2021 Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell
2021 Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell (Photo courtesy of Jessyn Farrell for Seattle Mayor)

2021 Seat­tle may­oral can­di­date Jessyn Far­rell is a tran­sit advo­cate and senior Vice Pres­i­dent at the non­prof­it group Civic Ven­tures. From 2013 to 2017, she rep­re­sent­ed the 46th Leg­isla­tive Dis­trict in the Wash­ing­ton State House. She pre­vi­ous­ly ran for may­or in 2017, com­ing fourth in the Top Two elec­tion. She joined me for an inter­view on June 11th. This tran­script has been light­ly edit­ed for clarity.

Ruairi Vaugh­an, Ever­green State Elec­toral Ana­lyst (NPI): All the peo­ple run­ning for May­or of Seat­tle are pret­ty unique indi­vid­u­als, but there’s some­thing that sets you apart from the crowd: you ran for the job four years ago. Out of over twen­ty can­di­dates in the 2017 elec­tion, you’re the only one who came back for anoth­er shot. So my ques­tion is, what made you come back to the cam­paign trail, and why are you the only per­son who did it?

Jessyn Far­rell: There are glib answers that I can cer­tain­ly give, but I won’t. You know, I think most­ly it’s that I’m so frus­trat­ed; so many of the issues that were big issues in the 2017 cam­paign around polic­ing, home­less­ness, cli­mate change, and gun vio­lence are still big issues and they’re only got­ten worse. I am run­ning because we need some­one who has the chops to move the ball forward.

I think I’m that person.

RV: Why do you think you’re that person?

JF: That’s the inevitable next ques­tion! First of all, I would just say that this is a change elec­tion. Peo­ple are extra­or­di­nar­i­ly frus­trat­ed with city gov­ern­ment and with the folks who’ve been in gov­ern­ment – and there are peo­ple in this race who have been in gov­ern­ment, in city gov­ern­ment in particular.

2021 Seattle mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell
2021 Seat­tle may­oral can­di­date Jessyn Far­rell (Pho­to cour­tesy of Jessyn Far­rell for Seat­tle Mayor)

We need a fresh start and a fresh per­spec­tive on a lot of these chal­lenges, but I real­ly do believe that expe­ri­ence mat­ters. This is not a learn on the job kind of posi­tion, being the may­or in this kind of moment.

I have worked as a leg­is­la­tor, pass­ing big bills with Repub­li­cans, and I have been in the exec­u­tive lev­el of an agency, so I have that admin­is­tra­tive experience.

Also, we need some­one who’s fun­da­men­tal­ly recep­tive to con­cerns of the pub­lic and I’ve been an advo­cate and I’ve helped do big things from that side as well, and I think that those kinds of expe­ri­ences are what we need right now.

RV: You men­tioned your time at the Leg­is­la­ture. What would you say your most impor­tant achieve­ments in your time as a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive were?

JF: Well it’s both being able to focus on prob­lem solv­ing and find­ing that place where there is val­ues align­ment and you can move the ball forward.

I think about the oil by rail safe­ty bill that we passed; it’s the strongest set of reg­u­la­tions in North Amer­i­ca, and we did that with Republicans.

Nego­ti­at­ing paid fam­i­ly leave, cre­at­ing accom­mo­da­tions for preg­nant work­ers. You know, it was actu­al­ly legal to fire some­one for being preg­nant before 2017, when [State Sen­a­tor] Karen Keis­er and I passed a bill to change that.

So, it is absolute­ly around find­ing that cre­ative space where we’re focus­ing on find­ing prob­lems, but it’s also about draw­ing lines, tak­ing stands, and cre­at­ing path­ways for actu­al­ly deliv­er­ing on our values.

I think about the show­down that I cre­at­ed in the leg­is­la­ture in 2015 when the gov­er­nor, the Democ­rats, and the Repub­li­cans had agreed to some real­ly bad com­pro­mis­es on the trans­porta­tion pack­age [Con­nect­ing Washington].

I very much want­ed to get that passed – it was about autho­riz­ing Sound Tran­sit 3, there were a lot of real­ly great things in it for my dis­trict and across the state around bike and pedes­tri­an invest­ment – it was a real­ly good pack­age, but not at any cost. One of the things I was just not going to live with was this swip­ing of $500 mil­lion of Sound Tran­sit mon­ey to basi­cal­ly plug holes in the state budget.

So I basi­cal­ly threat­ened to put the entire pack­age to a ref­er­en­dum unless we kept that $500 mil­lion in the Puget Sound region and put it towards sup­port for vul­ner­a­ble youth. I drew the line in the sand, shut down the leg­is­la­ture for a day and at the end there was a path­way to get to yes, and peo­ple got there.

