A wide field of 21 candidates is narrowing to two in a mayoral race whose winner will navigate Seattle through its rapid, tech industry-driven transformation.
Former U.S. attorney Jenny Durkan had a wide lead in the Seattle mayoral primary with 32 percent of the vote when another round of results was released at 4 p.m. Wednesday. Urban planner Cary Moon is still in second place with 16 percent followed by lawyer Nikkita Oliver, who has 14 percent. Whoever wins will be the first woman mayor in Seattle since 1926.
About 59 percent of the ballots that were expected to be returned have been counted and the next round of results will be posted Thursday at 4:30 p.m. In other words, Durkan’s challenger is yet to be determined.
After her first place position came into focus based on early results, GeekWire caught up with Durkan on Wednesday to discuss issues that matter most to the tech industry. We asked how Seattle can avoid some of the problems San Francisco is grappling with due to the rapid growth of its tech industry.
“Seattle can learn from those lessons,” Durkan said of issues in San Francisco, adding that she supports a property tax break for landlords who provide affordable housing and higher property taxes for those who do not.
Durkan isn’t too worried about the breakneck pace at which Amazon is growing, drawing record numbers of newcomers to the region for tech jobs. She said the Seattle ecosystem is “much more diversified than we have been historically.”
“I am from here and it used to be said that if Boeing sneezed, Seattle caught a cold,” Durkan explained. “We have a risk of that because Amazon is such a presence. But if you look across the sectors, it’s not just tech. We have Starbucks. We have Costco. We have Nordstrom. We have the Fred Hutch and the whole biotech industry so I think we really have a more diversified tax base.”
Moon is not doing media interviews today but GeekWire asked all the candidates where they stand on tech issues a few weeks ago. Oliver chose not to participate in the story.
“In the past, the city has played a role in preserving and growing economic clusters, including around high-tech, aerospace, manufacturing, life sciences, high-tech startups, maritime and tourism,” Moon said last month. “That must continue. Together, we have significant opportunities to build upon our existing strengths and draw new talent and ideas to our region.”
She also stressed the importance of training young people for the high-demand jobs of the future and creating an environment where startups can thrive.
“The city can help create an operating environment in which venture capital can help reach new and diverse communities of entrepreneurs and in which those with a vision and energy can deploy solutions to common problems,” she said.
Continue reading for Durkan and Moon’s answers to our questions, drafted with help from the tech community.
How will you improve accessibility to the city’s urban core? What infrastructure plans do you have that would support the tech and business community? “We need to encourage downtown to grow both commercially and residentially, to continue to invest in streets, transit, buses, and sidewalks, and to protect the cultural and historic characters of each neighborhood. One-tenth of residents live in downtown and the downtown job center is the largest in the state and home to thousands of businesses of all sizes. Our region thrives – when our civic center is vital.
Accessibility downtown rests on a fundamental challenge of Seattle’s recent growth but also the 55,000 jobs expected downtown in the next 20 years. We will need to improve and expand options for people to walk and bike, use transit, and take advantage of car sharing and expanded ride-hailing services and prepare ourselves for future innovations – like driverless cars. We also need to expand telecommuting options.
We are not going to get any more roads – so we need to ask: ‘what is the most effective way to move people and goods to and through downtown?’ Making transit more reliable and frequent is critical – both for transportation and our climate goals. Having Sound Transit services up and running as quickly as possible is fundamental. Using ‘smart’ technology — like digital ‘real-time’ information for transit users, delivery and freight trucks and ride-sharing — will help drivers and riders make better choices.
I look forward to learning more about the recommendations out of the One City One Center City, the joint planning effort between SDOT, King County Metro, Sound Transit and the downtown business community. The recommendations will be for a medium-term (10-year) and long-term (20-year) plan for the downtown transportation system. Although there are a lot investments coming on line (e.g. Center City Connector Streetcar, waterfront Tunnel, ST3, etc.) there will need to be additional investments to keep the center city moving.
We need to maintain our busiest streets, encourage businesses to improve employee access to transit passes, bike and car share memberships, and complete the rapid rise plus system. SDOT should first focus on reducing bottlenecks in key locations, optimize traffic signals and pedestrian flow (so, for example, more than one car can get through a light), and work collaboratively with other agencies to accelerate improvements.
