Applying for: Seattle Mayor
Below are the answers Jenny Durkan provided to our ten-question job application. All answers are copied verbatim from what we received from the candidate.
1. What would you say is your greatest strength, and your greatest weakness?
I am most proud that some of my strongest supporters are people that have worked for me. I hold people accountable, but strongly believe the best results for any organization come from hiring/keeping good people, listening to them, supporting them and letting them do their jobs. I am passionate about my community, civil rights and creating opportunities for all. I have spent my career fighting for justice in our community - representing victims, protecting civil rights, fighting for our most vulnerable. We must continue to address the root causes of injustice, and unflinchingly face the hard solutions. Democracy can be a loud and noisy business. But it also depends on the quiet changing of hearts.
Some may say I like to “get in the weeds” and see that as a weakness. When tackling tough policy issues – I want to hear from all sides and understand the consequences of all options. I want to analyze problems, see who is affected, understand what has worked and what hasn’t and bring people together to craft a solution. I will talk and gather data to inform my thinking and then make decisions. I will monitor the impact of those decisions – and I am willing to change what does not work. I am straightforward, do my homework, am an active listener and let my values guide my decisions. I find it more gratifying to solve a problem or advance an idea or opportunity than to get credit for it.
2. What are the best & worst jobs you’ve ever had? Why?
Despite being paid $35 a month, the best job was as an English teacher and basketball coach in St. Mary’s, a remote Yupik fishing village in Alaska. I went as teacher, but was just as much a student. The families, students and friends taught me much over two years. The culture, pace, and lifestyle were so different than anything I had experienced. The isolation of the COLD winters (hovering below zero), dark long nights (22 hours at peak), and vast, expansive, snowy tundra was outweighed by the warm friendships, wise friends, and sheer beauty of the land and people.
Teaching was wonderful. Few things beat seeing a student’s eyes light up when they were able to overcome a challenge, or the excitement of an athlete that finally gets it. Their hardwork and perseverance inspired me. I know firsthand the important role educators play in cultivating the academic, social, and emotional success of our youth.
My worst job was piercing ears in a jewelry store - I still flinch thinking about it. My hardest job was when I stayed in St. Mary’s to be a baggage handler for Wein Air Alaska. As the only woman working the job, I was put through the paces and given the toughest tasks. However, after a summer, I could unload jets full of cargo, pickup onboard engines, and fix the forklift engine. The crew became good friends and being a dues-paying Teamster helped me pay for law school. It literally opened the door of opportunity for me.
3. Why is this position a good fit for you?
I know this city, love this city and believe I am the right person to lead it. We face big city challenges. In meeting these challenges, I stand apart from my opponent in both approach and experience. I have executive experience, and can manage the budget and large City government. I have a track record of tackling tough issues, bringing people together and forging durable solutions. I am willing to make decisions, even when it is tough. I will listen to all viewpoints, and am not afraid to learn from others.
I am guided by a deep belief in seeking justice and fighting for the underdog. As a leader, I listen, learn and empower others. I sweat the details. That’s who I am. A progressive fighter. A fierce advocate. An inclusive leader. That’s who I will be as your Mayor.
I was honored to be the first-ever openly-gay U.S. Attorney, appointed by President Obama. As U.S. Attorney, I worked with disparate parties -- including civil rights and community groups city leaders and the police -- to finally put the Seattle Police Department on the path to court monitored and lasting reform.
I created a civil rights unit within the U.S. Attorney’s Office and championed criminal justice reforms.
When President Trump issued the Muslim travel ban based, I went to Sea-Tac Airport and personally helped secure a federal judge’s order barring the deportation of people lawfully in our country. I am uniquely qualified to fight back against President Trump.
4. What makes you the best choice for workers in this race?
We must use all tools to impose more fairness in our economy. I will use the bully pulpit of the office to advocate for low-wage workers and will seek to implement policies that help such workers do better in our growing economy.
Seattle’s leadership in setting labor standards should be matched by a comprehensive effort in both educating employees and employers in what the law requires and also in enforcing it. I believe there are several key elements to a successful enforcement strategy, all of which I will put to use as mayor.