That’s all to say that cre­ative prob­lem solv­ing mat­ters and also draw­ing lines and stand­ing up for our val­ues real­ly mat­ters, ad we need both in our mayor.

RV: One of the city’s biggest prob­lems, and one of the most con­tro­ver­sial val­ue-based issues, is obvi­ous­ly home­less­ness. How does your plan to deal with home­less­ness — well, first­ly, what’s in it? And how does it define you from the rest of the field?

JF: You know, there is actu­al­ly a lot of con­sen­sus around what the solu­tions are and I bet, if you look at most of the can­di­dates, we’re say­ing the same thing: “Build more hous­ing! A lot more hous­ing!” Includ­ing 3,500 units of per­ma­nent sup­port­ive hous­ing and a cou­ple thou­sand units of inter­im housing.

There is a lot of con­sen­sus around that.

There is a lot of con­sen­sus around deliv­er­ing bet­ter ser­vices to peo­ple who are liv­ing out­side, around drug treat­ment, around health care, around sanitation.

So, the solu­tion set is not that con­tro­ver­sial, and I think it’s time to stop debat­ing what the solu­tions are. And I will final­ly say, let’s stop the sweeps, because we know it is inhu­mane and ineffective.

What’s real­ly miss­ing, though, is account­abil­i­ty to those metrics.

I would love for the pub­lic to hold me account­able at the end of four years and say, did we actu­al­ly build that 3,500 units of per­ma­nent sup­port­ive housing?

Did we actu­al­ly deliv­er 2,000 units of tiny homes and hotels? — which, we’ve learned in COVID, is a real­ly effec­tive way to get peo­ple inside.

Did we part­ner with the state and the opi­oid cri­sis response plan and actu­al­ly get peo­ple things like sub­ox­one, which some­times requires dai­ly admin­is­tra­tion by pub­lic health pro­fes­sion­als? Did we cre­ate enough case work­ers and trust­ed com­mu­ni­ty part­ners to get to know every sin­gle chron­i­cal­ly home­less per­son by name? — so that we can actu­al­ly build the trust and get them the ser­vices and the hous­ing that they need. So, to me, it’s real­ly less about the con­sen­sus solu­tions and more about the relent­less dri­ve around imple­men­ta­tion, and that’s where my back­ground in trans­porta­tion – and, real­ly, focus­ing on doing what we say we’re gonna do – real­ly matters.

And I guess, relat­ed to that though, solu­tions scale to the size of the prob­lem. We pat our­selves on the back for incre­men­tal­ism all the time in this city. You know, we praise our­selves for doing eighty units of per­ma­nent sup­port­ive hous­ing when we lit­er­al­ly need to be deliv­er­ing thou­sands of units. And I’m the only can­di­date in this race that has deliv­ered big-scaled solu­tions on our biggest issues.

RV: What do you think is stand­ing in the way of cre­at­ing those big-scale solu­tions with the cur­rent administration?

JF: Well, I think there is a real issue around turf bat­tles and credit.

And there is just a basic inabil­i­ty to work with the coun­cil, hire great peo­ple with­in the admin­is­tra­tion, and then empow­er them to go do the work.

The may­or has to be both a great admin­is­tra­tor and be able to work with the coun­cil to deliv­er them both. And then final­ly, hav­ing trust with the public.

I think all of the hid­ing the ball around the deci­sion mak­ing with respect to pub­lic safe­ty is a huge prob­lem. This is a moment when trust in our city gov­ern­ment is real­ly low, and the next may­or has to be real­ly focused on rebuild­ing trust with peo­ple, and part of that is just trans­paren­cy around deci­sion making.

RV: You men­tioned the rela­tion­ship with the City Coun­cil. Where do you think May­or Durkan has gone wrong in how she’s dealt with the City Coun­cil, and what would you do instead? How would you approach that relationship?

JF: I just think the proof is in the pud­ding, both on the side of the coun­cil and the May­or. Where are the big scale solu­tions? Why haven’t we moved forward?

So in terms of going wrong, I think some of the basic skill sets around cre­at­ing align­ment around a vision of what it is we’re try­ing to do, lever­ag­ing the resources of city depart­ments to be able to deliv­er on that, work­ing with the Coun­cil mem­bers in their dis­tricts to meet the needs of par­tic­u­lar neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties, (because we obvi­ous­ly have a very diverse set of inter­ests and needs across the city). Those are just some very basic skills that the exec­u­tive should be able to deploy with the coun­cil, and that exec­u­tives and leg­isla­tive branch­es do togeth­er all the time when there is a good work­ing relationship.

