Effort to recall Mayor Durkan passes court hurdle, needs more than 55K Seattle voter signatures

Text from court decision: "As alleged by King County voters Elliott Grace Harvey, Alan L. Meekins, Jr., Courtney Scott, Leah Solomon and Charlie Stone, shall Jenny Durkan be recalled from office for misfeasance, malfeasance, and violation of the oath of office, based on the following charge:Mayor Durkan endangered the peace and safety of the community and violated her duties under state and local laws and her oath to uphold the federal and state constitutions when she failed to institute new policies and safety measures for the Seattle Police Department after learning of the use of chemical agents on peaceful protesters as a means of crowd control during a public health emergency."

From the court decision (PDF).

Mayor Jenny Durkan has failed in her basic duty to protest the people of Seattle from a police force under her control. She has lost the confidence of the people, and continues to demonstrate that she is not the leader the city needs right now. A veto-proof majority of City Councilmembers (7 out of 9) has already taken action to make big governing decisions without her, a nearly unprecedented show of the Council’s lack of confidence in her leadership. And with news that a citizen-led recall effort has just cleared a major legal hurdle, it is even harder to justify why she remains in office.

Seattle Bike Blog called for her to resign a month ago, and her actions since then have not changed that stance.

The veto-proof Council block has already passed a progressive “boss tax” to help address budget shortfalls due to COVID and longstanding needs for affordability programs despite her lack of support. And now that veto-proof majority appears ready to cut the Seattle Police budget in half in response to the very clear demands of a huge, Black-led popular movement for justice and against police brutality. Mayor Durkan, on the other hand, spent eight days attacking the protest movement with explosives, chemicals and other forms of police violence. Those actions, particularly the mass use of respiratory irritants in the midst of a respiratory virus pandemic, are the core of the recall complaint against her.

But beyond that malfeasance, her actions make her uniquely unsuited to do the work facing the city right now. Seattle needs to close a massive budget hole, and reducing the extremely bloated SPD budget and funding alternatives to policing are going to be part of it. This is extremely difficult work, and it’s going to take a huge amount of research and outreach to get it done. And it’s going to involve working closely with many of the community leaders the mayor gassed for eight days. It’s not clear how she can restore the trust that went up in smoke along with the discharge from police weapons downtown and on Pine Street. We also need a mayor who will work with the overwhelming Council majority rather than fighting them every step of the way, making this huge task so much harder than it already is.

Governing by veto-proof Council majority is absurd and inefficient. Seattle’s government wasn’t set up for this. Rather, the assumption is that once a mayor has lost this much Council support, she would leave or be removed from office. If she won’t resign, then she is forcing people to do it for her either through a Council action or a recall.

The petitions are not yet ready for collection, but you can get involved in the recall campaign now by filling out the volunteer form and signing up for the email list.

As Seattle City Council Insight reports, Mayor Durkan still has an opportunity to appeal the court’s recall decision to the Washington Supreme Court. If it passes that hurdle, then petitioners would have 180 days to gather more than 55,099 valid, in-person signatures from Seattle registered voters (“twenty-five percent of the total number of votes cast [220,396] for all candidates for the office to which the officer whose recall is demanded was elected at the preceding election,” according to state law). Since signatures can be challenged, petitions typically need many more signatures than the legal requirement so that there is a buffer. This is an enormous and difficult task. And it might be tough to accomplish during the outbreak, since major events and bustling business districts are among the best opportunities for signature gathering in a typical year. But I guess we’re about to find out.

If enough signatures are certified, a recall election would be called within 90 days laying out the claim and the mayor’s response, then asking voters for a “yes” or “no” on recalling her. If that passes, then she is removed from office and the standard process for filling her position begins. Council President Lorena González would become mayor, and she would have about a week to decide if she wants the job or not. If she doesn’t, then the Council will vote for one of the other Councilmembers to become mayor. This is a rather raw deal for whoever ends up becoming mayor because they are forced to permanently resign their Council seat, which may still have years left. Voters will then elect both the mayor and the resigned Council seat during the next local or state general election. My non-lawyer reading of state law is that even if Mayor Durkan resigned today, it’s too late to hold an election in 2020 since primary elections are required for electing a mayor, and it’s too late to hold a mayoral primary (someone correct me if I’m wrong). If I’m reading this correctly, Seattle is voting for mayor in November 2021 no matter what. The question is who will be mayor until then?

