEED Seattle's interim director Lance Randall.
Given that Gonzalez won her first citywide election with 78% of the vote and her reelection in 2017 with 71% of the vote, she stands out in the race as the clear favorite.