I’ll just add a very par­tic­u­lar exam­ple of that: I worked at Pierce Tran­sit in the last Reces­sion, when we had to very sig­nif­i­cant­ly restruc­ture our ser­vice and had to cut almost 30% of our bus ser­vice because of the decline in sales tax revenue.

There was a real­ly strong ini­tial desire to just do a peanut but­ter approach, where you cut ser­vice in sub­ur­ban Pierce Coun­ty as much as you cut ser­vice in urban Pierce Coun­ty; which of course was com­plete­ly inequitable and racial­ly unjust, because those urban com­mu­ni­ties had much high­er reliance on tran­sit, mar­gin­al­ized com­mu­ni­ties, and low­er incomes.

So we took a val­ues-based approach where we real­ly learned what the pub­lic val­ues about tran­sit, did a lot of work­ing with the pub­lic to fig­ure out how to imple­ment that. And it meant that we were able to have that board – which had both sub­ur­ban coun­cil mem­bers and urban elect­ed [offi­cials] – get to agree­ment on pre­serv­ing ser­vice in the urban part of the coun­ty and tak­ing deep­er cuts in the sub­ur­ban part of the county.

Now, we don’t want to cut tran­sit ser­vice at all, but that’s an exam­ple of how using val­ues and real­ly focus­ing deeply on imple­men­ta­tion helps get peo­ple into more of a prob­lem solv­ing mind­set and find align­ment and make hard deci­sions at the end of the day.

RV: You men­tioned that you don’t want to cut tran­sit at all – what do you want to do with tran­sit and how are you going to bring your expe­ri­ence with Pierce Coun­ty to bear in Seattle?

JF: So we are going to go big on transit.

I am com­mit­ted to get­ting to net zero car­bon emis­sions by 2030; it is time for actions, not words. I have three young kids who are real­ly wor­ried about cli­mate change, and I know that a lot of us know that we are in a cri­sis and tran­sit is a real­ly impor­tant strat­e­gy in help­ing peo­ple get out of their cars.

I would say there are three things that are real­ly impor­tant to focus on: one, deliv­er­ing a hun­dred miles of tran­sit-only lanes so that tran­sit is even more fre­quent, reli­able, and equi­table across the city; two, imple­ment­ing free fares, because that is anoth­er way to make deliv­ery of tran­sit more equi­table and safe for peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly black and brown mem­bers of our com­mu­ni­ty who fear being over-policed because of fare enforce­ment; and num­ber three, keep­ing Sound Tran­sit [3] on track. This dis­cus­sion around realign­ment and push­ing out deliv­ery of Sound Tran­sit [3] is some­thing I don’t support.

We are going to have to fig­ure out where to find the fund­ing and make sure we are deliv­er­ing the sta­tions across the city and the regions when we said we were going to deliv­er them. So those are three of my tran­sit priorities.

RV: So you want to get to net zero by 2030. Apart from tran­sit, what else can you do as may­or to get to that goal?

JF: Seat­tle is at its best when we are being a leader and a lab­o­ra­to­ry to show the coun­try and the world how to do things, and we can absolute­ly show the coun­try how to do this. That means tak­ing a real­ly com­pre­hen­sive approach.

I will hire a deputy may­or who is chief cli­mate offi­cer, who is empow­ered to work across depart­ments and with the com­mu­ni­ty to imple­ment our cli­mate pol­i­cy – we have a very com­pre­hen­sive plan on our website.

But in addi­tion to tran­sit, it means build­ing a lot more afford­able hous­ing – 70,000 units across the city – because it is inher­ent­ly more car­bon effi­cient when peo­ple are able to live close to their jobs, their shop­ping, and oth­er activities.

It means con­vert­ing our cur­rent build­ing stock and our new build­ing stock from nat­ur­al gas. That can be a pret­ty thorny polit­i­cal prob­lem for sure, but we all know that’s what has to be done and I’m not scared of thorny polit­i­cal prob­lems. It’s most­ly an issue of find­ing the resources to do it.

And it means a just tran­si­tion, mak­ing sure that every sin­gle per­son has access to the oppor­tu­ni­ties of the green econ­o­my, and real­ly get­ting in front of the inter­lock­ing inequity that has come from sys­temic racism and trick­­le-down eco­nom­ics. To me that means in par­tic­u­lar, redefin­ing what the green econ­o­my means; care­giv­ing jobs like child­care, elder care, and health­care should be con­sid­ered green jobs because they are inher­ent­ly low carbon.

They should have access to the full set of poli­cies that cre­ate eco­nom­ic stability.

