Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim Reflects on Time at City Hall

October 13 was Hyeok Kim's last day in the mayor's office.

By Hayat Norimine October 20, 2017

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Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim, alongside council members Debora Juarez and Lorena González, attended the first day of class at Literacy Source's Ready to Work program in Lake City in April 2017.

Deputy Mayor Hyeok Kim left City Hall on last week after serving four years in the mayor's office as the first Asian American female deputy mayor. 

For people who don't know, what does a deputy mayor do exactly? 

"It really sort of depends upon the mayor. In my case when Mayor Murray took office in January 2014, he had a very specific vision for two deputy mayors. He wanted one deputy mayor focused on internal operations and then he wanted another deputy mayor focused on external relations. So that’s been my portfolio I’ve handled everything from helping to oversee the city’s relationship with the other municipalities and local gvts like king county as well as our state and federal partners when we actually had real partners that we could work with. That’s a joke.

Part of my portfolio was really being an ambassador to all of the diverse communities and neighborhoods in Seattle and being a listening ear. Making sure that the policies and the issues that city hall was grappling with that, at least in the mayor’s office, we were being attentive to how those policies and issues were affecting and, sometimes in some cases, disproportionately affecting some communities."

What's next for you after January? 

"I plan to take some maternity time off. ... This is the first time I have been intentionally unemployed for a good length of time. I think I’m just looking forward to kind of the next phase in our lives.

I think I’m not too worried about what’s going to come next in terms of a career step. I do want to be thoughtful and deliberate about it, but I’m confident that something really interesting that I feel good about contributing to will come around."

What did your job look like during the allegations against Murray? What was your role in that, and have you seen any of those community relationships dwindle? 

"For the most part we, the staff in the mayor’s office, we really kind of tried to keep our focus on responding to constituents basically as if nothing had changed. Because our jobs really hadn’t changed. I understand that this was obviously a very, very challenging time for everybody, us as well, but what we tried to do was just focus in on, Okay, there were still policies that we needed to analyze. There were still budget issues that we still needed to work on. There were still events that we needed to go to and wanted to go to. I think that during at least this most recent time, we tried to focus as much as possible on just making sure that the trains were running on time."

Do you still keep in touch with him? 

"Nope, not really."

How do you feel about the allegations? 

"I am very happy that the city is moving on, and I think we all recognize that those of us who are close to the power core of city hall, I think everyone recognizes what a challenging time it’s been for the last six months—not just the allegations but then what came after. Having three mayors in less than two weeks has been a very unprecedented time in our city.

But I’m very proud of the fact that, again just as we did, the last six months my colleagues and I who were on staff at the mayor’s office just really tried to focus in on what our paramount duty was, which was to be responsive to the residents and the constituents of the city of Seattle and try to just do our jobs as best we could."

Did you think about running for mayor this year? 

"I did think about it, and I had a few conversations with folks about that. I ultimately decided it wasn’t the right time, it wasn’t the right circumstances for me. I’m 41 years old, my husband and I have been thinking about trying to have children. So it was also for me, the biological reality that I was facing. If I was going to take the plunge with the campaign, there just were certain other sacrifices I would have to make in my life. I decided that those sacrifices were ones that I didn’t want to make.

When I decided it didn’t take me very long. I didn’t think about this for months, and months, and months, or anything like that. It was a very short time frame...But when I made the decision that wasn’t going to throw my hat in the ring, my husband and I found out shortly after that I was pregnant. The universe was telling me something and I certainly don’t regret that decision."

Why did you endorse Jenny Durkan? 

"I don’t know Cary Moon well at all. I have friends who know her and support her. By all accounts I think both of them seem like highly intelligent, smart, capable women. I think the tipping point for me with Jenny Durkan was far and away her level of experience. I’ve read this notion that neither one of them has been elected to office before, and that’s true. There is a difference for someone like Jenny Durkan, who has been very, very heavily involved and heavily engaged in political circles, who have been very engaged in the public policy role as U.S. attorney.

