In this critical, post-COVID election year, Seattle needs a mayor who understands the job, has a plan to translate their progressive values into policy, and can jump into the job with both feet on day 1. City Council president Lorena González will come to the mayor’s office with a well-defined agenda, a solid track record, and a set of achievable plans for addressing the city’s thorniest issues..
González has set a standard for not just talking a good game—but getting things done. In her two terms as a council member, she has pushed for—and passed—protections for hourly workers, such as the secure scheduling bill; established a permanent legal defense fund for immigrants facing deportation; and passed a number of underreported but important election reforms, including a ban on some corporate contributions, new transparency requirements, and restrictions on indirect lobbying, in which lobbyists seek to influence the public without revealing who’s paying them. She has also been a pragmatic and savvy advocate for police accountability, spearheading a police accountability ordinance in 2017 that advocates hailed as a groundbreaking step for reform.
And, in a lone dissent that got little coverage at the time but telegraphed her understanding of the challenges inherent to a “regional approach to homelessness,” she voted against a plan for the new regional homelessness authority that handed significant power over to suburban jurisdictions that pay nothing to support the authority, but wield outsize influence over its policies.
A lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”
González noted before her prescient vote that “politics have already taken hold in this structure.” She was right. We’re already seeing the ramifications today, with suburban cities adopting anti-homeless policies and insisting on their own, locally unique “sub-regional” plans. The former co-chair of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task Force is also right about how to tackle homelessness in the future; she’s committed to adopting new progressive revenues to fund the billions of dollars the city will need to truly address homelessness instead of passing a ballot initiative that she has called an “unfunded mandate” designed to cement the “status quo.”
González has caught some flak from the left for voting, along with seven of her eight council colleagues, to approve a 2018 police contract that nullified some elements a historic 2017 police accountability ordinance. But activists who want to castigate her for this vote should consider a bit of context. At the time, the police union had been without a new contract since 2014, after members rejected a negotiated contract in 2016. Meanwhile, Mayor Jenny Durkan was working overtime to convince the public and the council that police would quit en masse if they didn’t get the raises promised in the contract. Most council members, including dogged police accountability advocate, council member Lisa Herbold, agreed that the new contract, though inadequate, was an improvement on the existing 2014 contract, keeping parts of the accountability law intact and preserving a law requiring cops to wear body cameras on duty.
Finally, a lot has happened since 2018, including a nationwide movement to hold bad cops accountable and demilitarize and defund police departments across the country. González—a former civil rights attorney who secured a $150,000 settlement for a Latino man who sued the city after a Seattle police officer threatened to “beat the fucking Mexican piss out of” him—has expressed support for this core agenda. She recently told PubliCola that if she was voting on the same contract today, “I’d vote very different[ly].”
González has a real vision for Seattle’s recovery—one that doesn’t rely on clichés or empty promises (how exactly will philanthropic giving fund the $450 million to $1 billion the region needs to spend every year to address homelessness, Bruce?) For starters, she wants to make it easier for renters to stay in their homes, providing rental assistance as well as caps on move-in costs that can add thousands of dollars to the price of an apartment. More important, González has vowed to “repeal our racist exclusionary zoning policies.” Yes, YIMBYs are finally winning on this issue—just about every candidate says they want to do something to address the gross fact that 75 percent of the city’s housing real estate is zoned exclusively for single family homes. But González’s pledge to undo single-family zoning, which she articulated from a race and social lens during her vote to approve landmark zoning changes back in 2019, is personal as well as political. She wants Seattle to be a “15-minute city,” where people can access everything they need within 15 minutes via sidewalk, bike path, or transit.
Finally, PubliCola likes that González knows how to work with her colleagues. One-term Mayor Jenny Durkan quickly developed a reputation as someone with little respect for the city’s legislative branch, vetoing legislation (such as the JumpStart payroll tax, which González supported) and entire city budgets with equal alacrity. As someone who’s put in time on City Hall’s second floor, González understands that city government is a bicameral system, one that can’t function when the legislative and executive branches don’t talk to each other. González has also taken action to ensure that the mayor’s office doesn’t hold all the leverage, pushing forward legislation to create a new, independent budget office that answers to neither the mayor nor the council.
González’s pledge to undo single-family zoning, which she articulated from a race and social lens during her vote to approve landmark zoning changes back in 2019, is personal as well as political. She wants Seattle to be a “15-minute city,” where people can access everything they need within 15 minutes via sidewalk, bike path, or transit.
There are other candidates in this race who purport to share González’s progressive values. Four years ago, PubliCola recommended a vote for Jessyn Farrell, an ex-state legislator and former head of the Transportation Choices Coalition, because we supported her urbanist, pro-transit agenda. Times have changed, and so, apparently, has Farrell, who now supports a charter amendment that would direct no new funding to the problem while enshrining the city’s existing sweeps policy in Seattle’s constitution.
Bruce Harrell, who passed almost no major legislation during his 12 years on the council, uses warmed-over management jargon to promote an agenda that would maintain the status quo. (When asked about his public safety agenda at a recent forum, he responded, “We will recruit new types of officers” who are “masters of deescalation”—something the city, with its tepid police-reform strategies, has been promising for years.)
There’s another reason we enthusiastically support González for mayor, one we don’t want to get lost as we cheer her record and policies: González represents a historic moment and choice. PubliCola’s editorial board has covered this city for decades, and this is the first time we’ve been on the verge of electing the first Latina mayor in the city’s history. González’s life story, as the child of immigrant farm workers who worked her way through law school and onto the Seattle City Council, is more than a set of biographical details; it informs her perspective and the issues she chooses to champion. We’re sure that she will continue to bring that perspective to City Hall if Seattle makes the right choice and elects her mayor.
The PubliCola editorial board is Erica C. Barnett, Josh Feit, and Paul Kiefer.