Seattle Bike Blog has had issues with Mayor Durkan’s leadership before her crackdown on protests. But issues like delaying and cancelling bike lanes were the kinds of things you consider in the next election, not cause for something so drastic as a recall. But the way she responded so violently toward protests for so many days in a row crossed a clear line. She sent city police to use dangerous chemicals and explosives to attack crowds of people demanding justice and an end to police violence. There’s no coming back from that.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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25 Responses to Effort to recall Mayor Durkan passes court hurdle, needs more than 55K Seattle voter signatures

  1. Chris says:

    I support the mayor and think the city council should be tossed out and that we should vote for new council members

  2. bill says:

    Instead of cutting the police force redeploy 50% of them to speed control. There are plenty of arterials overwhelmingly used by white drivers who don’t give a toss about the new speed limits and Vision Zero – 15th in Interbay, West Marginal, Admiral, and 35th in West Seattle; add your favorite to the list. Ineffective implementation of Vision Zero is another strike against Durkan.

    • Alex says:

      Police traffic enforcement results in disproportionate impacts for less privileged communities. Particularly when it comes to officer discretion (whites tend to get more warnings vs. citations) or pursuing unrelated warrants etc. Some end much worse.

      Targeting roads primarily used by white drivers wouldn’t mitigate this. Even if a small proportion of non-white drivers are stopped, the outcomes for those drivers are likely to be much worse.

      I don’t think that is a good idea with the current structure of the police. A brand new, unarmed, un-policed traffic patrol team with inclusive representation in every patrol vehicle is the only solution I’ve heard that could potentially address the impact of these biases. And even then, we need solutions besides fines if we are to truly make this equitable. E.g. repair your broken taillight rather than fine you.

  3. Richard Slaughter says:

    Thank you Tom for standing with us. Watching her stand in unmitigated support of the people unwilling to acknowledge that gassing and brutalizing my neighbors for a week wasn’t ok … I don’t understand how she lives with herself.

    • Richard Slaughter says:

      Just to add this, I’d written this in response to some questions about defunding the police elsewhere…. There’s a lot of misunderstanding, and a lot of intentional misinformation, be spread about the defund movement…

      The idea of defunding the police is specifically constructed to attack the assumption you and most people make going into this discussion: That police, as the sort of crime punishment organization you see them acting in today, are a necessary component of society.

      Fundamentally, if you take a really hard look at all the things police do, the things they spin money on, and the effect of those actions on society, it’s not a good picture – and most of those functions are fundamentally non-violent. And just to confront this at the outset: It’s proven fact that being a law enforcement officer isn’t actually all that dangerous a job… Seriously, trash collectors and pizza delivery drivers both face a higher job mortality rate. Now with that fact in mind, think about: Traffic & parking enforcement. No need for an armed force for that. Homelessness, mental health, substance abuse – arresting them is really all cops can do, and that just costs us money to put people in a cage for a little while, they just get released in a bit and no one is helped. Domestic disputes – Again proven: police strategies (where they, as a process, take forceful control before any real engagement) agitate and escalate domestic disputes more than resolve them. Even most crime response: Anyone that’s called SPD knows, the biggest weapon that actually gets USED in their crime response toolkit is the pencil when they write down some sloppy half-ass notes about your stolen stuff and then leave without ever thinking about it again – but at least you get the report you can use for insurance! Why did that report need an armed man with authority to kick my ass or shoot me and likely get away with it, exactly?……

      And that’s even before you consider that the gestalt of law enforcement – police and for-profit prisons – behave in ways that are statistically racist — and that we’ve spent decades throwing money at that problem and making effectively no progress: They’ve developed into an insular gang that is violently and brutally resistant to change. You can see it in the continued blatant brutality they’re still engaging in, openly, on camera, even during the period of intense national scrutiny they’re in today: SPD is simply incapable of behaving within the constraints of law.

      The defunding movement says, we know they’re broken in a seriously harmful way. We know they’re unable to fix the problem. We know *we* are unable to fix their problem without their cooperation, and cooperation is clearly not going to ever happen. So our only choice is replacement.

      Thus, the fundamental intent of defunding is to remove the money from the broken organization that’s violently, brutally opposed to reform, give that money to new organizations and structures that are geared to effectively performing those duties, with the tools to actually help the people they interact with.

