- Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has been taking criticism from left and right with some calling for her resignation.
- Durkan is Seattle’s first female mayor since the 1920’s.
- There are reports of a growing rift between Durkan and police chief Carmen Best.
For most people, hard copy newspapers are an anachronism. One of the few demographic groups that still pays any attention to them are politicians. Given the assortment of megalomaniacs and psychopaths drawn to the profession it’s no surprise that they love to see their name in print. Presumably, seeing their name online in some fashion doesn’t bring the same thrill likely due to the egalitarian nature of the Internet. There is one time, however, when politicians don’t want to see their name in the dead tree media–when the adjective ’embattled’ is in front of it.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan definitely fits that description though it’s worth noting that she’s not alone. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic with strident calls for reforms to make law enforcement less racist and more accountable there’s any number of politicians taking the heat. Even so, Durkan’s situation is unique bordering on bizarre. It’s well beyond the purview of this website to provide full explanation and analysis of Durkan’s run as mayor so we’ll hit the points necessary to understand her current situation.
BEING A MAYOR IN THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST IS A THANKLESS JOB
Being the Mayor of Seattle, Washington–and to a lesser extent Portland, Oregon–is a thankless job. Both are growing cities with problems typical to growing cities. The challenge of the office is exacerbated by the electoral demographic. To get elected, a PNW Mayor candidate needs to lean significantly to the left. That leaves them an easy target for attacks from those to the right ideologically. The problem is that they have to deal with a vocal minority that is well to the left of Che Guevara.
Seattle, in particular, has a tradition of hating whomever is sitting in the mayoral office. The current mayor is Jenny Durkan, Seattle’s first female mayor since the 1920’s and the city’s fifth since 1989. Some context is important here–since 1989, Chicago has had two mayors. In most cities, incumbent mayors are reelected more often than not. I’m far from the first to point out that Seattle residents have a tendency to hate their mayor–in fact, it’s been a topic of conversation among political types for years.
In theory, Durkan is a picture perfect Democratic candidate for any public office. She’s the former United States Attorney for the Western District of Washington appointed by former President Obama. Her appointment in 2009 made her the first openly gay district attorney in the US. She served in this role until 2014 when she entered private legal practice with the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. She entered the mayoral race when previous officeholder Ed Murray resigned in the wake of sexual abuse allegations in 2017.
Things had been pretty good in the Jet City during Durkan’s tenure prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. The economy was humming along with unemployment at 4%. Seattle had become the de facto capital of the tech economy and 2,000 people a month were moving in making it the fastest growing big city in America. Her biggest problem was dealing with the negative externalities of growth such as traffic, parking, etc. She also had to deal with the city’s economic deniers to the left. Remember when Amazon was looking for a location for a second headquarters? That was in response to the geniuses on the city council who blamed the booming tech industry for rising housing prices and thought that running them out of town was the solution. It probably would have worked since there’s a strong correlation between high unemployment and low housing costs but clearly that’s not the way to go about it.
Until the COVID-19 crisis, Durkan’s approval ratings were very good by Seattle standards. 48% of respondents said she was doing a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ job and 33% more said she was doing at least a ‘fair’ job. Only 15% indicated that she was doing a poor job. This was in marked contrast to Seattle’s aforementioned economic denier city council. Only 27% said they believed the council was doing a “good” or “excellent” job. Forty percent said the council was doing a ‘fair’ job” while 29% called their performance “poor.” The fact that 27% of the city thought the city council was doing a ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ job tells volumes about Seattle.
THE CURRENT SITUATION AND HOW IT HAPPENED
The game has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 pandemic and the collateral damaged it wreaked on the economy. Seattle’s employment has actually held up pretty well–likely due to the predominance of tech jobs that can be performed remotely–but that’s not why Durkan is ’embattled’. Her problems began with the outrage over the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. While most of the voices speaking out against systemic racism and police brutality have been intelligent, articulate and peaceful Seattle has a history of political violence. The 1989 WTO riots were likely the low point of Seattle’s history of tolerating angry mobs. In the current situation, there’s much to suggest that along with the thousands of legitimate protesters of all races in Seattle there are the ‘usual suspects’–violent and predominately white far leftists often incorrectly labeled ‘anarchists’. There’s plenty of reports of black leaders questioning the sincerity and motives of these opportunists and particularly as it relates to Seattle.
