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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 23, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 25
SGN exclusive interview: Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan
Section One
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SGN exclusive interview: Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan is running for office for the first time, but she's no stranger to politics.

A lawyer, former US attorney, family friend of the Gregoires, member of two police review boards, Mike Lowry staffer, and daughter of an 18-year veteran of the Washington state legislature, Durkan knows her way around the corridors of power.

She announced her candidacy for mayor only three days after incumbent Ed Murray dropped out of the race in the wake of a sex abuse scandal.

According to two recent polls, Durkan is likely to be one of the two candidates who will make it to the general election in November. Nevertheless, she has struggled to distinguish herself from her competition.

'We are all varying shades of blue,' she told the SGN. Asked explicitly what makes her different from the five or six other candidates who have a chance to make it through to November, Durkan points to her background.

'I bring decades of proven results on progressive issues,' she says, 'and I'm one of only two candidates with executive experience,' the other one being former mayor Mike McGinn. 'I can bring people together, and bring results.'

Competitor Bob Hasegawa was a union leader before serving in the state legislature; Nikkita Oliver is an attorney, artist, and activist; Jessyn Farrell was chair of the Transportation Choices coalition; and Mike McGinn was chair of the Sierra Club, a neighborhood activist, and as mayor, a foe of downtown business interests.

In contrast, Durkan has been endorsed by the Seattle Hotel Association and the Chamber of Commerce. Asked how these business endorsements will win her the votes of regular working people, Durkan looks back at her life experiences.

'I'd ask people to look at what I've done over 30 years,' she replies. 'I was raised in and around union issues. My dad was a leader in the Democratic Party. At my house, the idea was if you can walk, you can doorbell.

'As a lawyer I represented injured workers and unions - workers with mesothelioma, workers injured in explosions.

'As US attorney, I formed a civil rights unit in my office. Civil rights laws are there to protect individuals, and they're as important as any other aspect of a US attorney's job.'

As US attorney, Durkan also played a role in the US Department of Justice investigation that found Seattle police guilty of a 'pattern and practice' of excessive force and racial discrimination. The finding eventually led to a federal consent decree requiring the police to clean up their act.

'Police reform not a destination,' Durkan says. 'As the city grows, we have to remain conscious of the question: is the training sufficient? There always has to be an ethos of improvement.

'Police services also can't be viewed in isolation - every day the police encounter people with mental health problems, addiction, health care issues.

'Police and firefighters are our first-line social workers. They don't resent that - when I meet with them, they don't tell me that - but we have to reconfigure their role. We have to look at the problems holistically.'

Durkan told the SGN she wants to emphasize long-term planning, rather than short-term problem solving.

'We should be asking, 'What do we want the city to look like, not in five years but 10-20 years from now?' she says.

What does she want the city to look like in 20 years?, we asked.

'Affordability is critical to the future of this city,' Durkan replies. 'People are getting pushed out, locked out, shut out.

'There has to be more affordable housing. Additional units. We should also make housing policy that helps us meet our climate goals. We have to plan density.

'We also have to get authority from Olympia to have more latitude in local property taxes. Then we can trade tax breaks for affordable housing. That's how you could keep rents stable.'

Is increasing supply sufficient to bring down housing costs?

'You need supply and policy. Property tax is a policy issue,' she answered. 'Look, rent control hasn't delivered wherever it's been tried. You have to cooperate with developers - without that, we can't create enough units. What you need is to incentivize workforce housing. Keep it affordable.'

Primary election day is August 1. Ballots must be mailed on or before that date. The top two vote-getters will then go on to the November 7 general election.

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SGN exclusive interview: Mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan
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