      So many people tell me defunding is irresponsible and dangerous. I say the facts say NOT defunding is irresponsible and dangerous. Think about it – the SPD, considering their brutal, violent, and unmanageable (given how many orders and laws they’re STILL violating), this is AFTER being under a federal consent decree related to use of force for TWENTY YEARS.
      What we have now is irreparable, that’s not opinion anymore, not after 20 years of devoted effort to reform capped off by the insanity we saw these last few months… and the longer we take to realize and act on that, the worse it will be.

      • AW says:

        I agree with all you wrote.

        On Sunday while I was out bicycling and stopped at a light, I saw a man doing some sort of ritual dancing right in the middle of the street. He was not harming or threatening anyone. And so I thought about what I could do to help him. The only options were for me to try to talk him and get him to move onto the sidewalk which I am not trained to do or to call the police. And I was for sure not going to call the police because they also do not have the tools to help him.

        I think many, even some “law and order types” would agree that this person would be better helped by a social worker and not the police. But when many people hear “Defund the Police” they do not think of this scenario, but instead think of watching their daughter getting robbed and then getting a busy signal when calling 911. This effort needs a better name, one that does not sound scary or punitive towards the police but one that highlights the positive outcomes, say “Community Assistance”. And as a bonus this could highlight the fact that it will allow the police to focus on their core functions.

        Names matter. “Gay Marriage” did not generate much support. “Marriage Equality” was a winner.

      • “The idea of defunding the police is specifically constructed to attack the assumption you and most people make going into this discussion: That police, as the sort of crime punishment organization you see them acting in today, are a necessary component of society.”

        Some sort of crime-prevention authority IS a necessary component of society. Do you know of any large society (over a few hundred people) in all of human history that survived without some sort of peacekeeping authority? If the government doesn’t fill that role, vigilantes and/or criminals do.

        I’ll also note that many of the problems you cite are issues with the justice and corrections systems, not necessarily the police themselves. For instance, in today’s system, addicts who are arrested can be directed to substance abuse treatment. Seattle’s city attorney, Pete Holmes, actually does a pretty good job of this – and, as a result, gets sensational KOMO pieces that vilify his “lenient” approach for killing Seattle.

        I do agree with large parts of your post, though – police shouldn’t have nearly as much responsibilities as they do today. And they need much better training around de-escalation so they can actually help in disputes and not escalate them. I support defunding in a careful, prudent manner to ensure we don’t get a spike in crime; defunding by “at least 50%” in one fell swoop, without any consideration to what specifics can actually be safely cut, is irresponsible and dangerous.

      • Richard Slaughter says:

        I did not say or imply crime prevention wasn’t necessary. I said (quoting): that the movement challenges the assumption… “… That police, as the sort of crime punishment organization you see them acting in today, are a necessary component of society.”

        That statement has nothing to do with crime prevention … and for the most part, neither do SPD’s actions.

  4. Joe Z says:

    A recall is a political mistake that will only guarantee Durkan’s re-election. She’ll survive the recall and emerge stronger just in time for the election. Look up what happened with the Scott Walker recall in Wisconsin. Voters who are on the fence tend to vote no in recall elections and Durkan is far more popular than Scott Walker was. The next year should be spent building the movement, which needs a LOT of work to convince middle-of-the-road voters that reimagining the police is the right thing to do.

    • asdf2 says:

      My gut feeling is that you’re right. While I no longer live in Seattle, I was never impressed with Durkin, voted against her in the previous election, and would likely vote against her in the next, if I could. (Her intervention in preventing the 35th Ave. bike lanes has a lot to do with that).

      That said, I’m still somewhat ambivalent as to whether or not she deserves to be recalled, especially with only a year until a regular election, anyway. I don’t like Durkin, but I also don’t want to contribute to setting a precedent to make mayoral recalls routine, either.

  5. “Mayor Durkan, on the other hand, spent eight days attacking the protest movement with explosives, chemicals and other forms of police violence.”
    “She sent city police to use dangerous chemicals and explosives to attack crowds of people demanding justice and an end to police violence.”

    Hyperbolic, overdramatized statements like these really discredit this post. Stick with the truth – “Mayor Durkan failed to take the necessary actions to reign in SPD’s use of dangerous chemicals.”

    IMO, she was caught between a rock and a hard place – being simultaneously accused from opposite sides of being too harsh AND too lenient on protestors, as well as being accused of being too supportive AND not supportive enough of the SPD. There’s no stance she could have possibly picked without pissing off a significant portion of the population.

