Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan addresses reporters at a press conference in November of 2019 (Photo: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan announced today that she will not seek reelec­tion in 2021, becom­ing the city’s third con­sec­u­tive chief exec­u­tive to serve a sin­gle term or less, after pre­de­ces­sors Mike McGinn and Ed Murray.

Durkan cit­ed the pan­dem­ic as the impe­tus for her decision.

“I can spend the next year cam­paign­ing to keep this job or I can focus all my ener­gy on doing the job — a job that will face all the sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties of 2020,” Durkan wrote in a Seat­tle Times op-ed.

“There was only one right choice for our city: doing the job. Next year will be con­se­quen­tial to our recov­ery and the tra­jec­to­ry of our city.”

Durkan also released a video in which she made sim­i­lar com­ments.

“I thank May­or Durkan for all she has done for Seat­tle,” said Wash­ing­ton State Gov­er­nor Jay Inslee in a state­ment. “Jen­ny has led through tumul­tuous times and had to make dif­fi­cult deci­sions with grace and dig­ni­ty. She has always worked to rep­re­sent the needs of all Seat­tleites and helped to make the city a world-class place dur­ing a time of strong eco­nom­ic transition.”

“The Durkan admin­is­tra­tion has led the way on invest­ments in afford­able hous­ing, expand­ed high qual­i­ty pre-school and pio­neered the Seat­tle Promise pro­gram to pro­vide free col­lege to thou­sands of pub­lic high school stu­dents. She has been a great part­ner with the state through the COVID-19 pan­dem­ic through expand­ed test­ing and eco­nom­ic help for restau­rants and small businesses.

“May­or Durkan cares deeply for Seat­tle and her ser­vice and ded­i­ca­tion will have a last­ing lega­cy. I wish her the very best in what­ev­er chal­lenges she takes on next and l look for­ward to our con­tin­ued part­ner­ship over the com­ing year.”

“I thank May­or Durkan for the years of ser­vice she has pro­vid­ed to our City. While May­or Durkan and I have had sev­er­al dis­agree­ments on gov­ern­ing and pol­i­cy over the last three years, we have also been able to find com­mon ground to work on crit­i­cal issues, and the com­mu­ni­ty, work­ers and small busi­ness­es in this City are bet­ter for it,” said Coun­cilmem­ber Tere­sa Mosque­da.

“May­or Durkan has espe­cial­ly shown lead­er­ship for our City’s youth, low-income work­ers, and on emerg­ing needs through her work on the Seat­tle Trans­porta­tion Ben­e­fit Dis­trict, the Fam­i­lies and Edu­ca­tion, Preschool, Promise levy and Seat­tle Promise, and Trans­porta­tion Net­work Com­pa­nies legislation.”

“This year has been filled with tur­moil — a pub­lic health cri­sis, racial reck­on­ing, and eco­nom­ic down­turn. Any­one who serves in pub­lic office, in par­tic­u­lar, through 2020, is to be com­mend­ed and I appre­ci­ate her years of ser­vice, and wish her luck in the next endeavor.”

“I have known May­or Jen­ny Durkan since 2007, when we worked togeth­er on a police account­abil­i­ty and reform pan­el under then-May­or Greg Nick­els,” said Coun­cilmem­ber Lore­na Gon­za­lez.

“As a young lawyer, I fol­lowed May­or Durkan’s career, and I have worked close­ly with her on many shared leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties dur­ing my time on the City Coun­cil.  These poli­cies include ongo­ing fund­ing for the immi­grant Legal Defense Fund, increased fund­ing for afford­able hous­ing, sex­u­al-assault pro­tec­tions for thou­sands of hotel work­ers, and vot­er-approved fund­ing for ear­ly learn­ing, K‑12 and free col­lege pro­gram­ming for our pub­lic school students.”

“In 2017, Seat­tle vot­ers made his­to­ry when they elect­ed May­or Durkan as Seattle’s first female May­or in near­ly nine­ty years,” Gon­za­lez added.

“I under­stand and respect May­or Durkan’s deci­sion not to seek a sec­ond term.  Dur­ing these unprece­dent­ed times, the May­or and I have worked dili­gent­ly to put City gov­ern­ment on a path of pro­duc­tive and col­lab­o­ra­tive policymaking.

“Even dur­ing May­or Durkan’s tran­si­tion year, the Leg­isla­tive and Exec­u­tive branch­es will con­tin­ue to work togeth­er to effec­tive­ly address the most press­ing issues fac­ing the peo­ple of our city as we look to recov­er from COVID-19 and build an equi­table, just, and cli­mate-resilient Seattle.”

Durkan’s dis­as­trous response to last sum­mer’s protests against sys­temic racism and mass oppres­sion like­ly has more to do with her deci­sion not to seek reelec­tion than the pan­dem­ic does. The may­or has been crit­i­cized from every direc­tion regard­ing the deci­sions she made, par­tic­u­lar­ly ear­ly on.

“I will nev­er for­get Jen­ny Durkan telling a group of a few hun­dred of us that she could­n’t promise us that she would have SPD stop using gas. A few hours lat­er SPD filled Capi­tol Hill with tear gas,” recalled James Tay­lor.

“I believe we lost a lot of ground under Durkan in these past three years,” Durkan’s 2017 gen­er­al elec­tion oppo­nent Cary Moon wrote in a Sep­tem­ber op-ed.

“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.”

Durkan’s most stri­dent crit­ics are con­vinced that had Durkan been sub­ject­ed to recall, vot­ers would have oust­ed her from office. (Their attempt to recall her with less than a year to go before Seat­tle’s next reg­u­lar­ly sched­uled may­oral elec­tion was foiled by the State Supreme Court a few weeks ago.)

“I could run again — and I would win,” Durkan coun­tered in an appear­ance on KUOW. Of course, since she’s already cho­sen not to run again, we’ll nev­er know what would have hap­pened had she chose to run. How­ev­er, the avail­able body of pub­lic opin­ion research sug­gests Durkan would have had great dif­fi­cul­ty secur­ing reelec­tion giv­en how she respond­ed to the events of last spring and summer.

Actions speak loud­er than words. Even before last May, there were signs that Durkan might not run again, as Eri­ca C. Bar­nett report­ed today.

Instead of seek­ing a sec­ond term, Durkan is bow­ing out.

It’s a sen­si­ble move that sets up a more grace­ful exit for Durkan than she would have had if she had run again and lost, and it cre­ates a pret­ty wide open race for may­or next year in Wash­ing­ton State’s largest city. As in 2017, it’s pos­si­ble we could see a rather large and diverse field of con­tenders emerge.

Here’s a look at the field of can­di­dates who com­pet­ed in the August 2017 Top Two elec­tion dur­ing the last may­oral elec­tion, and where they finished:

Coun­cilmem­bers Tere­sa Mosque­da and Lore­na Gon­za­lez both rep­re­sent the city at large, like Durkan, and each has been float­ed as a poten­tial suc­ces­sor to Durkan. We could also see state leg­is­la­tors and com­mu­ni­ty lead­ers enter the field.

The elec­tion for may­or will take place on Novem­ber 2nd, 2021, and the new may­or will take office in a lit­tle over a year. The dead­line to file is May 21st, 2021.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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