After five years as a state representative for the 46th District (Northeast Seattle), Jessyn Farrell resigned from her legislative seat on June 1 to run for Seattle mayor. She came in fourth place in the August 1 primary with 12.5 percent of the votes and raised $134,000, according to the PDC.
Here Farrell answers questions about the mayor's race, her role in the Legislature and where it's heading, and what's next for her.
What would you have done differently in your race?
"The biggest factor that I would change if I were to do this again—I mean, these were unique circumstances in that the current incumbent decided not to run again very late in the game—but I think that what really matters is laying the groundwork and having more time. It is really hard to run a successful race in nine weeks. We built a really strong campaign and we got a lot of great endorsements and door knocking done, but in nine weeks, it is really, really a tall order. Time matters. It’s time to get in front of voters. When I was in front of voters they were persuaded, but nine weeks isn’t enough time to get around the whole city."
You announced the same day Jenny Durkan did. Did you know she was stepping in?
"Yes, that was by design. I knew she was going to get a lot of press, and I was an unknown name. So I decided to get in on that day, knowing that I'd get some press that day. It was a strategic decision."
Were you surprised by the results?
"The big question mark was, how much was The Stranger endorsement going to matter? Especially given that the reporters and some of the editorial board there had some splits. But I think that a lot of the results go with conventional wisdom. Money matters, grassroots organizing matters. I think that’s why Nikkita (Oliver) and I both did well; particularly in my case, I went into this race with very little name recognition. But because we were able to knock on 20,000 doors, because I was able to raise a reasonable amount of money to get my name out, those are pretty conventional things and I think those things work."
Did anything else about the race surprise you, like Mike McGinn's sixth-place finish?
"We did a lot of targeting in the doors that we knocked on, and what we heard was very little about Mike McGinn. Even though he had a lot of name recognition going in—and I think a lot of pundits were thinking this was the guy to beat—once we were really on the ground, we were not hearing a lot of support.
That last week, my prediction was that Jenny was going to come out first, that it would be pretty tight between me, Nikkita, Cary (Moon), and Bob (Hasegawa) too actually. I thought Bob would be a little higher than he was. The real wildcard to me was how important The Stranger endorsement was going to be. I actually had a pretty good sense of how things were going to go. "
You had a better crystal ball than a lot of people.
"What we were hearing is just so many undecided. In a race like this, how do you decide? How do you get to know all of these candidates? I think that the newspaper endorsements mattered. I think money, where you were able to get name recognition out, mattered. I think that grassroots word of mouth was particularly powerful because people were really trying to figure out how to decide."
Do you regret stepping down as a state legislator to run for this race?
"I loved that job so much, and I am really heartbroken over not getting to be a legislator anymore. I truly, truly loved working in the Legislature. It was frustrating and difficult, but I loved it.
The question though is, do I regret it? I really believe going all in for something. Once I decided to run for mayor and because of the fundraising freeze, it just was the only way I could do it. And so even though I really am heartbroken and in mourning—I mean in some ways, that’s harder than losing is actually not being a legislator anymore—I really felt strongly that to run a race where I was putting my all in, I had to resign."
Who are you voting for in the general election?
"I am not going to make a decision until after Labor Day. I'm taking a little time off and I'll be evaluating both candidates. I think that they both have strengths and they both have weaknesses, and it'll be really interesting to see newcomers under the spotlight. I'm kind of eager to see how they do."
Sounds like you're planning on endorsing someone.
"I am definitely open to endorsing someone, but I have not made a decision as to who I will endorse or whether I will endorse."
You've been in contact with Jenny Durkan and Cary Moon about endorsements?
"I've spoken with both of them and they have both asked."
What are you hearing from your supporters?
"I think obviously my urbanist friends, there is a clear nexus for Cary. That's a pretty easy place. But those voters who really cared about me being a public-school parent and really believing that the city has to play a role in helping fix some of the issues that we have, whether it's equity or capacity ... I think that I would like to see more of a platform by both Jenny and Cary. I haven't heard either one of them talk about public schools, and the city has a real role in that. So I’m looking more on that front from both of them.
I'd love to hear what their plan is for (affordable housing) implementation. It’s one thing to have great ideas, but I would love to hear more from both of them about how you actually connect the dots, how you actually get neighborhoods like Wedgwood to take on more density, and I think Wedgwood should. I have some specific ideas about how to do that, and I want to help whoever the next mayor is on the affordable housing issue."
What's the next step for you?