    • Richard D Slaughter says:

      I disagree that any of what you quoted is hyperbolic. There is a time to stop the political equivocating and acknowledge that this thing that happened really is this absurdly bad

      • She didn’t literally stand on the streets lobbing flashbangs at protestors, nor did she “send” police to use chemical weapons. That’s hyperbole, by definition. From what I saw, the majority of her actions were to *try* to reduce the amount of police violence (banning tear gas, and ordering police to withdraw from the East Precinct barricade) – albeit, these attempts were largely unsuccessful.

        For the record, I fully acknowledge that the SPD’s recent violent crackdowns are really, absurdly bad.

      • Richard D Slaughter says:

        SPD directly reports to her. Getting all literal, it is literally her responsibility. The actions of her organization are her responsibility, and it is not hyperbole to attribute them as such.

      • Richard D Slaughter says:

        To add to that: I would accept that she wasn’t responsible if she weren’t still defending them. But if they report to her, they brutalize our neighbors, and she defends them… How is it not her responsibility??

    • Dylan says:

      Who cares whether she was being accused by both sides? Do the right thing, and call off the violent policing, especially the chemical weapons. It isn’t that difficult. So what if some people disagree? There will always be backward looking people who want more violent policing and oppose any kind of progressive reform.

      • Durkan did, in fact, make *attempts* to call off violent policing – such as her ban on tear gas and her order for police to stand down from the East precinct barricade. There’s only so much you can do when dealing with an uncooperative PD.

        I don’t think it’s fair to characterize all who disagree as that – I, for one, don’t want any violent policing, and I’m all for progressive reform. But, I think police are a necessary evil and vilifying them *too* much can backfire.

      • Richard Slaughter says:

        @degnaw: When you say “Durkan did, in fact, make *attempts*….” you’re making one of the BEST arguments in this whole thread for her impeachment.

        She told the public she had ordered SPD (an organization that is part of the city executive, so under Mayoral authority) to not use tear gas, and they proceeded to use it anyway, and then basically just say “yeah, we felt like we needed to.” in an entirely unapologetic explanation for their violation of the “order”. I think we all agree those are the facts.

        Think about what that means! One of two things is true: either (a) – Mayor Durkan DID approve of the use of tear gas, and thus very much needs a recall, OR (b) did NOT approve of the use of tear gas, the SPD unilaterally violated that order to attack Seattle Citizens… and now she’s *defending* them.

        I’m trying to come up with any other explanation, but either she did or did not order the tear gas usage – and either way, the scenario that unfolded afterward makes it clear she either approves of, or cannot control SPD. Both of which are clear justification for recall.

        (and frankly a rogue SPD under no actual authority is scary as hell…)

      • bill says:

        Further, if the SPD disobeyed a direct order from the mayor why are senior officers not being disciplined? Abdicating mayoral authority is not acceptable.

  6. Peter says:

    I don’t see the point in having a mayoral recall in a mayoral election year. This is why we have regular elections in the first place. I don’t like Durkan at all, she’s been a terrible mayor, but I dislike the far left majority of the city council even more, so opposing city council is the only point in her favor.

  7. Conrad says:

    Consider also that those of us working in health care and education have been improperly funded for years and we make do. Things like 25% pay raises, six figure salaries without 8 years of university study, paid administrative leave when you fuck up, severance…. this doesn’t exist in my field. If the police were doing their job, people would trust them.

  8. Joseph says:

    Stepping in to support and thank Richard for his uncompromising defense of a clear position that the major has been impeachably derelict in her duty. It might be politically inconvenient to try to remove her now, but when is justice ever convenient? It strikes me that she is either complicit in SPDs actions, or incapable of controlling them. But civilian control of those authorized to use deadly force is a pretty fundamental bedrock of our liberties. Lack or abdication of that control is in no way acceptable.

  9. ARCO says:

    The City Council is completely out of control. The mayor did nothing wrong. The first day of protests people were burning cop cars downtown. It’s the mayors job to maintain safety and order. I will not be signing any petition.

    Suwant has blood on her hands for the young people that died in the CHOP. Government officials should not be endorsing criminal and dangerous behavior.

    Let civil disobedience BE civil disobedience. The government cannot endorse anarchism. (surprised I had to say that).

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