SEATTLE – Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, a moderate Democrat who faced criticism from the right and left this summer over her handling of policing protests and the city's so-called “autonomous zone,” said Monday she will not run for reelection.
Instead, she said, she wants to spend the rest of her term dealing with challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“We know stopping the spread of the virus, protecting jobs and focusing on the economic recovery — especially for downtown — is going to take everything we’ve got,” Durkan said in a video message. “I could spend the next year campaigning to keep this job or focus all my energy on doing the job. There was only one right choice for our city: doing the job.”
Durkan, 62, a Seattle native, longtime lawyer and former U.S. attorney, is Seattle's first female mayor in 89 years. She was elected in 2017, after Mayor Ed Murray resigned amid allegations of child sex abuse. Her decision leaves an open field for next year's mayoral election.
In her message, she said she was proud Seattle's efforts that made COVID-19 testing free citywide, in imposing a moratorium on evictions and in offering relief and protections to small businesses, immigrants and workers.
She also highlighted a new program that offers free tuition at the city's two-year college to all graduates of Seattle Public Schools and new investments in affordable housing.
But her handling of nightly protests following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis drew condemnation from many.
Officers used tear gas, pepper spray, less-lethal projectiles and flash-bang grenades indiscriminately, and they continued using tear gas even after Durkan imposed a moratorium on it.
Three city council members said Durkan should resign or at least consider it, and protesters demonstrated at City Hall and outside her home, calling for her resignation.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the city over the police tactics on behalf of Black Lives Matter activists, prompting U.S. District Judge Richard Jones to order the department to stop using force against peaceful protesters. On Monday, he found the city in contempt for violating the order on at least four occasions.
It was a stunning turnabout for Durkan — who spent years working on police accountability and reform, including as Seattle's top federal prosecutor, when she forced the city into a settlement with the Justice Department to overhaul how and when officers use force.
Durkan also became a target of national right-wing invective in June as the city for weeks tolerated the “Capitol Hill Occupied Protest,” a several-block area that protesters claimed as a police-free “autonomous zone.”
Though the city cleared out the area in July, Attorney General William Barr later branded Seattle an “anarchist jurisdiction” and threatened to withhold federal funding.
Seattle, along with its fellow “anarchist jurisdictions" of New York and Portland, Oregon, sued over the label.
In a written statement Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee thanked Durkan for her service to a city she loves.
“Jenny has led through tumultuous times and had to make difficult decisions with grace and dignity,” Inslee said. “She has always worked to represent the needs of all Seattleites and helped to make the city a world-class place during a time of strong economic transition.”
Seattle City Council President M. Lorena González noted that she first met Durkan in 2007, when they were both working on police accountability issues, and that they continued to have many similar priorities even as they differed on the police response to the protests and other issues.
Those included the city's efforts to help pay legal fees for immigrants facing deportation, increase funding for affordable housing and provide sexual-assault protections for hotel workers.
“I understand and respect Mayor Durkan’s decision not to seek a second term,” González said in a statement.
She added: “Even during Mayor Durkan’s transition year, the Legislative and Executive branches will continue to work together to effectively address the most pressing issues facing the people of our city as we look to recover from COVID-19 and build an equitable, just, and climate-resilient Seattle.”