Conversation with Lorena González: City Council President & Mayoral Candidate
Release Date: 03/25/2021
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This week Crystal dives into discussion of the Seattle mayoral race with candidate and City Council President Lorena González. Topics include what Council President González would require in the Seattle Police Officers Guild contract, how she would work with the city council once she becomes mayor, and what she would do in the face of our city’s looming eviction crisis.
As always, a full text transcript of the show is available below and at officialhacksandwonks.com.
Learn more about the Seattle City Council’s reduction of the police budget here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/politics/seattle-city-council-rebalances-2020-budget-passes-initial-police-department-cuts/
Read about the passage of the 2017 Police Accountability Ordinance here: https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/crime/seattle-city-council-passes-historic-police-accountability-legislation/
Learn more about Seattle’s Universal Paid Family & Medical Leave plan here: https://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/lorena-gonz%C3%A1lez/universal-paid-family-and-medical-leave
Get a recent update on the eviction moratorium situation here: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/03/15/durkan-extends-eviction-moratorium-as-local-state-leaders-consider-further-protections/
Read the South Seattle Emerald’s conversation with Council President González here: https://southseattleemerald.com/2021/02/03/pledging-a-pathway-to-shared-prosperity-seattle-councilmember-lorena-gonzalez-announces-run-for-mayor/
Crystal Fincher: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hacks & Wonks. I'm your host, Crystal Fincher. On this show, we talk to political hacks and policy wonks to gather insight into local politics and policy through the lens of those doing the work, and provide behind the scenes perspectives on politics in our state. Full transcripts and resources referenced in the show are always available at officialhacksandwonks.com and in our episode notes.
Today, we are joined by Seattle City Council president and mayoral candidate, Lorena González. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:01:01] Thanks for having me, Crystal.
Crystal Fincher: [00:01:03] Well, this is a really exciting time, and I guess I just wanted to start out by, what motivated you to want to run for mayor after dealing with everything you've dealt with on the Council?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:01:16] Well, that's a great question. I think I'm really motivated to run for mayor because I've never been one to back down from a challenge. And I see that there are several really important challenges facing my neighbors, facing my own family here in this city that I love, and I think that I am the person best suited and best positioned to help bring us all back together - to help us identify consensus, to put the negativity behind us and be focused on the solutions that we need to put into place as we look towards brighter days. That include coming out of this pandemic, that include working on economic recovery that is equitable, and on continuing to build on the work in this civil rights moment to address issues related to policing, its impacts on Black and Brown folks, and to continue the hard work around accountability and reform, which is something that I have dedicated my entire professional career to.
Crystal Fincher: [00:02:33] Certainly, Seattle is one of the few departments that has actually successfully reduced funding of the police department. Certainly, there are those who want to go much further. So, I guess, starting there, do you plan to go further? And how do you plan to put into policy the demands and changes that are being asked for in the community?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:02:58] Yeah. Last year, in one budget cycle, we were able to achieve, in combination with what the mayor proposed in cuts, about an 18% reduction in the Seattle Police Department's budget. That is, of course, historic because there has never been a single year in the history of the Seattle Police Department in which they saw budget reductions. So, last year was the first time we did that. It was at about 18%, and I'm proud of that work. I'm proud of the fact that we worked with community partners to identify ways to responsibly take a scalpel approach and reduce the Seattle Police Department's budget, while also very importantly finding $30 million worth of investments that are going to go directly into community safety investments through a participatory budgeting process. And just this week, in the Public Safety and Human Services Committee, I was proud to vote in favor of advancing a $10 million new investment in community safety initiatives that, again, are going to build up those alternative systems to a law enforcement response.
And so, for me, as mayor, I want to continue to work with City Council on identifying how to get our police department back to core law enforcement functions - how do we identify functions that the police department should not be doing, things like mental health services, behavioral health responses, crisis intervention. Those are things that we need to urgently identify, and develop a plan to transfer out of the police department, and to allocate to different systems that are much better suited to do that work. And in the meantime, we need to continue to increase and implement our investments in these community safety initiatives to make sure that we're building equitable community safety for everyone in our city.
Crystal Fincher: [00:05:07] Do you think there is the opportunity to have further, I guess, modifications in patrol headcount and the composition of SPD? What would be the plan that you're putting forward, and how do you see it being implemented?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:05:26] Again, I think that doing a functional analysis to, again, evaluate which functions the police department is currently doing that would be more appropriately dealt with a different system is part and parcel of the plan. And we have to do that in a way that allows us to scale down on law enforcement responses, while also scaling up our other alternative response systems to people who are in crisis and who would be better served by non-law enforcement forward plan. And so, I think, for me, there is a world in which that functional analysis will lead us to the conclusion that we can do with less patrol officers, but that also relies on a strong commitment to implement and advance investments in these community safety-based initiatives that we know work and that will do better at keeping us all safe in our communities, particularly BIPOC community members.