"That still remains to be seen. I have loved being in politics. I loved being a legislator. I fought hard to be a legislator, particularly that year when I had an infant. And I actually really believe that we can also get good stuff done.
I would definitely leave that on the table. In the very near future, I think that where my heart is, is really working on affordable housing and making sure that this is a city where people aren’t getting left behind. There are a lot of different ways to do that, and I'm still exploring how best to work on that issue."
Would you work for the next administration, whether it's Durkan or Moon?
"I would not want to make any presumptions around that. What I would say is that the next mayor is going to need all hands on deck for these really big issues, and there are a lot of different ways to work in partnership with the mayor. Whether it's affordable housing, climate change, affordable child care, gun responsibility, these are really big, tough issues, and I'm going to pitch in in some way."
How specifically do you see yourself getting involved on affordable housing?
"On the campaign trail, I talked about what it would look like if we were to invest $1 billion and to have a neighborhood-by-neighborhood plan, where each neighborhood took on additional density and additional affordable housing. I would really love to be that hands-on about it. Maybe there is a legislative bill, maybe we’re using a local-option capital gains to do $1 billion of affordable housing in King County. I would love to work with Nicole Macri and Frank Chopp on legislation like that. I haven’t spoken with either one of them, I’m just (thinking) out loud right now. But I will be meeting my folks in the affordable housing community and beyond to figure out how best to be engaged on the issue."
What's your opinion on the ongoing debate about a speculation tax? Is it unfairly targeting foreign buyers from certain countries, and how big a problem is this?
"Any policy is really contextual, and we are in a moment where the white supremacists and the anti-immigrants are really animated and emboldened. So I think that we do have to be very, very careful about how we talk about such a speculation tax. We probably have to talk about how it’s applied. Can we apply it more broadly to speculators? One of the issues I raised on the campaign trail related to this issue is, it’s not just individual buyers; there are institutions who are buying land and sitting on it, whether it’s hospitals or universities, in our city for the same reason that individuals are, and that’s having the same results. The nuance really matters, and we do have to pay very close attention to making sure that we aren’t inadvertently spurring anti-immigrant sentiment.
I think that as a piece of the puzzle, speculation broadly is an issue and that we should be figuring out how to tax that. Wealth taxes are really an important part of the policy toolbox. Whether it’s real estate or capital gains, capital income, corporate income, I think that we really need to be focused on wealth-related taxes and I think a speculator’s tax is part of that."
What do you think is your legacy in the state Legislature?
"One, just being out of the mold, being a mother with young kids when I was first elected. I think there were maybe three women under 40 in the entire Legislature. Now, there are a lot more women with little kids and I think the House Democrats are more open to having a work place where mothers with children and fathers with children can both serve their constituents, but then also be available to their families.
One of the real obstacles for any person is finding good child care, and if you don’t have a predictable schedule, it's really, really hard to get good child care. Our schedule is literally, quote unquote, subject to the call of the speaker. How do you arrange daycare where you have no idea whether you’re going to be there at 6 to pick up your kids? I think that there’s just a much bigger awareness of how to run a legislative body in a way where working women with kids can actually get the job done."
Anything you wish you had accomplished before your term was cut short?
"One issue that I was just starting to work on is this idea of affordable benefits. We have this real issue where people are in the work force, and they don’t have access to what people traditionally might’ve had around workers comp, health care, and retirement. The idea was that you would be able to pay into some kind of fund and have access to those benefits, and then when you move your job, you get to take those benefits with you. As the rules around work are changing with the gig economy, that’s just a really exciting policy idea, and I’m definitely sad that I don’t get to continue working on that as a legislator."
If the 45th Legislative District flips blue, how do you think the Democratic "trifecta" would affect state politics?
"That's another regret I have. Wow, what would it be like working with Democrats in the state Senate? It's not that the tax issues get easier. I think that those actually are still really hard, tax reform. But things like climate change—we're not arguing about whether it actually is happening. Or things like gun responsibility—we're suddenly not as held up by legislators that are tied to the NRA. Issues on transportation, it's not like we have to then hold Sound Transit hostage for the low-carbon fuel standard, which is what happened in 2015. Democrats wouldn't do that.
So it is going to be easier on the RPA, reproductive health issues. Those are going to be things that will be much easier to do. I wish I could be there to work on those issues with Democrats who control the Senate. It would be markedly different."
Updated August 24, 2017, at 8:07pm to correct that Farrell was in the state Legislature for five years, not four.