But we need immediate relief, as traffic is only going to get worse. There are other changes we could implement quickly including:
1. Make 3rd Ave transit spine more efficient, safer and more attractive to transit riders.
a. All transit riders on 3rd Ave should pay their fare before they get on the bus.
b. Treat 3rd Ave like the transit tunnel and create fare-paid areas that are monitored by security to make it safer for waiting for the bus and address the chronic public safety issues along the corridor.
c. Improve the look and feel of the street, through better amenities and by activating the blocks like we have some parks (e.g., Westlake and Occidental).
d. Have dynamic bus bay real-time signage so riders know where exactly to expect their bus and can queue accordingly.
2. Move buses off 4th and 2nd in downtown that are being replaced by other transit.
a. New Husky Stadium light rail station should be used as a reliable and fast transfer point. We also need to explore more ways to deliver people to this hub.
b. Buses from the south and Bellevue to the east can transfer at light rail stations.
3. Work closely with WSDOT on mitigation to provide additional signage, funds for more bus service, traffic management and control.
4. Increase driver and rider awareness of traffic impact and construction to encourage different travel patterns (modes) and options for times.
5. Encourage telecommuting, and support additional carpooling, biking and transit use particularly during difficult projects/traffic events.
6. Continue to find new ways of increasing downtown buses’ speed and reliability through improved traffic signals and targeting key bottlenecks with transit-only lanes.
a. Consider increasing on-demand micro-transit (shuttle vans) to quickly and easily fill the gaps in our bus and light rail networks,
b. Possibly use micro-transit, shuttles or others to provide much needed first and last mile connections to RapidRide corridors and light rail.”
Do you believe a mayor can be pro-business and pro-social justice? What guiding principles will you use when deciding whether to create more burden and expense for businesses in order to make Seattle a more just and equitable city? “A mayor must be pro-business and pro-social justice. Economic empowerment is critical to any social justice agenda. Right now too many people are being left behind, and are being locked out or displaced from our city. We should be proud of our economic dynamism. But it must be intentionally inclusive. Our prosperity must be shared prosperity. I have spent decades working for social justice in this city and will continue to do so as mayor.
We are facing tough challenges — housing affordability, homelessness, and transportation. But we also are presented with tremendous opportunity. We can solve the problems, and seize the opportunities if we join together as a community. If we are to build the just, equitable and dynamic Seattle of the future, we need all hands on deck.
I’m proud that we’re the only campaign that is unifying our city with a coalition that includes labor unions such as SEIU and firefighters, environmental leaders, and the business community. If we’re going to address the challenges of homelessness, housing, and transportation, we will need all hands-on-deck and bring people together to get things done for our city.”
What will you do to drive innovation in our region? When and how should the mayor protect incumbent industries that provide jobs, versus paving the way for new models and technologies that will result in a loss of jobs? “Seattle is the city that innovates and invents the future. We must foster a climate here that both nurtures the vibrant economic base we have and fosters the businesses of the future.
A healthy business climate can be measured by standard indicators – unemployment rates, job growth, business starts, tax revenue, reduced inequality, and more. But a healthy business climate also means a civically engaged business community. Seattle is the land of innovation, where amazing global companies are launched and headquartered. It is also the home to many smaller, critical businesses that often provide the backbone of so many neighborhood gathering spots. I will engage our local businesses – large and small – to build a healthy business climate in our city.
We as a region need to be better at ‘growing’ the workforce and talent for our economy. The city needs to partner with the Seattle Public schools and with businesses to increase opportunities for students to be trained for and have apprenticeships in the strong family wage jobs of the new economy. Such programs should build synergies between community, schools, and business – so we are not only preparing students for the new economy – we are shaping it. From building the new towers, to running and working for the companies that fill them – we have to do a better job of developing the talent here.
Schools are critical to this. Because the city does not oversee the K-12 or post-secondary systems, its role is mainly to help facilitate discussion, engage the tech community and other employers, coordinate with the educational systems, work with private philanthropy and others who are collectively focused on improving the pipelines for talent and pathways for opportunity. We should explore opportunities to build partnerships between the public and private sectors around programs like apprenticeships – to support historically disadvantaged communities entering the workforce.