As mayor, I will help protect and build worker bargaining power and will champion policies that are good for working families in Seattle. As the employer of 10,000 city employees represented by almost two dozen unions, I’ll strongly oppose efforts to weaken unions through so-called “right to work” laws and I will partner with city government unions to help prepare for and mitigate against the potential for an unfavorable ruling in the upcoming Janus case. I will promote and support harmonious collective bargaining between labor and management and help avoid work stoppages and lockouts.
I already have a track record of advocating for labor unions in their efforts to protect the rights of workers to collectively bargain. I’ll stand up to the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine the rights of workers, and I’m the only candidate in this race who has already taken on the Trump administration and Evergreen Freedom Foundation -- and won.
5. What do you think is the single biggest issue affecting workers in your area? What would you do to address it?
As a City, we must address the issue of affordability in Seattle. This means focusing on income inequality and expanding protections for workers and working families. It also means ensuring affordable housing and family wage jobs are available in Seattle. Seattle is a wonderful place to live, work, raise a family, and retire, but rising costs and affordability issues are making it difficult for many lower-income families and seniors to remain in the city.
Our city has taken important first steps by raising the minimum wage and passing paid sick leave. I am proud that our state has passed the most progressive family leave legislation in the nation. However, we still have many barriers to overcome, such as closing the gender pay gap.
We need to create more housing options in this city. I will look to leverage City and regional tools and partnerships to help meet this need including seeking property tax exemptions for low-income homeowners and for landlords providing affordable housing and workforce housing.
We must cultivate and protect strong family wage jobs, so people can afford to live where they work. This requires a robust combination of apprenticeship programs, enforcing labor laws and workforce agreements, and keeping/attracting a range of employment opportunities. We must expand opportunities for women and minority-owned businesses. The training, education and development of our local workforce is critical. We want to fill the growing number of jobs – from the trades to tech workers – from right here in Seattle.
6. Describe a specific situation where you took action to support workers fighting for their rights. What was the experience like, and what did you learn? Bonus question: tell us about a time you engaged with workers with Working Washington.
Before we had employment discrimination protections, I represented workers fired from their jobs and those denied advancement or disability payments because they were LGBTQ. I also supported efforts to overturn Don’t Ask Don’t Tell -- which wrongfully discharged many military workers. I advocated for injured workers when I was a partner at Schroeter Goldmark and Bender, a firm that is known for representing injured workers and its pro-labor work. I tried cases
for workers (and their families) who were exposed to asbestos and contracted mesothelioma or other asbestos related illnesses. I also represented the widow of one of the firefighters killed in the Pang warehouse fire. The case forced adoption of safety improvements for firefighters.
I have worked to elect progressive Democrats and other supporters of the labor movement in electoral and political battles, including keeping the Republicans from overturning the results of the Governor’s race in 2004 to install Dino Rossi as Governor.
As US attorney, I established a Civil Rights unit that (among other things) lead reform efforts of SPD, enforced language access rights, the Fair Housing Act and the Uniformed Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. We also prosecuted companies that wrongfully exposed workers to asbestos, chemicals and other harmful conditions.
In my current legal practice, I have also provided legal counsel to a local union benefits organization, to fight the Evergreen Freedom Foundation’s relentless campaign to destroy collective bargaining and impose right to work legal rulings here in Washington.
7. What would be your top single priority if elected to this office? How would you define success or failure on this issue?
Our economic success and growth must become more fully inclusive of all Seattleites. Our city is changing rapidly, and affordability issues are the largest issues facing Seattle. This includes the cost of housing, as home ownership and rents grow increasingly out of reach. Those that are fortunate to own a home have seen property taxes increase significantly and are often unable to keep their homes. Income has not kept up.
Part of the greatness of this city is the rich diversity of our neighborhoods. Seattle has always been a place where young families could make a start; but that is rapidly disappearing. What’s more, the affordability issues also contribute to growing homelessness. Our fast paced growth is creating significant transportation challenges that contribute to the growing inequities in our city.
