After lots of speculation about her entry into Seattle's mayoral race, Jessyn Farrell is now officially announcing her bid for the job.
Farrell last ran for the position back in 2017 after resigning a year into her third term as a North Seattle state Representative. She led her campaign with an urbanist message, a track record of some hard-won accomplishments in the Legislature, a reputation as a smart negotiator and "an amazing strategist," and a mean sax game. All of that got her fourth in a crowded primary, taking 12.5% of the vote share.
After that she took a job at billionaire Nick Hanauer's think tank, Civic Ventures, where she works as senior vice president.
Over the phone, Farrell said she's running now "because we need a leader who has a vision for Seattle as both a place of justice and shared prosperity, and who has a relentless focus on implementing that vision every single day."
When asked why she was jumping into another race for Mayor, particularly one with two leading women of color, Farrell acknowledged the importance of people with "diverse sets of life experiences in positions of leadership," expressed her "respect for the other women in the race," but said she brought a "fresh perspective at the city level," a "problem-solving mindset," and a "record of delivering on the issues we care about."
Farrell's record includes three years directing the Transportation Choices Coalition in the mid-aughts, where she led a successful push to pass the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure "in a politically toxic environment" for transportation issues. She also campaigned for Sound Transit 3, though in the Legislature she backed a bill to strip ST3 of $2 billion under pressure from voters mad about car tab taxes. As a representative, she passed legislation to add more protections for pregnant people in the workplace, to improve oil train safety, and to ban the use of electronic devices while driving. She also said she "led negotiations" on the state's paid family leave policy, and introduced a statewide $12 minimum wage, but that didn't make it out alive.
She said she used well-known strategies to secure those larger wins—"build trust, create narrative frames that allow people to get into a 'yes' mindset, and then organize and implement"—and she'll employ those same strategies to pass policies "scaled to the size of the problems" the city faces.
In order of money raised so far, other candidates hoping to solve the city's problems include Chief Seattle Club director Colleen Echohawk, Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez, architect Andrew Grant Houston, SEED development director Lance Randall, and former short-term Mayor (and longer-term Seattle City Councilmember) Bruce Harrell.
Farrell's coming out the gate with big plans for housing and child care.
She conceives of her "complete communities housing initiative" as "an ST3 for housing," but also as "an opportunity to ask communities what they need to be complete."
"That can range from sidewalks and parks to housing diversity and anti-displacement supports," she said.
(The language of "complete communities" comes from the "smart growth" city planning movement, and chimes with the "complete neighborhoods" concept that Seattle City Council President and mayoral candidate Lorena Gonzalez describes on her website.)
But her initiative also calls for a "regional approach" to solving the housing crisis with "robust public investment" and a "strategy based on housing diversity;" that is, different types of housing accessible to people at all income levels. She also wants to "think big and get in front of transit investments we're making, particularly on the west side of the city," where the new light rail station has sent property values soaring.
Some of that housing diversity should include new pathways to ownership, she said, which means "scaling up community land trusts and equity co-ops" and pairing them with "financing mechanisms we can create with our credit union community."
When asked how she'd pitch these pro-density measures to Seattle's dedicated and well-financed NIMBYs, she said she was re-elected three times in Northeast Seattle despite her consistent support for "dense, walkable, livable communities."
"I think when you frame housing as a core pillar of economic stability, it allows all of those awesome Bernie-crats in Northeast Seattle to see the issue in a way they maybe hadn't seen it before," she said.
Farrell's "Fresh Starts for Families" plan calls for universal child care for kids aged zero to five. To achieve that goal she wants to subsidize new and existing child care facilities to "take the rent cost out of the equation for childcare providers," pilot a portable benefits plan "to reduce the inherent cost of the model," and figure out how to partner with the federal government on providing direct payments to families for child care.
She didn't lay out a tax plan to pay for any of this, but Farrell did call out the state's regressive tax structure, and said Seattle "needed a social contract that expects the wealthiest among us to step up."
In her view, taxing isn't about punishment or ideology. It's just "a mechanism for building the community we want," she said. And if the city's large businesses organized against her use of that tool to maintain their competitive edge, as they have with every tax the city has ever tried to pass, she'd tell them that the real competitive edge lies in creating "a city where people want to live and can afford to live in"—one with child care for all, affordable housing, walkable streets, etc.
On cops, Farrell said the common ground on all sides revolves around everyone's desire to feel safe, and she argued it was "far past time to transform public safety" in a way that "helps people thrive." Part of that transformation involves "investing in alternatives" to policing.
And on transit, she promises to "fix the bridges, fill the potholes, and build the sidewalks" so people can get around safely. Despite a huge budget shortfall at Sound Transit, Farrell thinks we can and should speed up light rail construction. She also wants to expand the city's Stay Healthy Streets program to a "robust network of 100 miles of safe and healthy streets." Right now the city is only "confirming where up to 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets should be made permanent."
Farrell promises more and more detailed policy plans to come. "This is a city where people like to talk policy, so I want to put out a lot of policy so people can interface with what I’m about. We’ll be releasing big polices on homelessness, transportation, and public safety" in the near future, she said
Farrell enters the race with endorsements from Byrd Barr Place director Andrea Caupain, Grist CEO Brady Walkinshaw, Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss, and state Rep. David Hackney.
Hackney, who represents South Seattle, counts himself as a long-time Farrell supporter. He said the two met over 20 years ago, back when he was prosecuting war crimes at the Hague and she was a law student on a summer internship. The two kept in touch, and he encouraged her to run for the Legislature the first time. "I'm impressed with her vision for the city of Seattle, and I think she has the political skills to actually bring that vision to fruition," he said over the phone.