In addition, the city can help create an operating environment in which venture capital can help reach to new and diverse communities of entrepreneurs and in which those with a vision and energy can deploy solutions to common problems.
Ensuring our city has clear rules and regulations for business to follow is key to allowing businesses and key industries to have predictability. In the past, the city has played a role in preserving and growing economic clusters, including around high-tech, aerospace, manufacturing, life sciences, high-tech startups, maritime and tourism. That must continue. Together, we have significant opportunities to build upon our existing strengths and draw new talent and ideas to our region.
A mayor’s role is to both support existing industries that create jobs while also encouraging new economic growth and emerging industries. For example, Seattle can support both a thriving maritime and industrial community as well as technology and biotech industries. Our plans for growth — through zoning and transportation planning — must recognize both.”
What can you do to prepare Seattleites for the jobs of the future and prevent people from being left behind? What will you do to attract foreign investment? “Encouraging innovation while supporting traditional employment structures at the same time is complicated, but it is a challenge that our city has and must continue to step up to. We need to create an environment where organized labor, immigrant communities, social service organizations, employers, educators, and families can work on these nuanced issues. We need to approach these changes as we have so many others in our past: with a commitment to our progressive values, with creativity and ingenuity and with a firm belief that anything is possible in Seattle. I am committed to working together to explore, design and implement pilot programs for new forms of worker power and support here in Seattle.
We must [create] a place that encourages experimentation in new modes of working together while ensuring everyone has access to quality and affordable health care, sick time to take care of themselves and their loved ones, quality time to spend with a newborn or adopted child and an opportunity to save for a retirement with dignity.
Regardless of how any worker earns their income, their work has value beyond their paycheck and the benefits that allow that worker to live healthy, secure, and productive lives should be available. Seattle will remain a place that encourages innovations in this area, while remaining true to our values as a community.
We must also have affordable housing, strong infrastructure (roads, transit, broadband), a strong education system (K-12, higher education, apprenticeship programs, career training), smart land-use and taxation policies, and a laser-like focus on the basics necessary for a well-run and highly-functioning city.
As mayor, I will work with key state and regional elected, business and academic leaders to attract new investments in our region — both foreign and domestic — especially in the areas of technology, biotech, and manufacturing. As one of the most trade dependent areas in the nation and our geographic location make us an attractive place for direct foreign investment. But we must actively work to attract this investment in ways that help our local economy and our workers.”
Do you support municipal broadband? If so, how would you implement publicly-owned internet, which has been talked about and studied for years without real action? “I support the concept but have concerns about the cost of this, especially as it relates to other priorities such as homelessness and affordable housing.”
If you were a tech CEO, which one would you be? Why? “Trish Millines Dziko, co-founder and ‘head’ of the Technology Access Foundation.
She is wicked smart, deeply committed to ensuring equitable access to the tech future, and has figured out the ‘secret sauce’ on how to do it. She could have stayed at Microsoft or done any type of startup. But she saw 20 years ago how critical it was to improve access to STEM and technology fields for students of color and underrepresented communities. We need to infuse this ethos into our approach.
I am also a believer in Bill Gates quote, ‘Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.’ I think this is important. To make progress we must try new things, find new ways of doing things and we cannot be afraid to fail.”
How will you improve accessibility to the city’s urban core? What infrastructure plans do you have that would support the tech and business community? “I am the only candidate in this race with experience working in the private sector and with Seattle city government to find solutions to our city’s problems. As mayor, my top three priorities would be:
1. Tackle the affordable housing crisis with bold solutions. First, we need to expand affordable housing from roughly six percent of Seattle’s housing supply toward a goal of four times that. I would pursue new progressive taxes to fund affordable housing, perhaps using our bonding capacity to speed delivery; work with Olympia to increase the housing trust fund; encourage more philanthropists to contribute to non-profit housing providers and community land trusts; and aggressively pursue using surplus public land for non-profit housing. Second, we also need to adjust the land use code and the permitting/SEPA/entitlement process to facilitate viable housing options for working people in the ‘missing middle’ like duplexes, row houses, ADUs, congregate housing, and co-ops. Too much of our land is zoned for single family homes, blocking new housing we need. Finally, we need to understand how speculation in our housing market is escalating housing prices and implement target taxes to deter this activity.
