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.”
“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.