Durkan Focuses on Vaccination, “Reopening Downtown” In Brief State of the City Remarks

by Erica C. Barnett

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s final State of the City speech, delivered from the Filipino Community Center in southeast Seattle, was notable more for its brevity than its content. 

The 862-word speech, which clocked in at just over six minutes (in the previous three years, Durkan’s States of the City were 48, 42, and 43 minutes, respectively), included plenty of platitudes about Seattle’s resilience and future recovery (“We have a tough road ahead, but there is hope on the horizon,” she said.) but few specifics about what the city has done and will do to ensure that recovery—for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, small businesses, renters, or people experiencing homelessness.

“Never bet against Seattle,” Durkan said. “This year, we will continue to be tested but we will begin to recover and rebuild more equitably.”

Durkan gave few specifics about how she planned to make that happen in her final year, other than widespread vaccination (“I want us to be the first city in the country to vaccinate 70 percent of our adults”) and the revitalization of downtown Seattle.

“In the coming weeks,” Durkan said, “we’ll discuss and implement plans to continue progress on climate change, public safety, and systemic racial inequity. Including the concrete steps we’ll take together to recover and reopen downtown. Including steps we will take to improve the livability and safety of downtown.” 

“We’ll address public safety,” Durkan continued, “expand alternatives to policing, and have other responses.” 

Durkan mentioned homelessness just twice, both times immediately after a line about revitalizing downtown. 

“We’ll open hundreds of shelter spaces and affordable homes to bring more neighbors inside from our streets and parks so they can get stability and services,” Durkan said, later adding,, “We will bring more people from our parks and streets into permanent supportive housing and new 24/7 spaces and tiny homes.”

As PubliCola has reported, the city’s plan to open around 300 new hotel-based shelter beds using federal COVID emergency funds has stalled over a dispute between the mayor’s office and providers about how much each shelter bed should cost. Even if the city resolves this conflict soon, the grants are temporary; once the money runs out, the hotels will have to close unless service providers can come up with additional funding. 

No neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle merited more than a passing mention in Durkan’s speech. Even a press release from the mayor’s office emphasized that the speech laid out the mayor’s “vision for Seattle to reopen and recover, especially downtown.” 

There was a time when appearing to kowtow to downtown businesses was seen as a liability— a sign that a politician was out of touch with people outside the city’s commercial core. In a six-minute speech from a mayor on her way out the door, it felt like a signpost to where she plans to focus her attention during her remaining 11 months in office.

Erica C. Barnett is a feminist, an urbanist, and an obsessive observer of politics, transportation, and the quotidian inner workings of City Hall.

Featured image: Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan gives remarks at a pop-up vaccination clinic in Rainier Beach last month. (Photo by Alex Garland)

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