This is where the story gets bizarre and why Durkan has become a national lightning rod for criticism left and right. During the recent riots protesters occupied the East Precinct and forced police to retreat and cede control. The area around the precinct for four to six blocks has been declared a police free zone and referred to as the ‘Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone’ or ‘CHAZ’. The mood of the area and the thousands of protestors therein was described by the New York Times as “part street festival, part commune.” There’s conflicting reports of whether the area has any leadership–there are some accounts of a ‘warlord’ overseeing the situation with others suggesting a more organic presence. There have been reports of negotiations with protestors but it’s not clear whom exactly is in charge.
ATTACKS ON DURKAN FROM THE RIGHT
Mayor Durkan has strongly affirmed the First Amendment rights to protest but to no surprise she’s received plenty of criticism from the other side of the political aisle from Donald Trump on down. On one level, this isn’t surprising from a demographic known for reflexive support of even the most aggressive law enforcement tactics. In fact, it’s the occupation of the police precinct that has really infuriated the President prompting this bizarre comment:
“You have a governor who doesn’t know anything about it. And you have a mayor who doesn’t know she’s alive. She’s talking that it’s going to be a love fest this summer. If they don’t do the job, I’ll do the job.”
The characterization of Durkan’s ‘love fest’ comments is for the most part accurate. Here’s what she said in a recent interview with CNN host Chris Cuomo:
“We’ve got four blocks in Seattle that you just saw pictures of that is more like a block party atmosphere. It’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta. We will – we will make sure that we can restore this.”
“But we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time. It’s known for that. So, I think the President – number one, there is no threat right now to the public. And we’re looking – we’re taking that very seriously. We’re meeting with businesses and residents.”
The interview concluded with this exchange:
CUOMO: How long do you think Seattle in those few blocks looks like this?
DURKAN: I don’t know. We could have the Summer of Love.
ATTACKS ON DURKAN FROM THE LEFT
Durkan is also hearing it from the left resulting in a recall petition and calls for her resignation. Their criticism is similar to that facing Mayors in other cities such as Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms–the suggestion that they’re responsible for strong arm tactics against protestors. That’s debatable and many mayors have responded with reasonable and measured guidelines for dealing with protestors. Durkan has temporarily banned the use of tear gas against protestors. The city council has gone beyond that, banning the ‘ownership’ of crowd control weapons altogether.
The reality is that there’s probably some middle ground in terms of police policy relative to tear gas use. There’s no way to defend it’s use against peaceful protestors but at the same time the need for control of violent mobs–such as seen during the 1989 WTO protests–is obvious. A large city has any number of potential situations requiring police response and they need to have the tools to respond. The problem is making sure that the use of certain aggressive control tactics is justified and that the circumstances are such that non-lethal methods aren’t an option.
Further complicating Durkan’s situation is a growing rift between her and Chief of Police Carmen Best. Best is an African-American woman and has received support from community activists and local black clergy members–sources not predisposed to reflexive defense of law enforcement leadership. Reports suggest that Best wants to be more aggressive in dealing with the situation and has disputed the characterization that Seattle police ‘abandoned the precinct’. When interviewed late last week by Good Morning America the police chief made these comments:
“I am very angry about the situation that we have and at this point we just want to make sure that it gets resolved. While I really support First Amendment free speech, this is not that.”
She also indicated a desire to return to the precinct though it was framed as a public safety issue:
“I’m just concerned about making sure that I’m able to get my officers back into the precinct so that they can respond to calls for service. We need to have officers responding to calls in a timely fashion and with the occupation, we’re not able to do so in a timely way. It’s taking us three times the amount of time for priority-one calls in the area and almost an hour for priority-two calls.”
Durkan has downplayed any disagreement with Best though the tone of their public comments are becoming increasingly divergent.
JENNY DURKAN SEATTLE MAYORAL STATUS BETTING ODDS
WILL JENNY DURKAN BE MAYOR OF SEATTLE AT 11:59 PM PACIFIC ON 12/31/20?
Yes -180 No +150
WILL CARMEN BEST BE SEATTLE CHIEF OF POLICE AT 11:59 PM PACIFIC ON 12/31/20?
Yes -750 No +600
WILL JENNY DURKAN BE REELECTED AS MAYOR OF SEATTLE IN 2021?
Yes -130 No +110