Mayor Jenny Durkan promised to continue being impatient about meeting the growing needs of Seattle residents during her first State of the City address on Tuesday, and also laid out new programs and initiatives she’ll be pushing in 2018.
Bertha Knight Landes was Seattle’s first and only female mayor for 91 years, before Durkan took office last Nov. 28. The mayor pointed out Landes never gave a State of the City address.
“So, today we make a little more history together,” Durkan said.
The mayor highlighted some of her early work since taking office, such as recommitting the City of Seattle to making improvements in racial equity and social justice, as well as investing in the Seattle Promise program, which provides high school graduates with two years of free college tuition at Seattle Colleges.
“Seattle Promise will change the lives of our young people,” Durkan said, “and those young people will change our city.”
Durkan gave her first State of the City address at Rainier Beach High School, where she said many students struggle when it comes to safe and affordable transportation, as do youth in other parts of the city.
The mayor said each of Seattle’s 15,000 public high school students would be provided with free year-round ORCA passes by this fall through her ORCA Opportunity plan.
“And don’t worry, Promise scholars,” she said, “we’re going to do the same for you. We’re doing this so students can worry more about their grades, and less about how they get places.”
As Seattle Public Schools plans its next levy request, Durkan said she will be focused on preserving pre-K and early learning, closing the opportunity gap for students of color and making sure all SPS students have free access to college.
While providing access to a college education is important, Durkan said, the city also needs more apprenticeship programs, internships and summer jobs.
The mayor joined with King County Executive Dow Constantine and Port of Seattle Commission president Courtney Gregoire last week in announcing a $2.1 million investment in construction training and worker support services, but Durkan said she wants the city’s youth to have the opportunity to have any job they want.
“They can build the buildings, work in the buildings, or own the buildings,” she said.
One step to making the city more affordable and equitable, Durkan said, is to protect employees. The mayor announced she will work with Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, employers and laborers in the creation of a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”
“Economic opportunity and fairness also means we will keep protecting our workers through fair wages and fair rights,” the mayor said. “Seattle led the way on the $15 minimum wage. Now, it’s time to lead the way on a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.”
Durkan addressed the city’s commitment to immigrant and refugee populations, saying Seattle will not give in to pressure from the Trump administration.
“Our immigrant and refugee neighbors believe in the promise of America, and we will deliver on that promise,” she said.
The mayor also announced plans to introduce legislation for a citywide pilot that will “encourage the building of 20 of the most sustainable buildings anywhere,” as Seattle continues working to reduce its carbon footprint and produce clean energy.
“We’ll show it can be done to scale,” Durkan said, “and we’ll create a new model for great cities.”
U.S. District Judge James Robart ruled in January that the Seattle Police Department was in full compliance with a 2012 consent decree it entered with the U.S. Department of Justice following findings of excessive force and biased policing.
The mayor said police reform is not over, and that there will still need to be increased training in de-escalation and assisting people suffering from a mental health crisis.
“A critical next step is having the right permanent chief of police; someone who is committed to the reform process that we have begun,” Durkan said.
Kathleen O’Toole resigned at the end of 2017 to focus more on family, and was replaced in the interim by former deputy chief Carmen Best, who has worked for SPD since 1992 and is seeking to fill the role permanently.
Durkan said she wants Seattleites to feel heard in the decision-making process, and directed people to the city’s website to fill out a community surveyregarding what they want in their next police chief as a search committee continues reviewing candidates.
While the mayor spoke about making new investments during her State of the City address, she also cautioned that Seattle’s “boom times won’t last forever,” and that the city is projecting a deficit on the horizon, which is why she’ll be asking department heads to assess where cuts will be needed in the future.