Crystal Fincher: [00:06:39] And another element that has certainly been talked about is the SPOG contract, and that influencing so much around accountability, and that contract is going to be negotiated this coming year. City Attorney Pete Holmes is saying that probably won't be negotiated until after the mayor is elected. So, what would be your approach, and what types of changes would you be wanting to see in that contract?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:07:10] In that contract, we need to get back to the Police Accountability Ordinance that I was the prime sponsor on, and that was unanimously passed in 2017. That is a really important priority for me now, as the council president, who sits on the Labor Relations Policy Committee and is currently looking at these issues. And, as mayor, it would be my responsibility and my commitment - to saying that we're going to work closely with community partners, and to make sure that we are re-instituting many of the policy wins that we had through the Police Accountability Ordinance. And I'll tell you, for me, the priority really is issues related to how I believe this police guild abuses the arbitration process in discipline issues, how we have allowed for lesser transparency as it relates to discipline matters, and making sure that ultimately at the end of the day, we need to have a contract that is going to inspire, not damage the trust of the public.
And that means more transparency into these proceedings. It means faster discipline processes, and it means that when a chief does decide to fire or discipline an officer, that we are in the best position to uphold that discipline, as opposed to having it undercut and undermined by some private third-party arbitrator in a room that is closed off to the public and that none of us have an idea of what actually transpired in that room. That is really damaging to our trust into our system of policing, and we cannot continue to tolerate that kind of a system.
Crystal Fincher: [00:09:14] Yeah, and I think a lot of people are going to be excited to hear you definitely lead with that 2017 Accountability Ordinance, which a lot of people are viewing as the standard to start with for a contract, and especially when it's so consequential for all of the other issues that we're talking about, in terms of keeping the community safe and making sure there is accountability. That seems critical. And, I guess, overall, the relationship between the Council and the mayor has been contentious at times, some might call it unproductive. A lot of people have viewed just the stances that the mayor has taken, probably not as favorably, in terms of being as proactive and addressing the critical needs that have become apparent through the pandemic. I guess, as you look at the past couple years, how would you go about changing the way you approach the relationship with the Council, and how do you think that is going to be visibly different in terms of results for Seattle residents?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:10:28] I'm really proud of the relationship I have with my colleagues. Even in moments in which I have disagreed about a policy issue, I have been willing to show up in the conversation to talk through that issue, and to come up with a consensus agreement around what we can do. And I am really proud of the working relationships and with the personal relationships that I have with the current City Council. By far and large, this will be the Council - the Council I belong to now is the Council I will work with as mayor if I'm elected. And I think that that is of great value to our city and to our governance. I will understand deeply how these council members work because I've been in the trenches with them.
There is an inherent baked-in opportunity for us to trust each other and to use our working relationship and our longstanding personal relationships - to stay focused on what the problems in the city are and on the solutions that our constituents need to be able to thrive, and to be able to succeed, and to be able to have shared prosperity. And to stay focused on that, and not be focused on personality differences or stylistic differences, I think, is going to allow us all as elected leaders in this city to show the city how we can and are true leaders, and how we will continue to make sure that Seattle is considered the progressive leader in the country on policies and issues that our constituents want us desperately to be focused on and solve for.
Crystal Fincher: [00:12:21] Yeah. I feel like that's something that a lot of people have been frustrated about - that there is the will among voters in Seattle. Certainly, people without homes, people without shelter, has been a major problem, continues to be, and for as much conversation as there's been around that, for as much rhetoric, we have not made the progress that we need to. And I think people are really eager for someone to come in, not just with a plan, but with the ability to get it implemented in a way that is visible, and that actually gets people into shelter immediately and to stable permanent housing ultimately. How do you feel you are better positioned to do that than the other candidates in the race?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:13:10] I think plans are only as good as your ability to get them done, and I know how to get things done. And I've proven that through my record on City Council. When I was first elected in 2015, my first priority in 2016 was to fight for paid family and medical leave for everyone in the City of Seattle. And that was a goal and a commitment I made as a first-time candidate, knowing that we had a family leave program at the state that had never been funded. And so, for 10 years, this fight had been going on, about how do we get paid family leave.
