With less than two weeks until swearing-in, Durkan sets priorities
Seattle mayor-elect Jenny Durkan greeted her 61-member transition team at a meeting at McCaw Hall Thursday. Members gave her a standing ovation after her introduction by former King County Executive Ron Sims, who said he is “ecstatic” about Durkan’s win.
Her transition team “is probably the most diverse (and that doesn’t mean biggest),” Durkan said. However, the number of people appointed exceeds Ed Murray’s transition team of 43 people in 2013.
Durkan told the team they will be assigned to committees on specific topics and they will have to work quickly. They meet again on Nov. 27 and she will be sworn in as mayor the next day.
She warned the pressing issues of growth and homelessness won't have easy solutions. "If there were, there probably wouldn't be a woman mayor," she said.
One transition team member said it's exciting that Durkan is soliciting policy ideas, since some transition teams are simply asked to help fill jobs.
But restaurant owner Angela Stowell asked Durkan whether City Council members will accept the transition team’s input. “What’s the sense that you get from the council that they’re going to work with you on the policies that we’ll be working on in this room?” she asked.
Her question comes as interim Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley has proposed a 17 percent cut to the budget for the mayor’s office. In a statement Harris-Talley said staffing costs have climbed disproportionately to the number of employees in the mayor’s office since 2014.
Harris-Talley added, “We have the utmost respect for the incoming Mayor, and know she has what she needs to build a stellar team of her choosing.”
Former City Councilmember Tim Burgess, who is serving as mayor until Durkan takes office, protested the potential cuts in a statement Tuesday. He accused council members of making budget decisions “on the fly” and said they should reduce their own budgets instead.
But Durkan told her transition team she’s optimistic about City Council relations. She said she’s meeting with council members this week, including Teresa Mosqueda who has been elected to the seat temporarily occupied by Harris-Talley.
“I will work with every council member one-on-one and in groups,” Durkan said. “I think we’re going to have a good, positive working relationship.”
As to the proposed budget cut she said, “It was the end of their budget process, a lot of things happened at the end. I think if we have a more methodical process going forward, I think there’s a lot we can accomplish together.”
Her initial priorities include 700 additional beds at homeless shelters, free Metro bus passes for kids under 18, and rental vouchers.
Durkan also said cities must take the lead in opposing President Trump’s policies.
“We know for a certainty that nothing good is coming out of Washington, D.C. for the next three years,” she said. “Nothing. Yesterday the city of Seattle received a letter from the Trump Administration threatening to repeal some of its funding because it is a sanctuary city. We will push back, we will remain a sanctuary city.”
But she said there is a “small glimmer of hope” for federal funding to fight the opioid crisis.
Transition team member Sheila Edwards Lange, president of Seattle Central College, said she’s particularly thrilled that Durkan is seeking to offer two years of free college tuition for public high school students.
Seattle already offers one year of tuition to graduates in a handful of high schools. Lange said these programs result in more kids graduating, attending college and completing their degrees. Durkan’s proposal would expand the program so that graduates of all 12 public high schools in Seattle have access, as well as increasing the amount of tuition and support.
“What she is proposing is wraparound services for two years which is incredible, so we hope to see higher completion rates as a result,” Lange said.
Coming to Seattle Central from the University of Washington, Lange said she was shocked to see how little support was available for students, many of whom are overcoming trauma after incarceration, foster care and poverty. She said community colleges are trying to offer everything from food pantries to mental health care, but housing is another big need.
“Housing is actually becoming one of the greatest barriers for our students’ success, because they’re housing-insecure and food-insecure,” she said.
Durkan said the tuition program would cost $4.5 million dollars in 2018. Funding sources could include the city’s sweetened beverage tax and the Families and Education levy.