NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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, May 17th, 2021

Meet the 2021 Seattle mayoral candidates: Former State Representative Jessyn Farrell

Who­ev­er suc­ceeds Seat­tle May­or Jen­ny Durkan will find a lot on their plate on day one. The issues raised in the last year alone are pret­ty daunt­ing. The glob­al coro­n­avirus pan­dem­ic threw Seat­tle (home to the region where many of the U.S.‘s first known cas­es emerged) into tur­moil; a few months lat­er, racial jus­tice protests brought the city’s whole pub­lic safe­ty appa­ra­tus under renewed scrutiny.

Even pri­or to the events of 2020, the city’s lead­er­ship was grap­pling with sev­er­al long­stand­ing prob­lems – most notably acces­si­ble hous­ing, but also cli­mate dam­age and grid­lock from depen­dence on auto­mo­bile travel.

Vot­ers will have to decide whether Seat­tle’s next leader should be an expe­ri­enced politi­co who can bring their knowl­edge of the levers of pow­er to the job or an out­sider with fresh eyes. The two can­di­dates in the race with the high­est name recog­ni­tion – City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Lore­na González and for­mer Coun­cilmem­ber Bruce Har­rell – fall into the first cat­e­go­ry, while polit­i­cal new­com­ers like Colleen Echohawk and Andrew Hous­ton fall into the latter.

There is at least one can­di­date in the race who can rea­son­ably claim both man­tles. As a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive and trans­porta­tion advo­cate, Jessyn Far­rell has polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence in spades, and a rep­u­ta­tion as a smart nego­tia­tor and strate­gist; but as some­one who has not served in a city lev­el posi­tion, she is well posi­tioned to offer cred­i­ble cri­tiques of cur­rent and past city leadership.

Jessyn Farrell

Jessyn Far­rell par­tic­i­pates in a pan­el at Jeanne Kohl-Welles’ twen­ty-sec­ond post-elec­tion post­mortem at Hales Ales in Seat­tle (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

Far­rell, forty-sev­en, has by all accounts been invest­ed in pol­i­tics her whole life; in high school she was vot­ed “most like­ly to become a politi­cian” by her class­mates. Dur­ing her time at uni­ver­si­ty, she served as an Ameri­Corps vol­un­teer and interned at the Yugoslavia War Crimes Tri­bunal.

After law school, she stared her career with the Wash­ing­ton Pub­lic Inter­est Research Group (Wash­PIRG), lob­by­ing law­mak­ers in Olympia.

From Wash­PIRG, Far­rell moved to the Trans­porta­tion Choic­es Coalition.

Pub­lic trans­portation is a cause close to Farrell’s heart. As a teenag­er, she trav­eled in Japan and mar­veled at the country’s advanced high-speed tran­sit system.

In 2005, she became the Coalition’s Exec­u­tive Director.

She suc­cess­ful­ly led efforts to lob­by and cam­paign for tran­sit expan­sion projects, most notably the mul­ti-coun­ty cam­paign to pass Sound Tran­sit 2.

In 2009, Far­rell was recruit­ed for a senior role in Pierce Coun­ty Tran­sit. Under her lead­er­ship in 2012, PCT won the VISION 2040 Award – a prize giv­en by the Puget Sound Region­al Coun­cil for inno­v­a­tive pro­grams pro­mot­ing sustainability.

That same year, Far­rell was elect­ed to the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives to rep­re­sent North­east Seat­tle, where she grew up. As a state leg­is­la­tor, Far­rell was a strong advo­cate for work­ing Wash­ing­to­ni­ans: she chaired the Work­ing Fam­i­lies Cau­cus, led mul­ti­ple efforts to raise the state min­i­mum wage, spon­sored pro­tec­tions for preg­nant women in the work­place, and sup­port­ed manda­to­ry paid sick leave.

Nat­u­ral­ly, giv­en her ear­li­er polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, Far­rell was also very engaged in trans­porta­tion issues. Serv­ing as a vice chair of the House Trans­porta­tion Com­mit­tee, she was a leader in nego­ti­a­tions for a $16 bil­lion trans­porta­tion pack­age in 2015 which cov­ered high­way improve­ments, pedes­tri­an and bike infra­struc­ture, and expan­sions to light rail and bus services.

In 2017, Far­rell decid­ed to give up her seat in the House to run for May­or of Seat­tle. She was one of many can­di­dates to step up when the race sud­den­ly opened up with the announce­ment by May­or Ed Mur­ray that he would not run for a sec­ond term (Mur­ray faced a series of sex­u­al abuse alle­ga­tions).

In a crowd­ed Top Two field of twen­ty-one can­di­dates Far­rell came in fourth,  trail­ing Nikki­ta Oliv­er and the sec­ond place fin­ish­er Cary Moon, who ulti­mate­ly went on to lose to Jen­ny Durkan. She fin­ished ahead of for­mer May­or Mike McGinn and State Sen­a­tor Bob Hasegawa.

The 2017 may­oral race was a bruis­ing affair, evi­denced by the fact that of the twen­ty-one can­di­dates only Far­rell has opt­ed to run again. In fact, Far­rell is the only major can­di­date in 2021 to have run for the posi­tion before, which could prove to be help­ful. Far­rell is get­ting a much ear­li­er start this time around.

After the 2017 cam­paign, Far­rell did not return to elec­toral pol­i­tics right away. Before announc­ing her 2021 run for may­or, she worked as a Senior Vice Pres­i­dent at Civic Ven­tures, Nick Hanauer’s well-regard­ed think tank and pol­i­cy shop.

Far­rell entered the may­oral race as some­thing of an underdog.

She lacks the name recog­ni­tion of estab­lished city lead­ers like González and Har­rell, and lags well behind them (as well as fel­low can­di­dates Echohawk and Hous­ton) in fundrais­ing num­bers.

It would, how­ev­er, be unwise to count Far­rell out. In a city beset by major prob­lems, Far­rell comes to the table with a rep­u­ta­tion as a tough-mind­ed prob­lem solver and nego­tia­tor. She is the field’s fore­most expert on trans­porta­tion mat­ters, and is well-versed in issues such as child-care and eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty. Her work with Civic Ven­tures could also be ben­e­fi­cial in help­ing her and her advi­sors make bet­ter deci­sions about how to com­mu­ni­cate her val­ues and ideas.

With four years of hind­sight and an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rein­tro­duce her­self to the peo­ple of Seat­tle, can the sec­ond time be the charm for Jessyn Farrell?

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  1. […] Jessyn Far­rell, a for­mer state rep­re­sen­ta­tive from North Seat­tle and inclu­sive trans­porta­tion advo­ca­cy vet­er­an with expe­ri­ence in state pol­i­tics, coun­ty gov­er­nance, and pol­i­cy development; […]

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