By Cary Moon
Next year we are going to elect a new mayor. What should we be thinking about as candidates start to emerge?
It’s disheartening to witness how grim our city feels right now. Between the Seattle Police Department’s violent reaction against the Black-led uprising and refusal to hear the protesters’ calls for justice, the despair of so many friends and neighbors slipping into poverty and homelessness, local businesses boarded up and failing left and right, and the hazardous levels of smoke making clear the climate crisis is upon us, it’s obvious that we are living a catastrophe.
I don’t use that word as political rhetoric; I am asking us all to be clear-eyed about the reality that we need to survive together.
In this next election, we desperately need both a north star vision to inspire us and a robust city-wide dialogue about new approaches and potential solutions. Here are seven qualities I propose we seek in candidates:
• Vision. We need a strategy for recovery from the depression caused by the pandemic, based in a compelling vision for Seattle’s future.
• Analysis. No one can lead us out of this mess without an understanding of the complicated dynamics causing these intersecting crises, and the clarity to call for deep structural change.
• A progressive economic agenda. We need someone with deep skill in building the path to a new economic system that centers thriving communities and healthy ecosystems—like a city-scaled Green New Deal. This system must include, at a minimum, local ownership of business, securing new good jobs, a strong social safety net, worker protections, ample affordable housing, reparations, progressive taxes, and strategies for circulating wealth in communities instead of extracting it for the lucky few.
• Inside/outside collaboration. Incremental tweaks are not enough to pull us out of this; we need the bold policy and movement energy that comes from collaboration between city departments and advocacy coalitions. For example, dozens of organizations worked with council member Teresa Mosqueda on JumpStart Seattle. The MASS Coalition is ready with green, equitable solutions for transportation. Decriminalize Seattle, a coalition with hundreds of organizational members, offers a clear path to community-based safety. An incredible number of mutual aid networks reminds us Seattle is rich with energy for caring for our shared well-being.
• Working toward antiracism. The next mayor must hold the trust of and be ready to work with BIPOC communities calling to defund the police and invest in holistic community-based safety, and commit to undoing systems of racial oppression in all our public institutions.
• Unapologetically aligned with working-class and young people. Reject the corporatist agenda, ignore the Seattle Times editorial board’s ideological nonsense, and proudly carry a 21st century progressive populist flag.
• Courage. Fearlessness to lead transformative change and dismantle the classist, racist and patriarchal hierarchies and habits of domination in local politics.
I believe we lost a lot of ground under Durkan in these past three years. At the most basic level, she has been slow to grasp how cities work and has an ostrich-like blindness to the dynamics that are causing harm. She has never laid out a vision for the future of our city nor had the capacity to invite us in to rally together toward that vision. She hasn’t built esprit de corps or a culture of creativity and appreciation among city departments, and takes sole credit much too often, which is really disheartening for staff. Her inner circle is oriented to her elite constituencies and more interested in PR plays to grandstand against Trump than building solutions with the City Council to address the crises at home. The effort to recall her for excessive force in response to the protests and unwillingness to listen to the protesters’ solutions show that many in the community and the local Democratic party have lost trust.
She seems exhausted by this job, and it’s no wonder. In an unguarded moment in 2017, she admitted, “Everyone keeps calling me a neoliberal. I don’t even know what that means.” It’s almost like she’s Herbert Hoover, the last one clinging to failed approaches of a rejected ideology, desperate to protect an untenable status quo.
Whoever emerges to run, let’s all agree now: we can’t afford another politician who doesn’t have an analysis of the need for transformative change, or familiarity with the dozens of solutions that are already working in other places—solutions to reducing car dependence, to building affordable housing, to transitioning to alternatives for restorative justice and community safety, to bringing people experiencing homelessness inside, to cleaning up toxic ecosystems, to fostering new jobs for local kids emerging from high schools.
Instead of a mayor who dog-whistles to wealthy property owners with calls for a return to the good old days and promises a law-and-order assault on those struggling with poverty, we need someone excited to construct bold solutions and committed to working with people-powered movements for a future where young people can thrive.
This is a tough job, perhaps tougher now than ever, and the expectation for a single heroic individual capable of everything required is likely unrealistic. Solving complex problems at this scale is never really the work of one individual. What if a pair or even a trio of people ran together, and we got the benefit of their combined skill set?
What if, instead of orienting the election coverage to a political horse race, we centered our civic dialogue on the candidates’ analyses of what isn’t working, their vision and agenda of solutions, and their willingness to work with community and City Council to solve our deep problems? I’m ready for our next mayor(s) to have the clarity of vision to understand that the shared root cause of our societal problems resides in bell hooks’ phrase ‘imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy’ – and from there, get started on solutions.
Our next mayor(s) need to build a vision for what a multi-cultural, antiracist, inclusive Seattle can be and organize a work plan—with the council—to get there. They need to unite the willing, to invite us to be part of something beyond our own individual interests, and figure out what we can become, together.