Well, I got to work. I focused all of my office resources on that issue. I met with over a hundred business owners to hear from them what their operational concerns would be with a paid family medical leave program in Seattle. I met with working family organizations, I met with labor, and pushed out a proposal based on that stakeholder process to advocate for a progressive paid family medical leave policy at the City. And, to me, it was important to take that position as a city and to say, "Look, this is something that can work. And if the state isn't going to take action, we are ready, willing, and able to do it right here in the City of Seattle. We will go it alone if we need to." That's the kind of work that I have been doing for the last seven years. And it's the kind of work I want to take to scale on the issues that are most important to us, including homelessness. And I am ready to prioritize those big ideas, and roll up my sleeves, get in the trenches, and deliver for all of us.
Crystal Fincher: [00:15:17] You're listening to Hacks and Wonks with your host, Crystal Fincher, on KVRU 105.7 FM.
Certainly, people are trying to evaluate, "Okay, everyone's saying they can get it done," but there are a lot of ideas coming from within the community and, I think, more of a priority placed right now on making sure community is included in those solutions. But there is always the challenge of taking, identifying a need, and people understanding that this is a problem and something needs to get done - and turning that into policy that can be implemented in a way that's helpful, that people can feel on the ground, and that also can withstand legal scrutiny, the pushback from people who just oppose everything happening. How do you negotiate that in this environment? Do you feel like you are uniquely able to do that, and how do you negotiate between community demanding something on one side, and the business community saying, "Well, we're going to oppose you if you move forward, and we're taking you to court"?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:16:31] Yeah. I know a thing or two about all of that - that you're talking about in your question. This is exactly what I have experienced over the last six or seven years. I would say this. First and foremost, it's about building coalitions. It's about giving people an opportunity to help us build the table. Not just a seat at the table, but let's build this table together. And sometimes, that means bringing people to the table who disagree with each other and who may be at polar opposites of a particular issue. But I'm a big believer in making sure that we are talking to all different perspectives. But that is with the understanding that we have a North Star, that we want a particular outcome.
My philosophy is we're not inviting people to the table to say, "No," we're inviting people to the table to pave the path towards "Yes," towards progress. How do we get there? What do we need to do to get there? And that doesn't mean that we're going to agree a hundred percent of the time on the way there, but a hundred percent agreement isn't the goal. The goal is to end homelessness. The goal is to have shared prosperity. The goal is make sure that people of color aren't gentrified in massive rates from our city. That's the goal. And that's what we've got to stay focused on. And that might mean that we have to tolerate the speed bumps on the way there, but we can do that. I think we can do that.
Crystal Fincher: [00:18:08] Well and you raise an important point about bringing voices to the table that haven't been there before. I think we're hearing from some of those, including the Black Brilliance Project, right now. But I also think among some of what people view as traditional establishment constituencies, or stakeholder groups, that there is more varied need and opinion within groups that a lot of times people portray as monolithic. Whether it's the business community - sometimes, we hear very different things from huge corporations like Amazon and small businesses, in terms of what they're saying they need and what's good for business in Seattle as a whole. And among workers - right now, we're having a conversation around being thankful and happy that a lot of frontline workers are getting increased hazard pay certainly and are eligible to get vaccinated. But looking at some people left behind, like restaurant workers, who are in a uniquely vulnerable position - where they're in situations where people are without masks some of the times and yet are not being prioritized for being vaccinated.
So, as you weigh these concerns, how do you navigate through listening to those voices? And you say the goal isn't consensus, so at some point in time, you do have to make people unhappy. And we've certainly heard, I think, over the last couple mayoral campaigns and candidates, that consensus has been talked about as its own goal and purpose. And the feeling that that has inhibited people actually moving forward to take action to get things done. How do you distill all of those different opinions and hear from enough people and then say, "All right, some people are going to be happy and some people aren't, but this is what we're going to do"?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:20:08] Yeah. Well, I think that's leadership, right? If you try to be all things to everyone, who are you in that point and time? Leaders, we are elected by the people of this city to make difficult decisions. And that is what I think our constituents expect us to do - is to make the difficult decisions, and to do it in a way that is principled and that is true to the progressive values of this city. And I think, for me, I come to this position and to this opportunity as somebody who has experienced a deep amount of poverty. I have very close family members who still experience generational poverty and trauma associated with that. And I also am married to my husband who is a restaurant worker and has been out of work for an entire year, and is not prioritized for a vaccine, and is about to go back to work in two weeks.
I am in many ways still experiencing many of the systems that aren't designed for people of color, and for immigrants, and children of immigrants. And that is who I show up as every day in this work that I do on behalf of the people of the city. And, for me, we talk a lot about how representation and politics is important. It's important not just because of the physical presentation of an elected official. It's important because of who we are in our core. It's important because of who we have surrounded ourselves with, and because of the lived experiences, our life experiences in struggle and in overcoming those struggles and in being resilient.