2. Invest in transit to match growth: Our transit system must keep up with our population growth. Regional and local jurisdictions need the authority to decide how to allocate investments by mode. When gas tax money is siloed for highways, and transit must be funded with only local limited sources, it starves Seattle of the transit funding we need. Cities must be empowered to determine most efficient and cost effective investments according to local goals and conditions. When transit is fast, reliable, and convenient, people will use it. We also need to shift the culture of SDOT more quickly toward pedestrian safety, expanding bike facilities, transit reliability and convenience, and ensuring we have adequate drop-off and delivery zones throughout commercial areas. And we need to speed up delivery of Sound Transit 3 by optimizing design and planning process, and using our bonding capacity to help fund Seattle projects sooner.
3. Establish a 21st century economic development strategy: A robust and diverse business base, with employers across several industries and businesses of all sizes, is essential to the economic well-being and resilience of a city. The mayor must work with employers across all industries to set the vision and then lead the action agenda to guide our thriving economy so that it creates broad prosperity and access to opportunity for everyone. Let’s build a proactive strategic plan: where we’re headed, how we can ensure the prosperity our businesses create recirculates back into the community, how infrastructure and housing can grow in parallel, and how can we improve access to family wage jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities so that our city moves closer to racial and social equity.”
Do you believe a mayor can be pro-business and pro-social justice? What guiding principles will you use when deciding whether to create more burden and expense for businesses in order to make Seattle a more just and equitable city? “Yes. Seattle must stand for racial equity and the liberation of all people. Our city must step up its accountability to communities of color and disenfranchised communities, including transgender and gender diverse people, to build an inclusive and just city that reflects our progressive values. At the same time, we must nurture, expand and sustain our locally owned small businesses. Our city is fortunate to have such a strong base of employers and innovators in our city. The challenge for us is not to attract jobs or more outside investment, but to make sure the wealth we are generating is reinvested locally, building strong base of locally owned community-based businesses, and to make sure we are providing access to the abundance of good tech jobs for our young people with training and education.
I believe that business can be a good partner for a better city in several ways:
- Participate in crafting an economic development strategy for Seattle in the 21st century. We need to envision, together, how can we expand family wage jobs, increase access to entrepreneurship for low-income communities, keep a stable and diverse base across many sectors, and support small and local community-based businesses as we grow. This strategy must be proactive, constructive, and forward thinking, and bold about facing the challenges of inequitable growth. How can we establish leadership via innovation in clean energy and climate solution technologies? How can Seattle reclaim and protect leadership in producing and making things, because these activities are where wealth is generated? How can we look with a racial and socioeconomic equity lens at who has access to tech jobs and entrepreneurship, and what do we need to change so communities of color can also benefit?
- Help plan urban growth. The tech industry must be at the table planning for future growth to ensure we are expanding schools, transit and housing to keep up with our rapidly changing economy. The city needs to include the long-range planning of the tech industry in its planning.
- Play a strong constructive role in the housing affordability challenge. Our housing prices are escalating beyond the reach of middle income folks and increasingly tech folks too. What can the tech industry do to help advocate for best solutions, and contribute resources to ensure our growing workforce can afford to live in the city?
- Be ready to help find and support revenue solutions so we have sufficient funding for public investment in education, in transit, in public safety, and parks and other infrastructure. We are falling behind, and need more progressive revenue sources to keep up with growth and ensure we are investing in giving future generations the education, training, infrastructure, and support they need to thrive.
What will you do to drive innovation in our region? When and how should the mayor protect incumbent industries that provide jobs, versus paving the way for new models and technologies that will result in a loss of jobs? “I would work closely with the national ‘Mayor’s Innovation Project’ from day one of my administration to stay current on ideas and best practices in our own methods of governance, and build a team of innovators in my staff. It is essential to stay at the forefront of new ideas, and learn from other cities all the best practices for economic growth and broadening prosperity. As a leader, my approach is to set big goals for our future city, and invite departmental staff, community leaders, advocacy groups, businesses and citizens to be part of figuring out how to get there collaboratively.
