An Open Letter to Mayor Durkan: Feeling for You in a Whirlwind


Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (Image: Wikimedia)

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.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at


  1. I admire Jean’s compassion for our beleaguered Mayor, but I hope her feeling Durkan’s stick-to-it-ive spirit and resilience will make her resolve to drive on through is wrong. Durkan’s is a damaged brand. She can’t retake command of an office she never managed to take command of in the first place.

    It’s not the huge unexpected crises which stand in her way; she’s been unable to move ahead on complex but commensurable issues like rezoning-for-density, and the revolution in personal street-transport. She’s failed to find the modus-vivendi with the City Council without which change just doesn’t take place in this town.
    Worst of all, she’s failed to develop the least rapport with the press, her own department leaders, and citizens at large, so she has no human capital to reinvest in her struggle to survive.

    Even if she should resign, the City Chart’s rules for replacing her (read my PA colleague Kevin Schofield’s description of the process at won’t prevent the civic ship front wallowing for a year or more.

    We can’t live with that. Is it conceivable, if Durkan resigns, that the next-in-line for the job (the City Council President) might decline the honor, with all the rest of the Council’s members refusing it in turn? This could force a crisis in control calling for a swift special election and a new broad-consensus leader to take over.

    Spontaneous comity in a dire emergency is not the usual Seattle way of doing things. Pray that once again, “this time will be different.”

  2. I find your essay interesting and informative. If somewhat short on what our Mayor is to do.
    True, she has been less than wonderful, (I am a FIX our local streets nut); but to leave the
    field because of anything that wierdo sawantism suggests is too much.

    Mayor Durkan, hang in there and learn by OJT what should be done.! Call on former mayors who were good. Ask folks like Godden. Have a listening session with community top notch leaders. Ask hard questions. Don’t listen to nay sayers.

    Tough times call loudly for a strong Mayor. Please be that person.

  3. Letter from a friend:
    Here is a truly shocking report from one of the healthcare volunteers at the medic station that serves the Capitol Hill protests in Seattle. They posted it on Reddit in the wee hours this morning:
    Folks, I need your help
    The last two days I have been volunteering as a medic at the protests on Capitol Hill.
    Yesterday evening when the police decided to disperse the crowds, I was treating a young woman in our first aid center who had been sprayed with pepper spray.
    The SPD used flash bang grenades close enough to us that I felt it against the back of my neck.
    Tonight, my partner and I were treating a young woman in her 20s who had taken a police projectile to her chest – we had her on a cot and she was struggling to breath.
    The police advanced and we were attempting to evacuate her using the cot as a makeshift stretcher.
    The police threw at least two, and possibly as many as four flash bang grenades inside of the small area of our first aid center while we were trying to retreat.
    With the help of other protesters, we carried the cot for several blocks trying to get out of the way of the police onslaught and to a place where we could treat her safely.
    Shortly after we managed to find a place where we felt safe enough to treat her, she stopped responding and we lost her pulse.
    We initiated CPR and after a minute or two she gasped for breath and became responsive for a short time. That cycle repeated itself more than half a dozen times in the following 15-20 minutes.
    We called 911 immediately after the first time we lost her pulse and were informed after some time that an ambulance was not able to reach us.
    We managed to figure out a civilian vehicle to transport her to the ED and were able to deliver her to the ED with a pulse.
    I was honestly terrified the entire time that we were going to lose her and even now, I have no idea if the ED was able to stabilize her – I can only hope that we were able to get her there in time.
    All of this however is just to explain the urgency of my request.
    The police are absolutely aware of the location of our first aid center – last night I was upset that they overran our location and put myself and the other medical volunteers at risk.
    But tonight we almost lost a patient, a young woman in her early 20s – because the police continue to refuse to acknowledge or respect the literally lifesaving work that we are trying to do.
    So I am pleading with all of you – please call the mayor, and the city council and tell them to insist that the police respect the first aid centers and the medical personnel who are volunteering their time and safety in order to prevent the loss of life.
    It is difficult enough to provide medical care in the often chaotic environment that exists there today – when medics and first aid stations are targeted by police – it becomes nearly impossible.
    I am home now after a very difficult day and night of volunteering – and I can say without question that without my partner, another nurse, and even a few concerned citizens who came to our aid, a young woman would be dead tonight.
    Here’s the link to the Reddit post, in case you’d like to see the comment thread there:
    BTW, King5 News has reached out on the Reddit thread, so we might see press about this pretty soon. But immediate public pressure on the Mayor and City Council is essential

  4. Gerald’s post above is further evidence (as if any were needed) that City Hall has lost control of the streets and the Police. We need a sharp, clear re-set before any repairs can start. Please, Jenny, for our sake and yours, take the first step.

  5. Jean Godden is a lot kinder to Mayor Durkan that I can be. For more than two years I have tried to make contact with her office to suggest she meet with Cecile Hansen, the Duwamish Tribal Chairwoman, who would like to ask her for support in the tribe’s effort to gain federal recognition.. I have sent letters and emails; I have sent historical addenda documenting how the town and city have consistently ignored the Duwamish Tribe’s effort to get the federal the promises it made to them at the Treaty of Point Elliott,in 1855. For the last 160 years the city has used every heavy-handed trick available to deny them treaty rights and drive them from their homeland on the lower Duwamish watershed. The land they occupied was worth too much. Nothing was allowed to interfere with the city’s desperate desire to be counted ‘world class’.Greed won.

    I have gone to Mayor Durkan’s office and left messages; I have sent mailings return receipt requested. All have been ignored including the mailings. The Mayor’s office is not to be annoyed by trivialities.. The Tribal Chairwoman, Cecile Hansen has asked the Mayor’s office on four occasions to meet with her. They mayor’s office has not stooped to respond. .

    Pete Holmes offered me his card and said he wanted to help . I had coffee with him on the 40th floor of the Columbia Center. Quite a view.. He told me the mayor and her staff were overwhelmed. This was long before Covid 19 made its appearance. He said he would make sure she would respond to the issue of meeting with the Duwamish Tribe.

    When weeks passed and I received no response, I emailed him and asked if I might get a response if I sat in her office reception area and emailed friends and contacts to report my on-going experience.. He called and left a message asking me to “Stand down”. Stand down. Isn’t that what one tells armed terrorists? I left a message saying what I hoped for was that he or the Mayor to stand up and deal with an injustice that has festered for 160 years.

    The Duwamish are not a recognized tribe. Despite being the first signatories to the Treaty of Point Elliott, they cannot access the promises made to their Chief, Seattle and sub-chiefs when they agreed to cede their lands. They who had supported the Americans during the Yakima Indian war of 1855-7, never received a reservation while groups who fought the Americans did.. In 1974, besides being identified as landless, they were also declared an unrecognized tribe, and this despite the wording of the Treaty of Point Elliott. They do not have political clout or muscle, only a pressing legal and moral issue. .But in world class Seattle,money and politics trump historical crimes.

    I taught at Forest Ridge Academy when Jenny Durkan graduated. My wife, Mary Anne Callaghan taught her ethics and morality. We had great hopes when she was elected.

    I listen now to people talk now about how even if Seattle burns, she may still get a cabinet appointment in a new Biden administration. Is that the goal? Is being Seattle’s mayor just a pit stop in a political career.? Does that make her an acting mayor? If she resigned would we get a real one? somehow, given the pack of geese she runs with, I doubt it.


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