Remember being in public spaces? Charles Mudede
A few Saturdays ago, I strolled into the Lumen Field Event Center for my second jab. After taking my obligatory #BestShotSeattle selfie, I stumbled out into the blazing Saturday afternoon where Mariners fans walked down Occidental Ave en route to the ballpark. The baseball energy was infectious in the best possible way: I couldn’t help myself and bought a hot dog.
My wife and I celebrated by splurging on dinner at 84 Yesler. Wedged into a tiny brick edifice in Pioneer Square and committed to the open kitchen concept that flourished pre-pandemic, this gem is the kind of place that begs for indoor dining. Take-out, even a streatery, doesn’t cut it for an establishment where you can watch your noodles made by hand.
We capped off date night with a movie. While most local indies remain closed, we begrudgingly forked over some cash to AMC Pacific Place. From Pioneer Square, we walked along the waterfront, the sun high in the sky at 7 pm and the roar of the Alaska Way Viaduct a distant memory.
Tourists packed the waterfront, coming from whatever miserably boring place they came from. The Harbor Steps were doing their best imitation of Rome. First Avenue near the market was buzzing. Even after dark, people were out downtown, and by the time we crossed the eyesore of I-5, well, we weren’t the only ones climbing Party Mountain. There were lines out the door at Unicorn, Belmont, and seemingly every other watering hole on Pike. I wager more Seattle Dogs were sold that night than the rest of the last year since CHOP combined.
In short, Seattle survived the pandemic and has awoken from winter hibernation with gusto. (One major caveat is the city’s music and performing arts venues, who need the Small Business Administration to stop their colossal display of incompetence and figure out how to shovel money out the fucking door.)
Seattle may universally loathe Mayor Jenny these days, but she’s right to tout that the city has the lowest COVID-19 infection rate and among the highest vaccination rates of any major U.S. city. History, I suspect, will look kindly on Seattle’s pandemic response. Mayoral administrations get credit for what goes right and what goes wrong on their watch, even if they don’t personally oversee every detail. For all my free COVID-19 tests within walking distance of both home and office while others had to cross state lines for basic diagnostics, and for my two seamless jabs, I will give credit to the Durkan administration.
She won’t be around to reap the rewards of keeping coronavirus at bay. But the next mayor will be. And who among them is going to take up the mantle of Seattle’s reopening?
Yes, the next mayor’s unquestionable first priority should be the humanitarian crisis that plays out daily on our streets and in our parks through a lethal combination of rampant homelessness, unchecked substance abuse, and untreated mental health problems. But the next mayor’s ability to address this interlocking crisis is limited. One city has only so much capacity to address a regional challenge around which the rest of the cities in King County are mostly freeloaders outsourcing their responsibility to Seattle, all trapped in a state and country that don’t urgently stand up mental health facilities, drug treatment centers, or emergency housing.
Still, a mayor has to walk and chew gum at the same time. Public health measures, however necessary, cut off urban life at the knees. Nerding out over board games, racking up a new high score on a pinball machine, cozying up with a drink in a dimly lit bar, flirting with the barista at the coffee shop, shaking it out on the dancefloor—all gone for over a year. With the state’s June 30 full reopening on the horizon, many of us who patiently, agonizingly bided our time knowing that the city would awaken from its artificially induced slumber are ready to trade the virtual world for the real world.
I’m looking for a mayor who is ready to do the same. A mayor who relishes living in Seattle the place and isn’t in the race solely because of Seattle the idea. Where is our Andrew Yang candidate who shows up at every movie theatre, restaurant, and bodega in New York that he can? Where is our Mayor Sadiq Khan, who chowed down on an omelet and dumplings then met a drag queen for vegetarian food all before dinnertime to promote London restaurants? Where is our Wes Uhlman who kickstarted Bumbershoot to lift Seattle out of its Boeing Bust doldrums?
In a sea of virtual candidate forums, so far no one leaps out. How does Capitol Hill resident Andrew Grant Houston plan to celebrate Pride? What is Phinney Hill resident Casey Sixkiller’s favorite animal at the Woodland Park Zoo? Has transit candidate Jessyn Farrell satisfied her inner railfan with a ride on the new Link trains? Where does Beacon Hill resident Bruce Harrell like to grab a bite to eat? After years running the Chief Seattle Club, what’s Colleen Echohawk’s favorite building in Pioneer Square? What beloved Old Seattle haunt does Art Langlie visit to channel the spirit of his mayor-turned-governor grandfather? What’s the small business that makes former Office of Economic Development manager Lance Randall swoon? (M. Lorena González gets a pass while she deals with a devastating house fire.)
When the next mayor says they are ready to roll up their sleeves and get to work, do they plan to do it from city hall? (And they should, our city hall is a dreamboat and the mayor’s office is a stunner. Besides which, city employees will be back in the office by September.)
Being the mayor-about-town is the fun part of the job. You mug for the camera at Storm and Kraken games in the shiny new Climate Pledge Arena, then make silly wagers with other mayors when your sports teams are both in the championship. You spend your summer making appearances at community events from the Fremont Fair, reimagined in 2021 as an “art week,” to Umoja Fest, which soldiered on last year even as Seafair couldn’t get off the ground. You pull a Jill Biden and #BuyBlack to signal your priorities through your consumer choices or pull a Mayor Jenny and hold cabinet meetings at Chinatown restaurants to show solidarity with the Asian-American community in the early days of the pandemic before the coronavirus wave crashed ashore here.
Ultimately, the candidate who will be the mayor of reopening Seattle isn’t just a PR stunt. With the $128 million Seattle Rescue Plan dropping on Thursday, there are actual dollars to allocate, including a whopping $22 million for downtown and neighborhood recovery as well as around $1 million to sprinkle around city parks, Seattle Center, and other beleaguered public spaces. Remember the Before Times when you could learn to waltz in Freeway Park or see Whitney Mongé play a free concert in Westlake Park? This summer will finally start to look and feel like the city we put under lock and key in March 2020. Which mayor is going to lead the charge?