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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 22nd, 2021

Meet the 2021 Seattle mayoral candidates: Councilmember Lorena González

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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