I believe diversity in a city’s economy is healthy and essential, so as mayor I will work to sustain a balance of historic and new industries. A complex economy is resilient and can evolve and innovate, given the right conditions for collaboration and cross-pollination. I would devise a 21st century economic development strategy focused on the future: green energy technology, small and local business, tech, aerospace, health sciences, food production, maritime, manufacturing, research, and trade.
There are several projects underway in other cities that seem worth exploring here in Seattle:
- Cleveland, with its large institutions, has developed unique programs for local procurement and local hire. This has helped boost small and local businesses and helped keep the wealth generated by the big institutions circulating locally in communities. They also have established a creative and forward-looking strategic plan to retool their industrial sector for the green economy, preparing the infrastructure and talent base they already have to attract and secure opportunities coming as we shift to the next economy.
- Minneapolis has a few model programs or practices that have helped them keep a stable and prosperous economy going for decades. The city has been mindful to sustain a wide breadth of businesses of all sizes and across several industries in their city. Because of this, skilled talent stays in the region, moving from job to job across industries and strengthening knowledge/ skill/ expertise for employers to draw from. Their growth has been stable, sustainable, and inclusive largely due to the city’s strategic leadership and partnerships with business.
- PlaNYC developed under Mayor Bloomberg is a great model for transparent, accountable leadership: setting a future vision, defining specific objectives, laying out an action plan with specific metrics, inviting broad collaboration, and reporting back to citizens on progress. I would adapt this model for leadership to clarify direction and ensure we are pulling in the same direction.
What can you do to prepare Seattleites for the jobs of the future and prevent people from being left behind? What will you do to attract foreign investment? “I am excited for the opportunity to help shape our city’s future by establishing the vision and a collaborative action plan to get there. It is essential that we understand the dynamics that contribute to wealth inequality, and pro-actively plan for the economy that will build broad prosperity instead.
Our city must step up to lead the nation in establishing a progressive and inclusive economy, and actively guide the economy toward the well being of everyone. Success in this will depend on several things: a robust economic development strategy, that focuses on the wealth generation nexus of innovation and production; a strong voice for workers and collaboration between labor/businesses/the city in defining the vision; a well resourced and effective small business economic development agency within the city to help small and local businesses thrive as our city grows; developing pragmatic solutions for portable benefits in the gig economy; a specific strategy to build pathways to tech jobs and entrepreneurship for low income communities, immigrant communities, and communities of color so we make big gains in equity.
With my leadership, and with a bold economic development strategy, future Seattle will be known for these successes:
- Ongoing tech leadership, especially in cloud computing, retail, and gaming. Our tech sector will continue to grow for the same reasons that it is robust now; concentration of talent and skilled employees across many employers, and high quality of life in a livable city.
- A balanced and diversified economy. Beyond the ongoing growth of tech, our economy will also grow in other sectors that broaden our base and offer a broader range of family wage jobs in locally owned businesses: green manufacturing, food production and local agriculture, clean energy technology design and production, life sciences, aerospace, global trade and maritime.
- A city that sets the standard for climate leadership at the municipal level and is showing the nation how to reduce emissions, grow compactly, build resilience in communities, lead innovation in retrofitting the built environment, and shift to district energy systems and efficient energy distribution — all during a period of high growth.”
Do you support municipal broadband? If so, how would you implement publicly-owned internet, which has been talked about and studied for years without real action? “Yes, I am a strong supporter of municipal broadband. Chattanooga has established municipal broadband as a public utility, and offers one model to examine. We need to build a socially just universal broadband system that guarantees access to everyone; we need a lower cost system to ensure equitable access; and we need to confront the privacy risks that come with using commercial operators seriously. Running broadband from the public sector as a utility is a prime way to achieve all three. We need a mayor with the resolve to see this through and implementing municipal broadband would be a top priority for me and my administration.”
If you were a tech CEO, which one would you be? Why? “I am very interested in worker co-ops and employer ownership. Companies like Sassafras Tech Collective and GAIA Host Collective look like great models for power sharing and finding solutions that benefit the employees, customers, community, and the long-term sustainability of the enterprise.”