Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez
Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez takes her Oath of Office to become the first Latina to serve on the Seattle City Council (Photo: City of Seattle)

Lore­na González is the pres­i­dent of Seat­tle City Coun­cil and one of the lead­ing can­di­dates in the 2021 may­oral elec­tion. González grew up in the Yaki­ma Val­ley as a child of undoc­u­ment­ed farm labor­ers, before earn­ing a law degree and work­ing as a civ­il rights attor­ney. She was ini­tial­ly elect­ed to the City Coun­cil in 2015. If elect­ed may­or, González would be Seattle’s first ever Lati­na chief executive.

I spoke with González on July 1st to dis­cuss her campaign.

This tran­script has been light­ly edit­ed for clarity.

Ruairi Vaugh­an, Ever­green State Elec­toral Ana­lyst (NPI): Coun­cil­member González, thank you for tak­ing the time to do this inter­view with NPI.

Lore­na González: Absolute­ly!

RV: Jump­ing right in, as Pres­i­dent of the City Coun­cil, you’re one of the nat­ur­al fron­trun­ners in this may­oral elec­tion. How­ev­er, no city coun­cil mem­ber has man­aged to make the jump from the coun­cil to the mayor’s office in over thir­ty years. Why do you think that is?

LG: I think that the City Coun­cil has evolved with dis­trict elec­tions, and that evo­lu­tion has allowed for younger peo­ple, more diverse peo­ple, racial­ly, eth­ni­cal­ly, and socioe­co­nom­i­cal­ly. It’s giv­en us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to run for City Council.

City Coun­cil used to be elect­ed posi­tions where peo­ple usu­al­ly saw it as the last stop in their career, and I think that has been fun­da­men­tal­ly changed with dis­trict elec­tions. Now peo­ple who are serv­ing on the city coun­cil, for most of us this is our first elect­ed posi­tion, and for most of us it is not intend­ed to be the last.

RV: How would you char­ac­ter­ize your most impor­tant achieve­ments in your time on the City Council?

LG: You know, I think there’s a lot of real­ly impor­tant work that the City Coun­cil gets to do, and the work that I have been the most proud of is real­ly around con­tin­u­ing to fight for work­ing fam­i­lies in the city – and I have done that a cou­ple dif­fer­ent ways. One is through labor stan­dards – nation­al, trend-set­t­ing stan­dards that pro­tect work­ers in the workplace.

I was the prime spon­sor of secure sched­ul­ing, a law that gives sched­ul­ing pre­dictabil­i­ty to thou­sands and thou­sands of retail and restau­rant work­ers and employ­ers. I was also one of the prime spon­sors for a suite of bills that gave hotel work­ers – who are pri­mar­i­ly immi­grant women – sex­u­al assault pro­tec­tions in the work­place, as well as pro­tec­tion from exces­sive, harm­ful work­loads, and access to afford­able health­care through their employ­er. I can cite a whole host of oth­er labor stan­dards laws that I have been proud to champion.

The sec­ond thing that I’ve done to real­ly sup­port work­ing fam­i­lies in the city is my work in the edu­ca­tion space, which I don’t get an oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk about often!

I was was one of the prime spon­sors of the Fam­i­lies, Edu­ca­tion, Preschool, and Promise Levy, which dou­bled the num­ber of qual­i­ty pre‑K slots avail­able across the city for three and four year old. We increased invest­ments in pre-natal care, and we cre­at­ed restored fund­ing in the K‑12 sys­tem which real­ly does focus on BIPOC kids who are fur­thest away from edu­ca­tion­al jus­tice, and we were able to cre­ate a first-of-its-kind in the state free pro­gram for com­mu­ni­ty col­lege for stu­dents who grad­u­ate from our pub­lic schools.

RV: You men­tioned child­care there. As well as step­ping into the role of Coun­cil Pres­i­dent last year, you also became a moth­er for the first time. First­ly, congratulations!

LG: Thank you!

RV: Sec­ond­ly, as a par­ent myself, I have to ask… how on earth do you bal­ance par­ent­ing a one year old with run­ning an elec­tion campaign?

