Opinion: Seattle Mayor Durkan distracts from crisis with Sawant feud
Last week, I spoke at length about SPD Chief Carmen Best’s failure to honestly address many of the problems the city has faced in recent days. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t also point out similar — and arguably even more sizable — failures from her boss, Mayor Jenny Durkan.
Immediately following several well-documented incidents of police violence against protesters, community members and at least three councilmembers called on Durkan to resign. In the days since, questions have swirled over her handling of the city’s police department, as well as numerous violent incidents in and around the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest (CHOP). All of that has culminated in Durkan bungling virtually every major conflict the city is facing right now.
To start: the police budget. Protesters and at least four city councilmembers have called for a 50% cut to SPD’s funding, as part of the larger “defund the police” movement that’s swept through cities across the United States.
Durkan’s response? A $20 million proposed cut composing a meager 5% of SPD’s budget. That breaks out to $16 million the city had already planned on cutting prior to recent protests, and $4 million originally set aside for a new North Precinct facility. In the midst of a political movement to completely remake the institution of policing, our so-called “progressive” mayor apparently couldn’t immediately identify significant cuts beyond money for a new precinct building.
This comes during significant unrest in the CHOP, where we’ve now seen four separate shootings, two fatalities, and little to no guidance from Durkan on mitigating the situation. In keeping with that trend, SDOT crews rushed in Tuesday to remove several concrete barricades, all without a word from her office. In the wake of recent violence, perhaps it really is time to rethink the form these protests take in the days ahead. But with silence from Durkan, we have no way of knowing what that even looks like.
Meanwhile, Durkan has yet to issue a formal statement addressing the most recent shooting on Monday. What she has done in the 24 hours since that incident is issue a scolding letter to city councilmembers, urging them to investigate and possibly expel her most prominent political rival in Kshama Sawant.
We’ve seen that rivalry flare up numerous times while the two have served in city government, from a battle over the appointment of a new head of the city’s Human Services Department, to clashing over Sawant’s Amazon Tax proposal.
Durkan’s letter details a litany of accusations, ranging from allegations Sawant violated city hiring practices, to claims she disclosed the location of the mayor’s 5,000 square-foot mansion to protesters. Or to put it another way: In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, calls to defund the city’s police department, and a series of violent incidents in the heart of the city’s protest movement, Seattle’s Mayor is instead asking us to direct our attention to the latest chapter in her feud with a sitting city councilmember.
Whether or not this stunt comes from a genuine place of concern on Durkan’s part, it’s also plainly a convenient time to shift the public discourse toward removing someone other than her from office. More than that, it accomplishes little more than widening the divide between the mayor’s office and city council, all during a period when we need our leaders to be cooperating with each other.
Suffice it to say, these recent crises have Seattle sitting at a crucial crossroad for what could be a series of progressive, transformative changes. And at some point, the city is going to need someone to step up and responsibly guide it through that process. If that’s going to be Mayor Durkan, we’ll need a lot more than what we’ve seen from her in recent weeks.