And I show up to this work believing every day that my job is to invest in the people who had a similar lived experience as me, so that we can get all boats to rise, and to actually have a meaningful opportunity to access education, to access healthcare, and to access housing stability in every neighborhood in our city. And that's the kind of city I want to build, and it's the kind of city I want to build with people who I know fundamentally believe in that kind of just and fair city that I think we can be.
Crystal Fincher: [00:23:19] And we have work to go on being a just and fair city. We are confronted visibly with the haves and have-nots. And with so many needs right now that have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the economic crisis that has followed for so many people, what do you feel residents in Seattle need most right now? And, I guess, what kind of relief are you looking to provide for people who just desperately need help right now? What is your message to them?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:23:55] Yeah, I heard a report this morning that there are, I think, approximately 10 million people across the country who are extraordinarily behind in their rent right now. And so we are facing an eviction moratorium cliff, where we are on a potential path of creating a direct funnel into a state of homelessness for thousands of people in our city, in our region, and across the country. I hear about that every day in my inbox, in our voicemails, and on social media. And so, for me, that means that we have a really important obligation to meet needs related to rental assistance. We have an opportunity to do that. We are set to receive about $239 million in federal funding right now that we can choose to prioritize, and that I believe we should prioritize towards rental assistance, and also mortgage assistance, particularly for BIPOC home owners and other low income folks in our city, to stave off that cliff and that consequence of housing instability for thousands of people in our city.
So rental assistance is of top priority. I believe this will continue to be a need into the next several years. And so we're going to have to be very intentional about prioritizing the limited resources we have towards rental assistance, and continue to advocate for the federal government and the state government to give us direct access to those dollars to support those families. That's a massive deal.
The second thing I want to mention is, as it relates to COVID and vaccinations, and our unhoused population. Vaccinations, delivering vaccinations to us all is been challenging because of supply. Delivering vaccinations to people who don't have a home currently is even more challenging and difficult. Even if we can get them a first vaccination, it requires us to be very organized to be able to get them that second vaccination three weeks later. So I believe that the issues related to the deadly impacts and effects of COVID on our unhoused population will continue well into next year. And we have to be focused on scaling up programs that allow for single room occupancy to address the COVID-19 realities amongst people experiencing homelessness, who are particularly vulnerable to this deadly virus. And so those are two really important things that I think we need to be just laser focused on over the next couple of years.
Crystal Fincher: [00:27:15] Gotcha. And we're nearing our time here, but in the couple minutes that we have left, certainly, among political consultants and people who are in politics, and especially who are working in politics and policy - campaigns aren't exactly the best job interview for the role of governing. And there are certainly spectacles, but the skills that are on display with campaigning aren't necessarily the same skills that you use in governing. I guess, as you go through this process, and as voters are trying to evaluate the maze of issues and candidates, and we have an increasingly crowded field for mayor, what do you think is the lens that people should be viewing this race through and making this decision through?
Councilmember Lorena González: [00:28:10] I think this election is going to provide us, the voters, with clear choices. And I think we have an option to decide whether we want to continue to be a progressive, innovative city that centers our policies and our efforts on protecting the most vulnerable, on creating pathways to shared prosperity, again, through a progressive lens. Or we're going to be a city that chooses someone who is more interested in maintaining the status quo of business as usual. And, for me, the choice is clear. That right now we have a historic opportunity to do things radically different in a way that really transforms our economy to make it equitable, and to really make sure that we are focused on saying we are not going back to the old normal. There is a new normal, and that new normal has got to be one that is just, one that is equitable, and one that acts with the sense of urgency that this moment calls upon us to do.
And, for me, I think voters need to be focused on people's track record on what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done. I believe I have a very strong record and one that I want to build on as mayor of this city. And I'm excited to get out there and to continue to make my case to the voters of this beautiful city that I love.
Crystal Fincher: [00:30:03] I thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Certainly are eager to see how this entire race unfolds and really having a constructive dialogue.
Thank you for listening to Hacks and Wonks. Our chief audio engineer at KVRU is Maurice Jones Jr. The producer of Hacks and Wonks is Lisl Stadler. You can find me on Twitter @finchfrii, spelled F-I-N-C-H-F-R-I-I. And now you can follow Hacks and Wonks on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts. Just type in "Hacks and Wonks" into the search bar. Be sure to subscribe to get our Friday almost-live shows and our mid-week show delivered to your podcast feed. You can also get a full text transcript of this episode and links to the resources referenced during the show at officialhacksandwonks.com and in the podcast episode notes. Thanks for tuning in. Talk to you next time.