Mayor Murray to Seattle: We Are on Our Own

State of the City address pits Seattle against Trump, steps up homelessness efforts, proposes new taxes.

By Rianna Hidalgo February 22, 2017

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Mayor Ed Murray delivers his State of the City address at Idriss Mosque in North Seattle on February 21, to show solidarity with the Muslim community.

In his State of the City address Tuesday at Idriss Mosque in North Seattle, mayor Ed Murray depicted Seattle as a beacon of light in the darkness of a doomsday presidential administration, calling the next four years “a battle for the soul of America":

The new president is governing as an authoritarian, driven by a vision, as described in his Inaugural address, of "American carnage," "disaster," and "tombstones across the landscape." It is a vision of unrelenting bleakness and fear. But in this country and in this city, we know that this vision does not reflect the depth of the American experiment, or of our Seattle experience. Where the president sows division and widespread mistrust, Americans and Seattleites are building unity and community. Where the president is slamming doors and building walls, Americans and Seattleites are spreading our arms and opening our hearts. Where the president scapegoats and discriminates, Americans and Seattleites celebrate our differences and draw strength from our diversity. Where the president withdraws from the global effort to protect future generations, Americans and Seattleites are building alliances to fight climate change.

As first reported in Politico, Murray announced that the city will seek answers from the federal government about its new immigration and refugee policies—and sue to get them if necessary. Yesterday, city attorney Pete Holmes filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Justice. The requests target Executive Order 13768 and aim for clarification of the definition of a "sanctuary city," actions the administration might take against one, and changes to deportation policy, including DACA. By law, federal agencies have 20 days to respond (not deliver the records...just respond). 

Idriss Mosque board of trustees secretary Hisham Farajallah, who introduced the mayor on Tuesday, praised the decision, saying there has been a lot of fear in the community about what the changes will mean.  

"Community members ask me a lot of questions, and we don't know what to say," he said. 

FOIA requests are a process journalists are all too familiar with, as reporters over at Crosscut and the Stranger were quick to point out. 

Back to the State of the City: Murray talked at length about progress in police reform and housing affordability, and proposed a $16 million-per-year tax on sugary drinks like soda—levied on distributors—to help fund new investments meant to eliminate educational disparities between white students and students of color. He also rolled out the Our Best initiative, which focuses on improving life outcomes for young black men. 

Murray highlighted Seattle’s rapid growth and pointed to new transit, construction, education levels, new jobs, and low unemployment and crime rates as emblems of the city’s vitality. But he contrasted that with a failure to grow “equitably and affordably,” painting a dystopian portrait of the “Other Seattle” that has not reaped the benefits. He said the city would today open its Emergency Operations Center (basically a centralized facility where people come together to coordinate efforts) to speed up the implementation of Pathways Home, the city's plan to address homelessness. Normally the center is only activated for natural disasters, storms, and major city events. 

Murray said that when he declared a homeless state of emergency more than a year ago, he did so hoping that the federal government would send aid. 

“Regrettably, little help has come. We must face reality,” he said. “Developing a national housing and homelessness agenda is not a priority for the new president’s administration." 

His message? It's on us. Murray proposed a new property tax that would raise $55 million annually for homeless services and housing programs. An advisory group, including council members Debora Juarez and Sally Bagshaw, local entrepreneur Nick Hanauer, and the executive director of Downtown Emergency Services Center, Daniel Malone, are expected to send the mayor a funding package within 14 days. He said he hopes to see it on the August ballot.

“This would not be my first choice,” he said. “We had hoped for a vigorous partnership with the federal government, but we are on our own.”

Updated February 28, 2017. While some materials spell it with one S, Idriss conforms to the spelling used by the family that helped establish the mosque and matches the dedication plaque on the building.

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