Dear Jenny Durkan,
I’ve been thinking about you and everything that’s been happening in Seattle these last few weeks. It’s no exaggeration to say that this has been a time more fraught with trauma and more buffeted by formidable forces than any time I can remember.
Hard to believe that it was just three years ago — back on May 21, 2017 — that you announced a run for mayor, a position that the previous mayor had resigned after allegations surfaced. You faced a suddenly crowded field — 21 contenders, as I recall. The primary narrowed the field down to just two candidates — you and Cary Moon, a poorly-funded anti-tunnel activist. You won an overwhelming victory with [UPDATE]
over 60 55.6 percent approval. You became only the second woman and the first out gay woman to lead Seattle.
Given all that has happened since, one has to wonder: Did you have any inkling how much tumult you would be facing in just over three years?
It is true that you knew that homelessness would be a major concern. We voters asked you a lot of questions about how to provide shelter. You also knew that density and upzoning would be controversial. You were asked about defending Seattle against the Trump administration’s misguided policies on immigration. You also were asked many questions about transportation and extension of bicycle routes.
But you weren’t much questioned about policing, other than to point out that you were U.S. attorney in 2012 when a reluctant Mayor Mike McGinn finally agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice, placing this city under a federal monitor and providing for citizen oversight of the force.
Since then, so much has happened during your brief years in the mayor’s office. There have been fierce battles over treatment of homelessness, over attempts to impose greater taxes on Seattle businesses, over city budgets and funding for the city’s Navigation Team.
Then came the whirlwind. The covid-19 pandemic hit our region before the rest of the United States. You were quick to stand by Gov. Inslee’s stay-home order. It fell to you to impose the controversial directives needed to combat the epidemic and to seek supplies needed in city hospitals. The economy shut down.
In the midst of all this came the sudden closure of the damaged West Seattle Bridge and what that meant for one tenth of the city’s population. You also faced a firestorm over the removal of three illegal homeless encampments.
Then came the largest of storms to buffet the city with a horrifying racial incident in Minneapolis. Videos made us witness to the death of George Floyd, his life taken by a white policeman who pressed a knee into his neck as three others watched. Outrage consumed Minneapolis and other cities. Days later, Seattle joined the outcry. Peaceful demonstrations here were marred by anti-police activity (rocks, bottles, and Molotov cocktails) followed by outsized crowd-control response, chemical assault, rubber bullets, flash grenades, and curfews.
Since then, Mayor Durkan, you have wisely met with protest leaders and made concessions: removing curfews and banning of tear gas attacks (with exceptions). You agreed to take other steps, including more funding of community programs, reprogramming police budgets, and setting up a commission of black leaders.
Investigations and reforms will follow as they must. Already requests to end the DOJ consent decree have been withdrawn and it is expected that any new police contract must alter police disciplinary procedures. Nothing less will do.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant and her allies, including defeated council candidate Shaun Scott, are now demanding your resignation or removal. They insist the city “defund police,” which fits nicely on signs but doesn’t answer “what then?” Community policing? Volunteers with what training? Who will respond to domestic violence calls, arson, home invasion, deranged killers with a gun? Who will answer 9-1-1 calls?
Few could blame you, Mayor Durkan, if you took Sawant up on calls to resign. But somehow one expects that you have shown resilience through tough times and will not back away. It is time for those who believed, as you have shown you do, that Seattle can move forward, do the right thing, reform its police department, staunch racism and protect equal and human rights.