This morning Mayor Jenny Durkan took the stage at the Rainier Arts Center and delivered her annual “State of the City” address. It was a classic Durkan speech: optimistic, with an emphasis on getting results — and on results delivered.
“Today the state of our city is strong and resilient,” Durkan said. “Yes, we have challenges, but we have the values, the determination and the talent to meet them.”
Durkan worked hard to position herself as a progressive who gets things done. “Being progressive means actually making progress,” she stated. To that end, she listed off a litany of claimed policy wins: affordable housing construction; the Seattle Promise program (for which 1,800 high school students applied this year); eliminating library fines; taking over 1,100 guns off the streets in 2019; the work on the Seattle Waterfront; progress on connecting up the city’s bike network; reducing speed limits to make travel safer for all; her executive order directing that all new city-owned buildings will not have gas piping; investments in restorative justice programs; increasing Metro bus service by 32% in two years; and more.
Though there were a handful of new announcements, there weren’t any big signature programs. Among the announcements today:
- The city will quadruple the size of the Seattle Promise Job and Career Pathways Program.
- New steps to help small businesses: increasing emergency funding; speeding up the permitting process; and cutting the costs for storefront signs.
- The city will open up “census assistance centers” this year to help people fill out their census forms.
- SFD will launch a second Health One mobile unit this summer, to assist individuals having a drug or behavioral crisis.
- The city will establish a new “community response” program in parallel to SPD’s response to gun violence. The program will have trained people, including “trained, trusted community members and former gang members,” available to respond immediately after a shooting to calm tensions, support survivors, and stop escalation into further acts of violence.
- The Mayor will roll out a plan for the renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District “in the coming weeks.”
The speech felt a bit light on public safety, despite the public spotlight on the topic given the recent shootings and the outcry from downtown businesses. A press release from the Mayor’s Office today highlights some of their ongoing activities to address public safety, but falls short of anything that delivers the “we’re on top of this” that many Seattle residents are looking for. Durkan did, however, acknowledge the deep policy divide in the city over how to address public safety:
“We know one of the fundamental functions of our City government is to provide public safety.
We must do more to increase public safety.
But to achieve that, we can’t act like the other Washington: We can’t create false choices if we really want to achieve holistic community safety.
For many people, increased public safety means more police officers, changing our gun laws, and a criminal justice system that deals better with repeat offenders.
Many others believe we need more economic opportunity for youth, more intervention and diversion programs, and more behavioral health treatment.
My answer is: We need all of the above.”
The Mayor also quickly mentioned the controversy over HB 2907 and whether it will preempt the City Council from passing its own new payroll tax, though once again refused to take a clear yes-or-no position on preemption:
“If we want to truly address housing and homelessness, we must act as a region.
And at a time that the federal government has walked away from its responsibility, cities need more support for public safety, behavioral health, and homelessness.
Fortunately, legislators in Olympia have been working on a bold idea:
A progressive business tax this could give our region unprecedented new resources for affordable housing.
I stand proudly with a broad coalition of legislators, labor unions, service providers, housing experts and some of our region’s small and large businesses and others who all believe we must solve this problem there is momentum behind a comprehensive, countywide approach.
I hope Olympia acts, and our region does not miss this opportunity for real progress.”
Durkan wrapped up her speech with a tacit nod to the other elephant standing in the middle of the room: the public’s flagging trust in city government. She did her best to tie it back to her claimed focus on results:
“In this era of distrust of government, we can restore trust by showing real progress, real results and making lives better.”
Perhaps today’s speech can best be seen as a dry run for the kickoff of the Mayor’s re-election campaign.