Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan looks back on a term that was ‘defined by COVID’
At the start of the new year, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan will step aside, having opted not to run for a second term. Before she leaves office, she sat down with KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross and Hanna Scott to reflect on the last four years, and offer some advice for incoming Mayor Bruce Harrell.
Durkan served just one term as Seattle’s mayor, but over that time, the city experienced one major event after another, from a head tax battle that played out in her first year, to the pandemic that she says defined her time in office.
“My term as mayor has been defined by COVID,” Durkan said. “I think our whole city, region, and country in the last two years has been defined by this global pandemic.”
Given that Seattle was the first major city to experience a large-scale COVID-19 outbreak in the opening weeks of the pandemic, that left the entire region scrambling to respond.
“When that hit us early in 2020, we, as a city, were the first in the area, the first into the pandemic,” Durkan described. “We had no guidebook, we had very little support from the federal government — sometimes working against us — and we had to find our own way forward.”
Looking back on that time, Durkan believes the city and region largely succeeded in coming together, as local leaders, health officials, hospitals, businesses, and community members all “rolled up our sleeves and figured out how we move forward together.”
The end result was Seattle becoming the first major U.S. city to have 70% of its residents ages 12 and up be fully vaccinated, with the lowest incidence of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, as well as the lowest mortality rate.
“We got through that with those kinds of accomplishments because of what we did together as a city,” Durkan said.
For Seattle’s next mayor, Bruce Harrell, Durkan notes that there are still plenty of challenges he’ll likely face, especially with the pandemic appearing to be far from fully over.
“We’re not done as a city coming out of the pandemic,” she pointed out. “Omicron is a real threat to us, and recovering our economy is going to be hard because the workplace has changed.”
At the tail end of a mayoral term that featured several high-profile clashes between Durkan and city council, she also hopes Harrell will learn from the last four years to “come together and focus on our common challenges.”
“That’s the hardest job, I think, as mayor, is to be able to pierce those very heated disagreements and find a way for people to have some common discussions,” Durkan opined. “And it was made harder during the pandemic because we literally couldn’t get in rooms with people together.”
“My hope for Bruce is even if you disagree with some of his policies, stay engaged and support him in his success,” she added. “Because if he is successful, Seattle will be successful, and if Seattle is successful, our region and state will be successful.”
You can listen to the full interview with Mayor Durkan below:
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