Conversations with Leaders, Mayor Jenny Durkan

Written By: Tanya Dumas, LT’18

In late October, LT hosted a Conversations with Leaders featuring Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Attended by over 100 people, the event was moderated by Martha Choe, LT’84, a former Seattle City Councilmember and civic leader with extensive experience in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

Marianne Bichsel, LT’99 welcomed the crowd on behalf of Comcast, the generous sponsor of the event. Ms. Bichsel spoke about the LT pillars of civic engagement, knowledge, and leadership, before welcoming Mayor Durkan to speak about both local and national issues.

Mayor Durkan spoke to the leadership qualities she has learned to most value, including a willingness to listen and learn, and to use the strength of government to help level the playing field for community members.
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Beginning with a question about something she wish she’d known before becoming Mayor, Durkan reflected on how depleted the reservoir of goodwill is currently, and suggested that the antidote is to intentionally, thoughtfully include many people up front for input and buy-in. Mayor Durkan candidly shared that in hindsight, she would have approached the head tax initiative in a different way, but her administration has learned quite a lot from the experience and now have many additional leaders at the table to participate in tackling thorny issues like the housing crisis.

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Mayor Durkan spoke to the leadership qualities she has learned to most value, including a willingness to listen and learn, and to use the strength of government to help level the playing field for community members.

Seeking out honest feedback from your team is critical as well, so that staff are willing to surface “bad news” quickly in order to work together to address it, since the worst thing a leader can do about such challenges is fail to detect them, have them blow up, and then be unable to do anything.

Particularly relevant to the current election season, Ms. Choe and Mayor Durkan spoke together about the importance of civic engagement and the urgent need for leaders to step up and run for office. At the same time, addressing structural inequality from within existing government is critical, particularly for women leaders who are still often expected to opt out of the workplace in order to care for children -- a challenge that will persist until society re-engineers how child care is approached, in the Mayor’s view.

One of the questions posed by the audience challenged the Mayor and the audience to think about the segregation that seems to be re-emerging throughout Seattle neighborhoods. In response, Mayor Durkan spoke strongly about the need for more affordable housing, for different models for homeownership, for transit hubs that have mixed housing options nearby, and for honest recognition of lingering effects of racism due in part to the city’s history of purposeful redlining.

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Toward the end of the evening, the Mayor ruminated on how we are living through a time that is more transformative than the Industrial Revolution, with millions of jobs about to become obsolete due to innovation. She emphasized that the people most impacted by those job losses and industry changes ought to be consulted and have a place at the table when policies are developed and plans made for the workforce of tomorrow.

Leadership looks forward and thinks long-term, and the Mayor is focused on making solid leadership decisions for the next generation.