Lorena Gonzalez's swearing-in
Lorena González is sworn in as a member of the Seattle City Council in early 2018 (Photo: Kevin Schofield, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

In Decem­ber 2020, Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan announced that she would not be seek­ing a sec­ond term, upend­ing expec­ta­tions for the 2021 may­oral elec­tion. Durkan’s deci­sion came after a year in which Seat­tle was an ear­ly epi­cen­ter of the coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic, and racial jus­tice protests rocked the city for months.

Both of these fac­tors strained the Mayor’s rela­tion­ships with her con­stituents and oth­er elect­ed city lead­ers to a break­ing point.

Durkan (a for­mer non­prof­it leader and U.S. Attor­ney) has pol­i­tics in her blood: her father was a state law­mak­er, two-time can­di­date for gov­er­nor, and one of the state’s most influ­en­tial lob­by­ists. By con­trast, one of the lead­ing can­di­dates to replace her grew up in one of the state’s most mar­gin­al­ized communities.

Coun­cil­member Lore­na Gon­za­lez grew up in a fam­i­ly of undoc­u­ment­ed Mex­i­can migrant labor­ers, migrat­ing from farm to farm in the Yaki­ma Valley.

As ear­ly as the age of eight, Gon­zá­lez was work­ing along­side her par­ents and sib­lings in fields and orchards. She was deter­mined to escape her family’s pre­car­i­ty, though, and worked her way up through com­mu­ni­ty col­lege and law school, earn­ing a Juris Doc­tor degree in 2005.

For the next decade, Gon­zá­lez made her name as a civ­il rights attor­ney, gar­ner­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion for her will­ing­ness to take on abus­es by police officers.

In 2014, her legal rep­u­ta­tion earned her a spot as a legal advi­sor for then-May­or Ed Mur­ray. From her posi­tion at the heart of city pol­i­tics, Gon­zá­lez mount­ed a suc­cess­ful run for the city coun­cil in 2015, becom­ing the body’s first Lati­na mem­ber. She was re-elec­t­ed in 2017, and became City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent in ear­ly 2020.

Lorena Gonzalez's swearing-in
Lore­na González is sworn in as a mem­ber of the Seat­tle City Coun­cil in ear­ly 2018 (Pho­to: Kevin Schofield, repro­duced under a Cre­ative Com­mons license)

As a child, Gon­zá­lez trans­lat­ed for her par­ents as they nego­ti­at­ed bet­ter wages with farm-own­ers. As an adult, she has­n’t had a prob­lem stand­ing up to pow­er­ful fig­ures. In 2017, she became the first mem­ber of the Coun­cil to call for the res­ig­na­tion of May­or Ed Mur­ray (her old boss) over child abuse alle­ga­tions, stick­ing to her guns even though it took months for the rest of the Coun­cil to join her. The fol­low­ing year, she was on the front lines of a pro­tract­ed bat­tle over a cor­po­rate “head tax” that ulti­mate­ly end­ed up being repealed.

Dur­ing the year­long cri­sis that was 2020, Coun­cil­member Gon­zá­lez had ample oppor­tu­ni­ty to shine. As Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, with a decade of civ­il rights lit­i­ga­tion under her belt, she was per­fect­ly posi­tioned to lead the Council’s response to protests sparked by the mur­der of George Floyd, and the sub­se­quent vio­lence met­ed out on pro­test­ers by Seat­tle PD.

As May­or Durkan’s admin­is­tra­tion dithered, Gon­zá­lez and her allies on the Coun­cil imple­ment­ed sweep­ing reforms to the police force, includ­ing a 20% bud­get cut.

On the oth­er big issues fac­ing Seat­tle, Gon­zá­lez is staunch­ly pro­gres­sive.

End­ing home­less­ness is, not sur­pris­ing­ly, one of her biggest priorities.

As a Coun­cilmem­ber, Gon­zá­lez pro­mot­ed afford­able hous­ing invest­ment and part­ner­ships with neigh­bor­hood busi­ness­es to help tack­le the problem.

She has crit­i­cized the cur­rent may­oral administration’s slow­ness to use Coun­­cil-allo­­cat­ed resources to help home­less peo­ple, and promis­es to quick­ly use avail­able resources, fol­low­ing a hous­ing-first strategy.

One of the next mayor’s first jobs will be to pick a new police chief for the Seat­tle Police Depart­ment. Gon­zá­lez has promised to pick a can­di­date who is com­mit­ted “at their core” to reform­ing the cul­ture of the department.

Gon­zález is like­ly to go fur­ther than reform – she is one of the city’s biggest pro­po­nents for a total over­haul of the pub­lic safe­ty sys­tem, mov­ing mon­ey out of police bud­gets and towards pre­ven­ta­tive and care-focused programs.

Gon­zá­lez also has a strong record as a work­ers’ advo­cate (going back to her child­hood with migrant work­ers) that she would like­ly bring to the may­or’s office.

In Feb­ru­ary, the City Coun­cil passed a haz­ard pay ord­nance for gro­cery work­ers. Gon­zá­lez staunch­ly defend­ed the mea­sure against crit­i­cism from the Wash­ing­ton Food Indus­try Asso­ci­a­tion and the North­west Gro­cery Asso­ci­a­tion, say­ing the deci­sion was “not only the right thing to do, but also good for business.”

The city coun­cil’s posi­tion was but­tressed by a U.S. fed­er­al judge last week in an impor­tant ear­ly legal vic­to­ry for the city over the ordi­nance’s validity.

Although it is too ear­ly in the year for a full pic­ture of the may­oral race to emerge, Lore­na Gon­zá­lez is undoubt­ed­ly one of the best-posi­­tioned candidates.

As City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, she already has a high pub­lic pro­file and (thanks to the Council’s fast reac­tions to the pan­dem­ic and protests against sys­temic racism) is seen as respon­sive to Seattleites.

She is the only can­di­date so far to have already won a city-wide elec­tion, win­ning for her cur­rent at-large seat on the City Coun­cil by over 70% in 2017.

Her fundrais­ing num­bers are also solid.

Although she lags behind home­less­ness advo­cate Colleen Echohawk by a lit­tle under $7,000. González’s team will soon com­plete the qual­i­fy­ing process to redeem over 3,000 democ­ra­cy vouch­ers that have been gift­ed to her campaign.

The Top Two elec­tion will be held on August 3rd; the top two can­di­dates will pro­ceed to the gen­er­al elec­tion runoff on Novem­ber 2nd.

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