Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan announcing her run for Seattle mayor at the Pacific Tower on May 12, 2017 Credit: Matt Mills McKnight/Cascade Public Media
Former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan is the latest person to jump into the mayor’s race and the first since Mayor Ed Murray announced he would not seek re-election.
It’s her first bid for the office even as her name has come up in the last two elections for mayor. This year, in particular, her candidacy has been among the most persistent rumors, even before Murray faced allegations of sexual abuse. As word spread that Murray would drop out, the question morphed from “if” to “when.” According to several sources close to City Hall, she and others on her behalf spent this past weekend making phone calls.
Durkan’s arrival significantly shakes up the race. The candidates with the broadest coalitions — state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, former mayor Mike McGinn, waterfront and citizen advocate Cary Moon and attorney and organizer Nikkita Oliver — are all considered to be left of Murray. With Murray’s exit, Durkan now occupies a more moderate (by Seattle standards) political space.
At her official announcement Friday, on the eighth floor of Beacon Hill’s Pacific Tower, Durkan solidified her reputation as the “establishment” candidate, flanked by longtime political figures former-Gov. Chris Gregoire, former-King County Executive Ron Sims, and former and current councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Bagshaw and, from the King County Council, Joe McDermott.
Durkan spoke in broad strokes about police reform, homelessness and housing affordability, while also promising “you will get what you paid for” when it comes to street-level issues such as potholes, a requirement for new candidates.
The former U.S. Attorney also took on the Trump administration, a favorite punching bag for Seattle politicians. “Donald Trump’s vision for America is not my vision for America,” she said, painting herself as the best person to resist the politics of the President and his cabinet.
But she avoided committing on some thorny issues, like homeless encampments and safe drug consumption sites, opting instead to advocate for reshaping the city’s 5,000 foot approach to prevention.
Durkan left private practice law in the early 1990s to join then-Gov. Mike Lowry as legal counsel. But she made a splash when she resigned in 1995 after Lowry faced accusations he’d sexually harassed his deputy press secretary.
In 2005, Durkan was called on by then governor-elect Chris Gregoire to defend her election in court after a historic battle with Republican candidate Dino Rossi over ballot counts. She prevailed and Gregoire went on to serve two terms.
Durkan was later nominated for U.S. Attorney for Western Washington by President Barack Obama in 2009 and was unanimously confirmed, becoming the first openly gay U.S. Attorney in the United States. In that role she worked extensively on anti-cyber crime initiatives as well as terrorism cases. Among her high-profile cases was one against two people planning to attack a military processing facility in 2011.
Her position also meant she had a direct role in what is still an unresolved city issue: the agreement between the Department of Justice and the City of Seattle to overhaul the Seattle Police Department. She helped negotiate that agreement with Democratic National Committee Chair Thomas Perez, who was then the assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ; Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes; and former mayor Mike McGinn.
Durkan and McGinn had something of a fraught relationship during that process. McGinn was unconvinced federal intervention was the best path forward for reform, a skepticism that has since been spun as obstructionism. The two also had a protracted fight over who, exactly, pushed for the creation of the Community Police Commission.
They will now have the opportunity to re-litigate their old fights in a wide open mayor’s race.
Durkan returned to the private world after leaving her post in 2014, as a partner at law firm Quinn Emmanuel, where she continues to work on cyber security issues, white collar crime defense and intellectual property litigation.
She still occasionally keeps a toe in civic life. On the heels of President Donald Trump’s initial travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries, she was among the leading forces at Sea-Tac Airport helping to prevent two men from being deported back to their home countries. She was called on to help by Gov. Gregoire’s daughter, Port Commissioner Courtney Gregoire.
Murray’s departure from the race has thrown any sense of advantage to the wind. So although it is hardly standard to declare for mayor this close to the May 19th filing deadline, Durkan is almost certainly not the last viable candidate to declare. Councilmember Lorena González has not yet issued any statement as to whether she’ll run.
Earlier Friday morning, State Rep. Jessyn Farrell announced she was running.