Simply put, success will be realized when we see more working families who can afford living in the city, a decrease in homelessness and unemployment rates, and more safe, efficient, and well-connected transportation choices for Seattle residents and those who work or visit here to get around on foot, by bike and via mass transit.
8. What can you do in this office to resist attacks by the Trump Administration on the rights of low-wage workers, who are disproportionately women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ?
The Trump administration poses a very real threat to our city’s vulnerable and marginalized communities. I will show the Trump administration that our values – the values of inclusion, equality and openness – can, must and will triumph over his xenophobic, divisive and ignorant approaches.
For decades I have fought for civil rights, and will continue that work as mayor. As US Attorney, I worked with key advocacy groups – ACLU, El Centro de la Raza, Mothers for Police Accountability, NAACP, Northwest Immigrant Rights’ Project (NWIRP), OneAmerica – to reform our police department. I created a civil rights unit and prosecuted hate crimes. I enforced fair housing laws and the provision of language translation services in our court system. The day that Trump’s travel ban was issued, I was at SeaTac and helped get the federal court to block illegal deportations.
The assault on collective bargaining rights will only increase under the present administration; Seattle must remain a bulwark against the right to work movement. We can also anticipate that federal civil rights enforcement programs will diminish under the Trump administration. The City needs to partner with other governments in the region to keep enforcement in place.
I would continue the legal defense fund, and would focus on delivering critical support and city services to immigrants and refugees. And I am prepared to fight against any and all anti-trans or anti-LGBTQ efforts.
As a former U.S Attorney under Obama, I have the know-how and experience to stand up to Trump – and win.
9. Tell us how you plan to address affordable housing, especially for minimum-wage and part-time workers, as well as for those left homeless because of high housing costs.
Seattle has become too expensive for renting or buying a house. I believe that our minimum-wage and part-time workers ought to be able to afford to live in our City. Furthermore, I know that best long-term systemic solution to prevent people from falling into homelessness is to make it easier for them to afford homes.
We need to create more housing options in this city but must also stop the huge displacement of people that growth and increased prices are causing. As mayor, I will:
- Maximize the resources made available through HALA’s Mandatory Housing Affordability requirement, while ensuring implementation provides the expected benefits and mitigates impacts;
- Continue to support public housing development, and the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace;
- Advocate for key property tax reforms in Olympia to reduce the tax burden for older and lower income homeowners and landlords providing affordable housing;
- Support transit-oriented development to ensure that a range of housing is built in areas within walking distance to transit. We must capitalize upon the promise of ST3 to create affordable, vibrant new neighborhoods, with small businesses and restaurants;
- Diversify housing options such as permitted mother-in-laws, accessory dwelling units and other density options.
Lastly, I will continue to foster the growth of family wage jobs in our city. As I stated above, we must cultivate and protect jobs with robust worker protections and living wages so people can afford to live where they work.
10. How would you support advancing the rights of workers in non-traditional jobs, including domestic workers and workers in the gig economy?
Domestic workers – who are usually women and who are disproportionately immigrants and people of color – have been marginalized and left out of worker protections for decades, including being excluded from our nation’s labor laws in the 1930’s. Other cities and regions, notably Massachusetts, have enacted protections for these workers. Washington state and Seattle should lead on this issue.
As mayor, I will propose a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights. We also will bring stakeholders together to establish a permanent mechanism for setting minimum standards of pay and benefits in the domestic work industry. As part of this process, domestic worker organizations and advocates should have a seat at the table, and we must partner with worker organizations, employment and placement organizations, and employers to grapple with the unique challenges of labor standards education, outreach, enforcement, and procuring employment benefits in a domestic work setting.
Protecting workers is increasingly challenging in the new economy. It is up to the leadership at City Hall to anticipate these issues BEFORE innovation kills jobs. Seattle should continue to be a leading laboratory where new forms of worker organization are explored and piloted. There are emerging strategies for building worker organizations, ranging from empowering worker organizations to be benefits providers in the on-demand economy, to sector-specific bargaining over minimum standards, to enforcement and certification strategies, to leveraging workforce training and job placement, to incentivizing employee ownership. We can do better as a city to improve the employment rights and benefits of “gig” workers.