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Durkan leaves office: Four-year achievement report released ahead of mayor's last day

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Photo by Ted S. Warren / AP
Photo by Ted S. Warren / AP

In advance of Jenny Durkan's final day as mayor on Dec. 31 came the release of a four-year achievement report, with a particular focus on Seattle's COVID-19 response.

"There is no better city in the world. Seattle is innovative, resilient, and determined," Durkan said in the report. "Nowhere else can you find a world-class arts community, some of the biggest companies in the world, neighborhoods with a small-town feel, and the best sports fans anywhere."

Durkan's term began on Nov. 28, 2017. She is the city's second female mayor, in addition to being Seattle's first openly Lesbian mayor.

Photo by Ted S. Warren / AP  

The City of Seattle's response to the pandemic will most likely be Durkan's defining legacy. Seattle was the first American city to be struck by the coronavirus in early 2020. According to the report, Seattle led the COVID-19 public health response throughout the country by coming up with protocols and making decisions based on scientific evidence.

Back in early 2020, when there were limited supplies, Durkan purchased testing kits from South Korea to allow for mass testing of Seattle residents. Seattle Fire — one of the first groups to administer vaccines in the country — created five mobile units for the purpose of testing vulnerable populations and those living at long-term care facilities.

When Seattle's restaurants and small businesses took a financial hit from the pandemic, the City created café street programs that allowed for safer outdoor dining.

New programs were also put in place, including one of the first eviction moratoriums in the nation and small business grants, among others. The expansion of existing programs during the pandemic consisted of an increase in food and rental assistance, and utility assistance to prevent residents from losing electricity.

Under Durkan, a total of $50 million in rental assistance, $33 million in cash assistance for vulnerable residents, $17 million in small business grants, and 233 safe street café permits were provided, according to the report.

The report takes pride in the city's vaccination efforts. Lumen Field became the largest civilian-led vaccination site in the United States, and as of June 2021, Seattle became the first American city where 70% of residents were fully vaccinated.

"We have the lowest cases, hospitalizations, and mortality rate of [any] major city in America. The work we did together saved thousands of lives," Durkan said.

According to the report, over 1.3 million COVID-19 tests have been administered to Seattle residents, and in the fall of 2021, new sites were established in West Seattle, Rainier Beach, and Downtown in order to provide thousands of booster doses of the vaccine.

Photo courtesy of the Office of the Mayor  

Increased opportunities
On her third day in office, Durkan created the Small Business Advisory Committee to recognize the voices and needs of smaller businesses.

In 2018, the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise levy was passed with 80% of the vote. It created 2,000 preschool program placements for Seattle children. It also guaranteed two free years of college for all Seattle public high school students.

In 2019, the Libraries for All levy passed with 76% of the vote, which opened Seattle Public Libraries to more than 51,000 residents and got rid of $2.6 million in outstanding overdue fines.

Uber and Lyft drivers were also able to receive equal pay when a 2020 law was passed that required drivers to be paid at least minimum wage.

Affordable housing
"While much of my term was focused on our crisis response, we never stopped focusing on the key issues of our time: housing and homelessness, and building opportunity for the next generation," Durkan said.

With rental increases in addition to the challenges of COVID-19, a number of people are experiencing homelessness across Seattle. On Sept. 4, 2019, Durkan and Executive Dow Constantine established the King County Regional Homelessness Authority (KCRAH), which will seek to address the city's response to homelessness in early 2022.

In 2019, the Mandatory Housing Affordability was established, which allowed Durkan to increase affordable housing investments and the number of affordable housing units.

According to the report, about "one-third of the affordable housing since the first Housing Levy in 1981" is being created during Durkan's term. This equates to $2.5 billion in investments to build and preserve units.

Accessory dwelling unit (ADU) and detached accessory dwelling unit (DADU) legislation also allowed for more backyard living facilities. The report claims that under Durkan, an improvement in shelter spaces has enabled a greater number of people to get off the streets and into safer living quarters.

The report also claims that Seattle has approximately 3,000 shelters, hotels, or backyard living facilities, in comparison to 1,700 in 2017.

Although she has emphasized the importance of affordable housing and safe spaces for both residents and the homeless population, Durkan has continued sweeping homeless encampments throughout the pandemic, which forces people to leave their campsites and search for new locations.

During a 2020 interview with KUOW's Bill Radke, she stated, "Unfortunately, some of [these encampments have been] the site of shootings, human trafficking, and other violent crimes."

During Durkan's term, Seattle has experienced extreme weather conditions: snowstorms, extreme heat, hazardous air conditions from wildfire smoke, and rapid rainfall.

The report states that incorporating climate resilience into Seattle's infrastructure was a key focus of the Durkan administration. It also states that one year, over 1,200 miles were plowed during a snowstorm.

On Feb. 1, 2021, one of the strictest energy codes in the United States was passed, the natural gas ban. This ban prohibits the construction of natural gas in new buildings and requires electric vehicle-charging stations in multifamily constructions.

The report mentions that 3,500 free transportation passes were provided to seniors and workers, in addition to 18,000 ORCA cards for students. Additionally, 800 homes were converted from oil to electric, and 10% of emissions were reduced due to energy code updates.

Community safety and response
Throughout her term, Durkan invested in several pilot projects, including the King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective, to address the rise of gun violence within Seattle.

Additionally, Health One, which is the Seattle Fire Department's mobile integrated health response unit, allowed medics, instead of police officers, to be sent to assist people experiencing distress.

Furthermore, the report mentions a reduction in 911 calls at the highest-volume shelters, by placing nurses in shelters. Community service officers, who are unarmed civilians, were also sent into the field to respond to nonemergency 911 calls.

Photo by Elaine Thompson / AP  

2020 protests
What is not mentioned in the report are the 2020 protests, for which Durkan received great criticism. Following the murder of George Floyd, Seattle residents protested police brutality, and the Seattle Police Department used tear gas, blast balls, and pepper spray, among other crowd-control measures.

Durkan was met with criticism for neglecting to address and soften the police response. Within weeks of Floyd's murder came calls for her resignation, including from Seattle City Councilmembers Kshama Sawant, Tammy Morales, and Teresa Mosqueda.

A 30-day ban on tear gas at protests was instituted, except for the SPD's SWAT unit, who were allowed to use tear gas to end standoff situations and to protect life. Two days after the ban, Capitol Hill was subjected to tear gas.

Photo by Ted S. Warren / AP  

Text messages dating from Aug. 28, 2019, to June 25, 2020, were excluded from public records requests, which violates the state's Public Records Act. Communications between Durkan and Seattle Fire Department Chief Harold Scoggins and former police chief Carmen Best (who resigned in Aug. 2020) are missing. This prevents the public from examining decisions to use tear gas on residents and protestors in Capitol Hill. A lawsuit against the City of Seattle was filed by the Seattle Times

Durkan's office claimed the missing text messages were the result of an "unknown technology issue," although her staff members knew for months that Durkan's text messages were programmed to delete automatically.

After four years in office, Durkan will be replaced by Bruce Harrell on January 1, 2022.