LG: It takes a vil­lage, you know! I came from a strong immi­grant back­ground; my par­ents immi­grat­ed to this coun­try from Michoacán, Mex­i­co, and I grew up in a house­hold where we always had aun­ties, uncles, grand­par­ents, and broth­ers, sis­ters, and cousins run­ning around. I’m not lucky enough to have my mom and my sib­lings liv­ing in Seat­tle, so I had to sur­round myself with cho­sen fam­i­ly, and that fam­i­ly has real­ly stepped in to come over and watch Nadia for a cou­ple of hours when I’m doing a can­di­date forum. My hus­band – who is a restau­rant work­er and works at night – is the pri­ma­ry care­tak­er of our daugh­ter dur­ing the day.

Lorena González has been the Presiden of the City Council since 2020
Lore­na González has been the Pres­i­dent of the City Coun­cil since 2020 (Pho­to: Seat­tle City Council)

I’m also lucky to be sur­round­ed by real­ly amaz­ing, com­pe­tent staff, both on the cam­paign side and on the offi­cial side, who have real­ly stepped up to make sure that I stay focused on offi­cial and cam­paign busi­ness, and that I con­tin­ue to rec­og­nize that as a first time mom with a tod­dler, run­ning for office, that it’s impor­tant that I con­tin­ue to be present for my daugh­ter dur­ing this real­ly impor­tant time of her development.

RV: So many par­ents are in sit­u­a­tions like yours, try­ing to make that dif­fi­cult bal­ance. You’ve already laid out what you’ve done on the Coun­cil – as May­or, what are your plans to help work­ing parents?

LG: I think the biggest issue is afford­abil­i­ty in our city.

Our work­ing class fam­i­lies are being dis­placed and gen­tri­fied at dis­pro­por­tion­ate rates. So one of the rea­sons I am run­ning for may­or is to tack­le head on the afford­abil­i­ty issues in our city by address­ing the ris­ing costs of hous­ing and by address­ing income inequal­i­ty, which is some­thing that work­ing fam­i­lies all deeply under­stand. There are so many fam­i­lies that are work­ing full-time jobs, two work­ing par­ents who are still find­ing it way too hard to live in Seattle.

And so, when I think about how to address those issues, I think about the fact that, while we have real­ly strong invest­ment in afford­able hous­ing right now, we need to be look­ing at a bold­er plan that – at a min­i­mum – triples our hous­ing inven­to­ry, that is afford­able for extreme­ly low income fam­i­lies through­out our city, so that we can begin to build those vibrant neigh­bor­hoods in every neigh­bor­hood across the city to make sure that work­ing fam­i­lies have a place to live that is also close to where they work. So that’s one of my pri­ma­ry focus­es in terms of sup­port­ing and lift­ing up work­ing fam­i­lies in our city.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t also talk about childcare.

The lack of access to afford­able child­care, par­tic­u­lar­ly for chil­dren between the ages of zero and three, is shame­ful in our city.

I have been lay­ing the foun­da­tion as a coun­cil mem­ber, that I would build upon if elect­ed may­or, to rad­i­cal­ly increase the sup­ply of child­care that is avail­able through­out our city – both home-based and day­­care-based child­care cen­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly for the ages of zero through three.

It must be afford­able and acces­si­ble to all of our work­ing fam­i­lies, who right now are strug­gling with the deci­sion of going back to work and the real­i­ties of there not being enough child­care. Our child­care has wors­ened since pre-pan­dem­ic times because so many child­care providers just couldn’t make it through.

RV: You men­tioned ear­li­er that you pro­mot­ed strong hous­ing poli­cies on the Coun­cil, but since you joined the Coun­cil in 2015 (when the city declared a state of emer­gency) the num­ber of unhoused peo­ple in Seat­tle has rough­ly quadru­pled. As may­or, how are you going to turn this trend around?

LG: We turn this trend around by ade­quate­ly fund­ing the afford­able hous­ing that we know we need for those who have extreme­ly low incomes.

There’s a report that came out ear­li­er this year that talks specif­i­cal­ly about what it will take to rise to the chal­lenge of hous­ing afford­abil­i­ty in our city and our county.

The real­i­ty is that the need is about $1 bil­lion worth of social hous­ing for extreme­ly low income house­holds; we’re talk­ing about indi­vid­u­als who are expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness now across the region.

