Thank you for joining me.
Every four years, when this city elects a mayor, Seattle has the opportunity to have a conversation about its future. That’s what I want to talk to you about, and that is why I am announcing my candidacy today for mayor of Seattle.
For the past three years, I’ve been watching this city change in ways that I think we all should be concerned about.
The economy is growing, and for a reason. We have a wonderful city and major employers want to be here. That’s great.
But the people who have helped make this city what it is, made it so attractive, are the people being pushed out by the growth.
Working and middle-class residents are getting squeezed from all sides. On the one side rents continue to grow, with rents going up 67 percent in just the last six years. That’s six times faster than the national average and now the average Seattle renter is paying $635 more a month than they were in 2011. Housing prices are going through the roof - the average price of a house is over $700,000. It’s harder and harder to afford to live here and we sure can’t be the welcoming city we want to be.
On the other side, the solution for every problem from this mayor and City Council is a new tax. And not just any taxes, but deeply regressive ones that burden those least able to pay. If you’re low-income you pay 15 percent of your income in various taxes and fees, one of the highest local rates in the nation. If you’re wealthy, you pay 5 percent.
If you wanted to design a system to drive out working and middle-class residents, this is what it would like: growth that benefits the top, with the impacts paid for by those in the middle and the bottom.
And the squeeze is even harder on women in this city, who make 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. Black women make 61 cents, Latina women make 46 cents on the dollar, reflecting the historic and ongoing discrimination against their communities.
We are also seeing a serious disconnect between City Hall and the people of this city. As mayor, I did over 100 town halls, to take questions and hear directly from the people about what matters to them. I can tell you, that helps focus the mind.
Right now, in one of our city’s richest periods in history, we are telling people we don’t have money for homelessness.
Our City’s General Fund has grown by 25 percent over the past three years, over $250 million a year in new spending. I believe we can prioritize spending to put roofs over people’s heads.
If there has been an 80 percent increase in the Mayor’s Office budget over three years, there must be money to fill some more potholes, or not privatize a community center like Green Lake’s.
So here’s what I would do if elected.
First, before any new taxes, we will thoroughly review our budgets to cut the cost of grandiose projects and save money in operations. I did that when I took office in the depths of the Great Recession, cutting $60 million in annual expenses, while preserving essential services.
Except this time we don’t have to do it just to balance the budget, this time we can do it to put money toward our real priorities. It is what we should be doing in this time of extraordinary wealth in our city. It’s even more important to prioritize when Trump and a Republican Congress are planning to cut human services and transit projects.
Here is the first priority - we must house the homeless. We need to look at what’s working, and scale up our support for that, while at the same time trimming what does not work. Given the depth of the problem, we will likely require more resources. But need to start working with what we already have. It is the height of foolishness to think that the Feds or the State are going to rush in with dollars, and we have wasted precious time waiting for them.
When we do that, when we can ensure safe and accommodating housing for people, when we’re not just pushing people from place to place, we can and will enforce our rules against camping in parks and on sidewalks. I did that as mayor. I know all of this will be hard and there will be controversy and passion from all sides. But we are going to move fast on this. Because the situation now is unacceptable.
When we do that budget review, we will also get back to basics. Filling potholes, making our streets safe for all users, keeping officers on patrol, maintaining our buildings, keeping and expanding hours for libraries and communities centers, maintaining direct human services, and ensuring that small businesses get great customer service from city agencies. We’ll innovate - like we did to avoid a new city jail, to prioritize drug treatment over incarceration and to get more police on the street in hot spots. Politicians love the legacy of expensive signature projects, but good government is about doing a lot of little things right.
Now, I don’t deny we may need to raise money for important priorities. But if we do so, I will urge we not go straight to sales taxes, property taxes or other regressive fees. My starting point is how do we get the hugely successful individuals and big companies to pay their fair share.
For example, I support a city income tax. I’ll use this opportunity today to urge the City Council to pass one this year, as soon as they can. We know it will be challenged legally, so we should get a test case in front of the courts right away.