RV: You men­tioned that Seat­tle is a leader and a lab­o­ra­to­ry eco­nom­i­cal­ly and in terms of pol­i­cy. What would you do to bring the jobs of the future – what­ev­er Seattle’s next big indus­try is going to be – how will you bring those jobs to our city as Mayor?

JF: Well one thing that I’m real­ly focused on is this idea of uni­ver­sal zero to five child­care. It is obvi­ous­ly good for our youngest peo­ple in our com­mu­ni­ty, the sci­ence is very clear on that, but it is also a real­ly impor­tant eco­nom­ic issue and com­pet­i­tive edge issue. As we emerge from COVID, a lot of peo­ple are not going to go to work in the same way they did before.

We are in some ways com­pet­ing with not just San Fran­cis­co and Austin, but also places like Boise and oth­er small­er com­mu­ni­ties around the country.

But no mat­ter where work­ers are, you’re going to have kids who are going to need child­care, so it is a com­pet­i­tive edge for us to real­ly go big on what afford­able, acces­si­ble child­care means. So that’s why we are going to be intro­duc­ing a pro­gram to scale up to uni­ver­sal free zero to five childcare.

RV: That sounds like a great plan!

JF: As a new par­ent, that’s a good one, isn’t it?

RV: Mov­ing onto the issue of polic­ing, you men­tioned how you want more case work­ers and com­mu­ni­ty part­ners engag­ing with dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions in the city. As May­or, you’ll have the respon­si­bil­i­ty of pick­ing the new Chief of SPD – what is going to be on your hir­ing checklist?

JF: I’m going to start by artic­u­lat­ing what my North Star is on pub­lic safe­ty, because one of the things that has been so lack­ing from the cur­rent May­or and the Coun­cil is the vision: what is it that we’re try­ing to achieve for pub­lic safety?

For me it is that every sin­gle per­son in our com­mu­ni­ty should feel safe.

And for par­tic­u­lar­ly our black and brown com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers and fam­i­ly friends. too often there is harm. Think about Charleena Lyles who was killed in 2017 dur­ing the last may­oral cam­paign when she called for help on 911 and was killed by the police. So that is a fun­da­men­tal val­ue; every per­son should feel safe as they go about their day to day lives.

Pub­lic safe­ty has to mean so much more than just a tra­di­tion­al polic­ing response, it has to mean eco­nom­ic, cul­tur­al, and social sup­port that cre­ates tru­ly thriv­ing com­mu­ni­ties. And so, the next police chief has to be a part­ner in achiev­ing that vision, and in par­tic­u­lar have a skill set around orga­ni­za­tion­al change, because SPD is going to have to trans­form the func­tions that the orga­ni­za­tion is in charge of, the rela­tion­ship to account­abil­i­ty and transparency.

We’ve seen a lot of dis­ap­point­ing actions by both the Mayor’s Office and the top – I’m think­ing around textgate. We’re real­ly going to need a skill set around trans­for­ma­tion and I will be look­ing for some­one who has done that in the past and is able to bring those expe­ri­ences to bear here in Seattle.

RV: You said that SPD is going to have to reform; are you going to sup­port the City Council’s effort to cut the SPD’s budget?

JF: So I said ‘trans­form’ very delib­er­ate­ly, because while reforms are impor­tant, there are func­tions that fun­da­men­tal­ly need to be changed around cri­sis response, for exam­ple, around trans­porta­tion enforcement.

We can get to a place where we’re using few­er cops on the street to still achieve safe­ty using oth­er mech­a­nisms. So I’m very focused on transforming.

As far as cuts go, one of my cri­tiques of what hap­pened this sum­mer is that it was not val­ues-based, and it was not direct­ed in the ser­vice of a vision of what pub­lic safe­ty can be in our community.

So there were things that were cut, like per­son­nel in the region­al domes­tic vio­lence unit who are tasked with imple­ment­ing our extreme risk order pro­tec­tion law, which helps us to remove guns from dan­ger­ous peo­ple like abusers.

That is a func­tion that is real­ly impor­tant to con­tin­ue and invest in, but there are oth­er func­tions, as I men­tioned, that we real­ly need to fun­da­men­tal­ly be trans­form­ing and be using oth­er mech­a­nisms of ser­vice deliv­ery that cre­ate bet­ter safe­ty and have bet­ter, less harm­ful, out­comes for folks.

RV: Jessyn, thanks for your time!

Vot­ing in the August 2021 Top Two elec­tion will begin in under two months, with bal­lots due back by 8 PM on August 3rd, 2021. The top two vote get­ting can­di­dates will advance to the Novem­ber gen­er­al election.

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