It’s going to take a may­or who is seri­ous about pulling togeth­er a coali­tion to have that kind of invest­ment to once and for all build the infra­struc­ture that is need­ed to house those on the extreme­ly low income end of the spec­trum of folks liv­ing in the city. We also need to rad­i­cal­ly increase all forms of non-con­­gre­­gate shelters.

I’m talk­ing tiny home vil­lages; I’m talk­ing brick-and-mor­­tar non-con­­gre­­gate shel­ters; I’m talk­ing about strate­gic acqui­si­tions of hotel rooms and motels to give us an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rapid­ly rehouse those 4,000 indi­vid­u­als who are cur­rent­ly sleep­ing out­side, in our parks, on our side­walks, and under bridges in the City of Seattle.

We know from talk­ing to those with lived expe­ri­ence of home­less­ness that we can’t just invest in tiny home villages.

That’s one of the things that peo­ple want, but we have to invest in the full spec­trum of shel­ter options that are non-con­­gre­­gate, in order to real­ly give peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness an option that suits their needs.

I think that the need is real­ly great there, and what we need to be doing is build­ing a sys­tem where we are going to be able to offer all 4,000 indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­enc­ing home­less­ness on any giv­en night a real option for them to come inside, that meets their spe­cif­ic needs.

RV: You men­tioned the need for a may­or who can put togeth­er a coali­tion. The rela­tion­ship between the cur­rent May­or and the City Coun­cil is fair­ly poor, as every­one knows. As some­one who had to deal with that real­i­ty on a dai­ly basis, what do you think May­or Durkan could have done dif­fer­ent in approach­ing the city’s legislators?

LG: I think she could have estab­lished more mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships. It takes con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the leg­is­la­tors to real­ly under­stand what their pri­or­i­ties are, to under­stand what their val­ue sets are, and to under­stand why they are work­ing on the issues they are work­ing on, and how they are work­ing on those issues.

As Coun­cil Pres­i­dent, that’s what I’ve been doing, and as a coun­cil mem­ber that’s what I’ve been doing with this Coun­cil, real­ly tak­ing a deep dive with under­stand­ing exact­ly their pri­or­i­ties, their val­ue set, why they want to work on issues.

That’s the kind of deep rela­tion­ship that the next may­or has to have with the Coun­cil in order to get us focused on pol­i­cy and not pol­i­tics around these real­ly crit­i­cal, crit­i­cal issues fac­ing the city. Cur­rent­ly, most of my oppo­nents are run­ning on an anti-coun­­cil plat­form, and I don’t think that bodes very well for claim­ing that you are going to be able to work very well with the City Coun­cil, who are cur­rent­ly pay­ing atten­tion to anti-Coun­­cil sen­ti­ments com­ing out of these opponents.

RV: There is that old say­ing, “it takes two to tan­go.” Do you think that the Coun­cil could have approached the May­or differently?

LG: You know, I think there’s always room for improve­ment across the spec­trum, but this Coun­cil worked real­ly hard to cre­ate con­sen­sus, and unfor­tu­nate­ly in our nego­ti­a­tions with the May­or, often­times it felt like we were being giv­en an ulti­ma­tum rather than mean­ing­ful negotiation.

RV: Part of the ten­sions that arose between the Coun­cil and the May­or last year sur­round­ed that summer’s protests against police bru­tal­i­ty. You joined the major­i­ty of the Council’s call to defund the Seat­tle by as much as fifty per­cent. As may­or, would you stand by that number?

LG: I don’t think that the fifty per­cent num­ber, based on what I know now, is fea­si­ble. The rea­son it’s not fea­si­ble, the real­i­ty is that in order to achieve a fifty per­cent reduc­tion at the police depart­ment, it would effec­tive­ly mean fir­ing every sin­gle offi­cer. Because that’s the cost! SPD’s pri­ma­ry expense — the over­whelm­ing major­i­ty of their bud­get — is personnel.

I am not an abo­li­tion­ist. I believe that we need to con­tin­ue hav­ing a police depart­ment. I just believe we need to have a police depart­ment that respects the civ­il rights and civ­il lib­er­ties of peo­ple, and is not going to reg­u­lar­ly engage in police vio­lence against our Black, brown, and indige­nous com­mu­ni­ty members.

