Jenny Durkan, Seattle’s first woman to serve as mayor since 1926 — and the Pacific Northwest metropolis’s first out lesbian mayor, ever — was sworn in at Rainier Beach’s Ethiopian Community Center at the first of a five-stop tour from the south of the city to its north Tuesday afternoon. Fittingly, the whole thing was planned to come to end Tuesday night with a beer — Lake City Way’s Elliott Bay Public House marked the final stop.
Any Seattle voter who chose Durkan because she seemed like she might be a tough ally in the seeming culture war underway in the country probably liked what they heard Tuesday.
“We will not be bullied and will not be told what to do,” Durkan said. “We’re not spoiling for a fight but we will not back down from what we know is right.”
At the first stop in one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods, Durkan was sworn in by Federal Judge Richard Jones who likened her election to Barack Obama’s in 2008. “Get ready Seattle because you are about to see excellence in operation,” the judge said before getting down to the more serious business of administering the oath of office.
“I am here in Rainier Beach because I wanted to break tradition,” Durkan said. “To be a mayor not of City Hall but of the people.”
For her inauguration, Durkan chose a series of ceremonies in Seattle neighborhoods vs. a more formal swearing-in at City Hall. “Throughout the campaign, I emphasized we must tackle our challenges and seize opportunities as One City,”Durkan said in the announcement of the victory tour. “Starting on my first day in office, I want everyone to be a part of creating meaningful change for our City. It will take all of us working together to build a progressive, innovative and inclusive city for the next generation.”
Michael Wolfe, a South End community organizer in attendance, appreciated the rolling inauguration format, hopeful the Rainier Beach stopover signaled the Durkan Administration’s future prioritization of the South End area.
“This shows her commitment to making sure she’s coming around to the neighborhoods and especially neighborhoods in the South End. This shows she really wants to be a mayor for everybody,” Wolfe said.
Durkan’s overtures to areas beyond City Hall on the day also included signing two executive orders focused on neighborhoods including a rent voucher program in West Seattle and the launch of a Race and Social Justice Initiative in the International District.
Not everything in Durkan’s early days will be about keeping the neighborhoods happy. Wednesday, the new mayor will be at Seattle Central’s sister South Seattle College to announce creation of the Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, a plan to provide two years of college schooling to all Seattle students.
She’ll also have her work cut out for her keeping the city’s attempts at making Mandatory Housing Affordability a success in the face of a growing wave of legal challenges. Her city will have $34 million to spend on homelessness services and $1.3 million to spend on plans for a safe consumption site. CHS looked at the rest of the more than $6 billion 2018 operating budget here — a “progressive revenue” task force could put a Seattle head tax plan on Durkan’s table.
Her 61-member transition team has also been convening on topics including: Environment and Transportation Neighborhoods, Equity, and Livable Communities Affordability, Displacement, Housing, and Homelessness Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Reform Education, Economic Opportunity, Jobs, and Innovation Good Government.
Police reform will likely be another area to watch as Durkan moves onto the other side of the Justice Department’s consent decree over SPD’s use of force and biased policing. The polished prosecutor was guarded but repeated her strong support for the police reform process at SPD in the wake of the Charleena Lyles killing when CHS spoke with her this summer. Groups like the Seattle Peoples Party — whose candidate Nikkita Oliver helped shaped the summer’s race for mayor despite falling short of the general election — will likely also continue to have a say.
Meanwhile, Durkan must also defend the city from ongoing saber rattling in Washington D.C. — and sometimes go on attack against the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to threaten Sanctuary Cities and, basically, undermine progressive local governments.
CHS delved into more of Durkan’s positions on issues and challenges here during the campaign.
Durkan, 59, is the daughter of longtime state Democratic leader Martin Durkan. In 2009, President Barack Obama nominated Durkan to be the U.S Attorney for the Western District of Washington. She and her partner, Dana Garvey, have two sons.
Durkan’s Election Night tally and subsequent stretched lead over challenger Cary Moon represented a veritable Seattle landslide. As of her swearing-in, Durkan took 56% of Seattle’s vote vs. Moon’s 44%.
“It has really renewed my optimism for this city,” Durkan said on Election Night as she thought back on the campaign’s grind. The former U.S. Attorney was a money raising machine in the race breaking the record for most money raised by a Seattle campaigner — though one previous candidate’s dollar amount, when adjusted for inflation, would be comparatively higher. Critics pointed at big financial support from the likes of Comcast and Amazon. Durkan also took heat for her support of ousted mayor Ed Murray before he eventually resigned due to the sexual abuse allegations against him. “I think I made the right choice,” Durkan said at a forum this fall. “I have represented women who have experienced sexual abuse over the years… and people who have been wrongly accused.”
The Murray saga also gives Durkan the unique distinction of being Seattle’s 4th mayor of 2017.
Tuesday, Durkan invoked the words of Seattle’s last woman mayor, Bertha Knight Landes. “She said her job was to make Seattle a larger home,” Durkan said. “She thought of it as a home.”
Durkan said she, too, wants to make Seattle “a place where everyone has a home.”
“To all of those who had to fight and were pushed out of this city, we will make a place for you,” she said. She the scored the best laugh line of the day. “If there were easy solutions, Seattle probably wouldn’t have elected a woman for mayor,” Durkan said.
(Marcus Green contributed additional reporting to this article )
Featured image by Susan Fried