NPI's Cascadia Advocate

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

Wednesday, July 7th, 2021

Lorena González talks with NPI about her 2021 candidacy for Mayor 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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