I think that the answer is to reform and trans­form how we do our pub­lic safe­ty, by tak­ing away func­tions that the police shouldn’t be doing, and by invest­ing and re-allo­­cat­ing dol­lars from the police depart­ment, where we can find those sav­ings, to com­­mu­ni­­ty-based safe­ty ini­tia­tives is some­thing that will con­tin­ue to be a pri­or­i­ty for me as may­or. But we are in a sit­u­a­tion where in order to achieve a fifty per­cent reduc­tion in the police department’s bud­get, it would require effec­tive­ly fir­ing every sin­gle police officer.

RV: So where do you plan to make these savings?

LG: We con­tin­ue to look at things like har­bor patrol, for example.

We have horse-moun­t­ed police officers.

We have addi­tion­al work to eval­u­ate around the type of equip­ment they have pur­chased, and find out whether we can pre­vent the ongo­ing pur­chase of that, or sell some of that mil­i­ta­rized equip­ment to demil­i­ta­rize the police depart­ment and to reduce the expen­di­ture. I think that over­time con­tin­ues to be a con­cern, and that is where we see that the police department’s bud­get tends to bloat.

So man­ag­ing over­time is crit­i­cal­ly impor­tant for the next may­or to work on togeth­er with the new police chief to ensure that bud­get accountability.

RV: You men­tioned the new police chief. One of your roles if you are elect­ed will be to select a new police chief. What will be your cri­te­ria, and what box­es will that per­son have to tick?

LG: I think that choos­ing the next police chief is real­ly impor­tant, and I also think it’s going to be very challenging.

It’s going to be chal­leng­ing because the uni­verse of indi­vid­u­als who can serve as a chief of police of a major city like Seat­tle is very limited.

These indi­vid­u­als know each oth­er, they have come up through the ranks togeth­er, and they tend to have the same mode of think­ing in terms of the role of law enforce­ment and how far they are will­ing to go to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo of the role of law enforce­ment in our com­mu­ni­ties. So I am look­ing for a can­di­date who is will­ing to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo from with­in, some­one who is not afraid to say, no, we’re not going to do that body of work.

For exam­ple, the Office of the Inspec­tor Gen­er­al just released a report say­ing Seat­tle Police Depart­ment shouldn’t be doing any traf­fic enforce­ment at all.

The rea­son she rec­om­mend­ed that is because traf­fic stops are one of the pri­ma­ry ways that offi­cers inter­act with peo­ple of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly Black men, that then lead to exces­sive force, biased polic­ing, or dead­ly force.

And so her rec­om­men­da­tion is, no traf­fic enforce­ment by SPD.

No traf­fic enforce­ment by folks who car­ry firearms and tasers and can harm our com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers, for a sim­ple traf­fic violation.

What I need is a chief who sees that report and says, I will find a way to say yes, because the equi­ty goals that will be achieved as a result of adopt­ing these rec­om­men­da­tions will be trans­for­ma­tive to our com­mu­ni­ty and that is what I want to do. I need a chief of police who runs towards those rec­om­men­da­tions that will cre­ate trans­for­ma­tion, not away from them.

RV: Speak­ing of com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, I’d like to move to the heat­wave we’re cur­rent­ly expe­ri­enc­ing, because a recent mete­o­ro­log­i­cal study shows that Black, Indige­nous, and oth­er com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in Seat­tle have been the hard­est hit by the soar­ing tem­per­a­tures, as well as by oth­er long-term envi­ron­men­tal health issues. What will you do as may­or to help those com­mu­ni­ties specif­i­cal­ly to sur­vive the cli­mate crisis?

LG: This is one that is real­ly per­son­al to me, because I grew up as a migrant farm­work­er in cen­tral Wash­ing­ton state.

Often­times in Seat­tle when we talk about cli­mate change, we talk from the per­spec­tive of preser­va­tion. We talk about it through the lens of want­i­ng to pre­serve our nature for enjoy­ment. And there’s noth­ing wrong with that – unless you are a work­er who doesn’t have the lux­u­ry of trav­el­ing to an office for the day, unless you are a work­er who toils out­side in the heat, in the hun­dred and eigh­teen degree weath­er that doesn’t afford you an oppor­tu­ni­ty to go to a cool­ing center.

