by South Seattle Emerald Staff
The Rainier Beach High School auditorium transformed Tuesday morning. A reception desk of suited city employees checked attendees into the hall, with seating sections reserved for community groups, county, and city officials. A ribbon of camera operators struggled to stand tripods between rows of the stadium seating. Journalists tapped away on glowing laptops as the lights dimmed. The words “State of the City” stood emblazoned across the projector screen in a font reminiscent of local hipster bars everywhere.
Mayor Jenny Durkan wasn’t the first mayor to deliver a State of the City speech outside city hall—just last year, former mayor Ed Murray delivered the last State of the City of his troubled term at the Idris Mosque in Lake City—but she made history in another way this morning, as the first female mayor to deliver a State of the City, and the first female mayor, period, in almost a century. Appearing before a full house at the Rainier Beach High School auditorium, Durkan took center stage after an introduction by District 2 City Councilmember Bruce Harrell and two students from Rainier Beach High School, who praised Durkan’s support of public school students.
The Mayor’s approach was more conventional. In keeping with the venue, Durkan focused her speech on education, by highlighting scholarship opportunities for students and a new program to offer free ORCA transit passes for high school students in Seattle Public Schools. The Mayor also talked up her proposed Seattle Promise College Tuition Program, which would expand the existing Seattle Promise program to guarantee two years of free college to every public high school graduate, saying, “We need to make college a reality for every Seattle public school graduate by investing in two free years of college education and support.”
She also praised Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and said she looked forward to working with Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda on a Domestic Worker Bill of Rights, which would provide workplace protections for nannies, house cleaners, and other household workers.
Yet, she explained the good news is that “there are 11,000 public servants trying to make our city a better place to live.” Durkan alluded, briefly, to possible future budget cuts as economic growth slows. “These boom times won’t last forever and our current spending isn’t sustainable under our current projections. Unfortunately, a deficit is on the horizon and that’s why, in preparing next year’s budget, I will be asking all city departments to recognize we have to live within our city’s means.”
Referring to the use of violence by police, she said, “We now have rigorous investigations when force is used, and community accountability when things go wrong and yet we’re not done…lasting reform requires deep cultural change.” Mayor Durkan will preside over the next appointment of the Seattle Chief of Police, someone who she says is integral to the process of reform. Alluding to the recent school shootings on the national stage, she said, “Together we will fight for common sense gun safety laws to protect our city, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our children.”
Finally, Durkan outlined transportation priorities to deal with the traffic gridlock in the city. “It’s no secret our traffic is bad and our buses are full,” Durkan said. “Though traffic will get more challenging, I pledge to you that we will continue to get more creative, we will make necessary investments, and we will improve these numbers.”
The lights above the audience illuminated on cue from the Mayor as she asked for scholarship program recipients to stand. When Mayor Durkan referenced bringing an NHL team to the city, applause rose from the section of audience reserved for young women wearing Washington Wild jerseys from the Western Washington Female Hockey Association.
Mayor Durkan only stumbled in stating how much money was going toward affordable housing in the city initially naming the amount as a hundred thousand dollars, not $100 million. Durkan named “the crisis of affordability, the growing economic disparity, homelessness” as the “moral challenge of our time,” and said she would focus on additional construction of low-income housing, better services, and expanded economic opportunity for all.
Specifically, Durkan said she would support “expanding housing options” in every part of the city, assisting renters, and creating “safer shelter that is more humane,” a reference to the city’s Pathways Home initiative, which favors 24/7, low-barrier shelters over bare-bones, overnight shelter options.
To the applause of the audience, she said, “We believe every person is born with dignity and promise, and deserves respect and real opportunity. That a person’s value is not based on your net worth. Or your country of birth. Or color of your skin. Or the gender of the person you love. We believe we are all better off when prosperity is shared, and is not just for the few. And we know that we are stronger when we are a truly inclusive place.”