... In this particular junction in our city’s time, when we’re still grappling with an incredibly high growth environment for our city that’s causing some real growing challenges and growing pains for some of our most marginalized communities, I think we need someone in the executive who is going to be able to take command of all of the complexities of city government. I think that Jenny's got the chops for that."

There's still not a whole lot of Asian American representation among elected officials. Why do you think that is?

"Obviously there are still systemic issues that we have to deal with as a society, right? I actually think I might be the first woman of color deputy mayor, but I don't know that we really keep records that well. So I don’t want to say that officially.

When I took this job in January 2014...I would say it’s something I’m very proud of. It’s something I hope will be an inspiration maybe for other younger women—not just Asian women but other younger women of color. Then I would also say, but you know what? It’s 2014 and in this case, now it’s 2017. And it’s kind of sad that we have to still as a society even in "liberal" Seattle, progressive Seattle, that we still have these kinds of trailblazing benchmarks that we are celebrating when maybe those bamboo ceilings, those glass ceilings, should’ve been broken decades ago. 

I think there’s still a lot that we can do to promote Asian American and Pacific Islanders into leadership positions. ...I don’t think it’s an accident that I became deputy mayor because getting involved in politics early, I also benefited from mentorship from countless other Asian American elected officials and other civic leaders in the city." 

Do you have any regrets about your time there?

"I have so many regrets in the sense that...I was often the person who was on the receiving end of some of the initial either community backlash, or community pain, or community anger at whatever city decisions that we made. It wasn’t so much a personal disappointment, something I individually did but something that the city as a system maybe failed. I think those, I took pretty personally even though I shouldn't have.

I remember the day that the city council passed the $15 minimum wage. That was an incredible high for all of us. Equally in my mind, I wrestle with those memories, or those moments, when the city failed, when the bureaucracy failed. When we maybe didn’t live up to our own expectation. To me those memories are—both of the highs and the memories of the lows—are really important for me, I think for any public official, to keep in balance. Because I think that’s what helps us stay humble about at the end of the day what our ultimate goal is, which is to be a service."

What issues do you think the city failed or could've approached differently during the Murray administration? 

"The one that I think kind of touches me close to my heart—we’re still dealing with the siting of the navigation center. I think everyone in the city has acknowledged that our outreach with respect to the navigation center siting wasn’t what we wanted it to be. The Human Services Department, Department of Neighborhoods have been taking pains working with the Little Saigon neighborhood.

Unfortunately the navigation center siting, the announcement of it occurred weeks after the Little Saigon neighborhood in particular felt the negative impact of the women’s march going through the heart of their business district. I think there was very unfortunate timing of the announcement happening the feeling that the neighborhood and the city was doing something to them right on the heels of a 130,000-people march going through the middle of their business district during one of their busiest weekends."

Are the sweeps something you think the city got wrong? 

"I'm still challenged with, then how will we function as a city? I understand the rhetoric. I understand the position and the point of view in that and I can empathize with that, having myself come from a background where housing advocacy was very important to me. I’ve long been a strong advocate for affordable housing in our city and our state.

I think coming from the perspective that I’ve seen over the last four years, what would happen to our city if we stopped the cleanups? I think that’s the rub of this very, very complex public policy question. Because it's not simply to me a matter of stopping the cleanups. We’re not going to magically have thousands of permanent beds or even temporary shelter beds available overnight. What would happen, right? Quite frankly anyone—our city council members, Mayor Burgess, whoever’s going to be the next mayor—at the end of the day, that’s the reality that they have to deal with."

What do you think was your greatest accomplishment during your time in the city?

"So much has happened in the last four years. I would definitely say that I've been very central to a lot of crisis management stuff that didn’t necessarily get a lot of news attention.

I've been a very, very strong voice the last four years for championing issues of equity, bringing to light immigrant and refugee communities and people of color. I think that’s something that’s been a constant thread I guess in my career. ...Any professional role I’ve had, I’ve wanted to use it to make sure that my personal passions of social justice issues were brought to the fore."

Updated 3:25pm on October 20, 2017, to correct a typo and add a question about homeless encampment sweeps. 

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