But since we can’t rely on an income tax surviving a legal challenge, we must also ask our biggest companies to help pay for the impacts that their growth has on our city. Along with that, we could also expand the B&O exemption for small businesses. Like our households, our small businesses are also getting squeezed by rising rents and costs.
Here’s why I believe our biggest companies can do more. It wasn’t long ago we were worried about attracting big downtown employers. That’s changed. We have tens of thousands of new jobs in our city. Now, we need to think about how the big companies can pay to mitigate their effects on this city - and keep it livable for regular working people and small businesses. Whether that’s helping pay for services, or helping expand local transit, the big employers can’t just benefit from our beautiful diverse creative place, they need to help keep it that way.
Seattle faces a fundamental problem. We simply can’t keep asking middle- and lower-income families in this town to pay more in regressive taxes to deal with the growth -- while at the same time they have to deal with the rising cost of living caused by that growth.
That is why housing costs, like our budget and taxes, must also be a priority. I commend Ed Murray for asking stakeholders to bring forward their best ideas to address housing. HALA - the Housing and Livability Agenda - has some good ideas in there. But ideas are not enough. If you want public support, the public has to be involved. You can’t tell them that a bunch of people in a room have made a “Grand Bargain” when the people most affected - the public - didn’t have a seat at the table. I’m reminded of the old proverb - if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. And we have far to go.
If elected, immediately upon taking office, I would launch true neighborhood driven planning across the city. Invite everyone - those who think we’re growing too fast, those who think we need to build more housing fast. Homeowners, renters, builders. And let’s have it out.
Standing still is not an option. And neither is discord and controversy around solutions. I have my own opinions on the best solutions, you can find it in my record. I support making it easier for small changes like backyard cottages, mother-in-law apartments, townhouses and small apartment buildings. I think luxury developments should help pay for affordable housing. I believe we need to scale up publicly-owned housing.
But as mayor, I learned my opinion is far from the only one that counts. We can’t solve this problem without the public being part of the solution. We used this approach on the Family and Education Levy, on the Road Safety Action plan, on economic development and on police reform - by inviting those most affected to be part of the solution. On growth and our quality of life, that’s everyone. Again, this will be a controversial and contentious discussion, but the current cost of housing can’t stand. We will push this process toward action.
We’ll also ask neighborhoods to identify their highest priorities for investments in services, public safety and transportation. That will inform how we prioritize our spending.
Now, I’ve focused here on housing, homeless and the budget. But there is more we can do to make Seattle work for all of us. When I was mayor, we passed Paid Sick Leave. Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council raised the minimum wage - that was the right thing to do. Our next opportunity for leadership is to pass Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave and eliminate gender pay inequity.
I’m going to stop there. Obviously there are a lot of other issues to talk about, which we can talk about now and during the course of the campaign. I just wanted to use my opening remarks to focus on what’s truly important here.
This city has always been known for its openness and, for its quality of life, for its innovation. Those of you who came to town, like me, probably remember that feeling crossing the I-90 bridge so many years ago and seeing the skyline for the first time.
Seattle was a promise - a promise that we can be little better and do a little more than we could anywhere else. The people here created that promise.
That promise is threatened.
Right now, every time the rent goes up, or a house goes on the market at an unaffordable price, it doesn’t just squeeze out who’s here now. It squeezes out our dream of what our city can be.
A place where your kids can choose to live near you.
Of a stable community that grows around you, instead of being shattered by growth.
A place where a school teacher, artist, or non-profit worker can forgo some salary, because they want to make all our lives better through education, or art, or helping the needy.
A place where somebody can quit their job to take on the risk of starting a new business.
A place that a refugee can move to and find people who speak his or her language, food that seems right and a bus line to carry them around.
A place to live.
We all benefit when we keep that Seattle.
We can’t let this city become San Francisco, trending rapidly towards an enclave only for the wealthy.
We need a city for the rest of us - a truly livable Seattle.