That was my lived expe­ri­ence grow­ing up. I start­ed work­ing in the fields in cen­tral Wash­ing­ton at the age of eight years old. When it was a hun­dred and three degrees I didn’t get a cool­ing cen­ter, I didn’t get water, I didn’t get a toi­let. I didn’t get a place I could just rest and not work, and it was in oppres­sive heat.

And there are thou­sands of work­ers in our city who work out­side every sin­gle day or who work in envi­ron­ments that don’t have air con­di­tion­ing. We as a soci­ety have said, we expect you to work and we are going to be fine with that.

I think cli­mate change is also a work­ers’ rights issue, because those are the indi­vid­u­als who are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly rep­re­sent­ed by BIPOC com­mu­ni­ty members.

Our low-income work­force, that is being com­pelled to work in this oppres­sive heat are the ones who need to be focused on pro­tect­ing from cli­mate change and cre­at­ing resiliency.

So as may­or, I want to focus on mak­ing sure our work­place stan­dards across the city when there are heat­waves like the one we just expe­ri­enced are reflec­tive of the pro­tec­tions need­ed for those who don’t have the priv­i­lege of work­ing in an air con­di­tioned space.

Now I can look at a lot of dif­fer­ent forms, but the goal is, how do we pro­tect work­ers out­side dur­ing these heat episodes so that, one, they aren’t dying on our streets as a result of heat expo­sure and exhaus­tion, and two, they aren’t being asked to forego wages because their boss­es decid­ed to close their place of work because of the heat.

They deserve com­pen­sa­tion even though that result­ed from cli­mate change.

The sec­ond thing I think is impor­tant is that to sup­port BIPOC com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers we have to invest in their resilien­cy. We have an equi­table envi­ron­ment ini­tia­tive at the city that is focused on com­mu­ni­ties around the Duwamish, which is one of the most pol­lut­ed areas here in Seattle.

Peo­ple in South Park live on aver­age eight years less than peo­ple in Laurelhurst!

There’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty for us to increase the invest­ments we’re cur­rent­ly mak­ing in the equi­table envi­ron­ment ini­tia­tive to scale up those invest­ments in those com­mu­ni­ties around the Duwamish Val­ley, to do things like increase the tree canopy and decar­bonize tran­sit that is going through that area and, yes, hold account­able the indus­tri­al and mar­itime pol­luters who con­tin­ue to pol­lute the air and the water in those communities.

And the last thing I would say is that we need to look at that equi­table envi­ron­ment ini­tia­tive and look at how we can scale up in oth­er low income neigh­bor­hoods where we know there is poor air qual­i­ty and the risk of hav­ing low­er qual­i­ty water.

Those are areas like the Chi­na­town Inter­na­tion­al Dis­trict, which was destroyed decades ago by hav­ing I‑5 going right through it, and that has cre­at­ed a real­ly seri­ous air qual­i­ty con­di­tion, and we have a respon­si­bil­i­ty to tack­le that air qual­i­ty issue by doing sim­ple things like tree canopy and green build­ings, and green stormwa­ter infrastructure.

These are the things that a may­or can direct­ly con­trol, that are tar­get­ed in those com­mu­ni­ties we know are expe­ri­enc­ing low­er air qual­i­ty and water qual­i­ty, and increase those tar­get­ed invest­ments to real­ly begin pro­duc­ing resilien­cy in those communities.

RV: You men­tioned a big prob­lem from the cli­mate cri­sis is clos­ing places of work. Obvi­ous­ly, the biggest thing that has closed places of work is the COVID cri­sis. As we hope­ful­ly move out of COVID, the eco­nom­ic dynam­ics of the whole world, and espe­cial­ly Seat­tle, are going to shift sig­nif­i­cant­ly. What are your top pri­or­i­ties when it comes to Seattle’s recovery?

LG: I have a four page plan called Progress for All, it’s a very detailed plan for pro­duc­ing equi­table recov­ery across the city as we are com­ing out of COVID.

RV: Thank you for your time, Lorena.

LG: Thank you so much!

Vot­ing in the August 2021 Top Two elec­tion will begin in a few days, 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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