By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Since West Seattle Junction resident Lorena González – current City Council President – announced her run for mayor this morning, her phone’s been blowing up.
“80 text messages from friends and neighbors and family,” not to mention conversations like the one we had this afternoon, González replied when we asked her what the hours since her announcement have been like. “A really humbling outpouring of support … so overwhelming.”
The announcement was expected, even before Mayor Jenny Durkan announced two months ago that she wouldn’t run for re-election. She’s had aspirations for higher office for a while, launching a brief campaign for state attorney geenral a year and a half ago. She was a civil-rights lawyer before becoming the first Latinx member of the City Council, elected to citywide Position 9 for a two-year term in 2015, re-elected for a four-year term in 2017. She has owned a Junction condo for a decade, sharing it now with her husband and their toddler daughter.
Given the council’s strength, overriding mayoral vetoes in recent months, we asked her, why leave it to run for mayor?
The city is at a “critical crossroads,” she replied, and “we need somebody in the mayor’s office who understands the co-equal branches of government … somebody who’s willing to (use) her relationships with (other) elected officials” to advance “a bold and progressive agenda.” That agenda, González says, would tackle homelessness, economic equality, the ongoing economic recovery, public safety, and civil rights, among other issues.
We asked about the first item on her list. “Homelessness to me is really at its core an issue of poverty.” That hits close to home as, she says, “I grew up in poverty,” part of a farm-worker family in outdoor camps, with no access to proper hygiene. “I understand deeply how poverty affects your stability.” She wants to see a “holistic” effort to tackle homelessness, including mental and behavioral health and “substance-use issues,” as well as the shortage of affordable housing. She thinks it is possible to make a difference and is hopeful about the potential held by the relatively new Regional Homelessness Authority, on whose Governing Committee she serves. She also thinks voters might have to be asked to “consider additional funding for a huge investment in treatment.” After years of reductions in federal investment, she says, “We are digging ourselves out of a massive hole.”
Next, we ask about public safety, with councilmembers working toward big changes in the system. That’s a “long-term effort,” as González sees it, while resolutely in support of “transforming how we do public safety in our city … I hear all the time, from people of color especially, (that the) presence of officers doesn’t translate to crime prevention” – human-services systems must increase for that to be possible. That said, she also recognizes that “armed law-enforcement response” is needed too. What she sees ahead is an evaluation of “every line of SPD work” for a “realistic” plan on what could be transferred out of the department, and what needs to remain. “We can’t lose the sense of urgency,” she warns.
But in the meantime, we observe, this is a time of transition, and without systems in place to handle some of that public-safety work, SPD attrition is rising – how to ensure that doesn’t threaten public safety? González says interim SPD Chief Adrian Diaz is accountable for that, “to be sure current needs are being met.” The next mayor will be hiring a permanent chief, and she says that chief must be “committed to delivering public safety” while also transforming how it’s delivered. “These things are not in conflict with each other.”
Regarding the West Seattle Bridge, we ask about a recurring topic – will there ever be a review of how it got to the point of almost falling apart, with no public alarm having been raised before the day it was closed? In short, her reply is no – she feels time and money are better spent looking ahead and ensuring the bridge gets fixed.
We also asked her thoughts on annexing unincorporated North Highline (White Center), which isn’t being actively discussed right now but will someday re-emerge as a topic: She believes that annexing the area “would be an important equity initiative” and that “many would benefit from the services the city offers,” but she would want to see “anti-displacement and anti-gentrification policies in place before we pursued.
In general, what does González see as top issues for West Seattle, aside from the bridge? She says what she hears about most are the issues that apply to the entire city – public safety and homelessness, especially – but she also hears a lot about housing affordability. “We really have to look at the zoning laws and housing choice … across the city.’ She feels that “exclusionary zoning” has done a lot of harm.