Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda reflects on Seattle’s past, and looks to King County’s future

Few people have made as big an impact on Seattle politics in recent years as outgoing City Councilmember and incoming King County Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda.
Mosqueda was first elected to a citywide position on Seattle’s City Council in 2017.She came out of organized labor, as a former campaign director at the AFL-CIO. She was part of a progressive wing on the City Council that pushed for taxing big business and expanding worker protections.She was also a part of the majority of the council that supported a “Defund the Police” framework put forward by decriminalization and racial equity advocates in 2020.The police department was never actually defunded, let’s be clear about that, but since then, Mosqueda has supported alternative programs like expanding the Seattle Fire Departments non-emergency response team.Mosqueda was re-elected in 2021.
Then, early last year, she announced she would run for the King County Council seat being vacated by a retiring Councilmember Joe McDermott.In November, she won that election to represent parts of Capitol Hill, West Seattle, White Center, Burien, and Vashon Island at the county level.On Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, Mosqueda stepped down from Position 8 on the City Council midway through her term. She’s scheduled to be sworn in on the County Council on Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Why move to King County Council?

"The number one reason is public health," Mosqueda told Soundside host Libby Denkmann. The behavioral health crisis, the mental health crisis, and the opioid addiction crisis are all factors in what Mosqueda calls a “shadow pandemic.”
"The shadow pandemic is all things public health," Mosqueda said. "As much as [we at the city] have tried to make investments over the years into this area, most of that funding goes through King County."Mosqueda said she also plans to focus on continuing investments to create more affordable housing across the region.

Mosqueda's legacy in Seattle

Mosqueda listed four main accomplishments when asked about her legacy with Seattle's city council:
  • Passing the city’s housing levy and getting more affordable rental housing built.
  • Raising labor standards, including passing a domestic workers bill of rights and guaranteed benefits like paid sick leave for gig workers.
  • She also highlighted new transparency legislation designed to help the council make more informed budget deliberations. (Mosqueda was the council’s budget chair for four years.)
  • But she said the biggest thing she'll likely be remembered for is the JumpStart Tax.

What is JumpStart and how should it be used?

The JumpStart Tax took effect in January 2021 and applies to large, mostly tech-sector businesses with workers in Seattle, those with payroll over $8.1 million and salaries over $174,000 a year.When Jumpstart passed in 2020, funds were specifically earmarked for affordable housing, small businesses, equitable development, and Green New Deal initiatives. Mosqueda has battled with two mayors — Jenny Durkan and Bruce Harrell — over their desire to use the revenue for different programs and budget shortfalls. Mosqueda argued spending guardrails should remain in place to protect public trust."Absent JumpStart, we would have had an economic crisis in the city of Seattle starting in 2020," Mosqueda said. "JumpStart is bringing in over $275 million a year. It is directly investing in affordable housing and economic resilience. It is creating a greener new economy and it is helping spur workforce development in green new sectors."Amazon representatives have previously said that the tax makes Seattle hostile to business, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce has asked that the tax be suspended to boost economic activity downtown.
Mosqueda disagrees with the business pushback against the new tax."It is incredibly important that we invest in the fabric and the infrastructure of jurisdictions that are making it possible for corporations to be profitable," she said. “That's what JumpStart does."She also rejects the idea that the JumpStart tax is stalling economic activity downtown."By investing into our city via JumpStart, we are actually going to be able to withstand economic downturns faster, we're going to…. see a more robust and rebounding economy," she said.Mosqueda added that her biggest fear is that the next city council will further raid JumpStart for spending it wasn’t designed for.
“There's immense pressure… to close the revenue gap that our city will be experiencing in 2025,” she said. “But it should not come on the shoulders of dismantling JumpStart.”“I know that there's colleagues on council who are committed to this, and I appreciate that.”

Are Seattle voters over progressive politics?

Five new Seattle City Councilmembers — Rob Saka (District 1), Joy Hollingsworth (District 3), Maritza Rivera (District 4), Cathy Moore (District 5) and Bob Kettle (District 7) — represented the “centrist Democrat” candidates in each of their November races.The more progressive first-time candidates, and even incumbent Andrew Lewis, were all defeated. Two incumbents, including Tammy Morales, held on.This has been interpreted in some corners as a message from Seattle voters that they are tired of some of the more progressive-left politics of the last decade, and they want to see the pendulum swinging rightward on law enforcement, homeless encampment clearances, and other issues.Mosqueda said she thinks that voters want to see more action on urgent issues, like homelessness and the behavioral or substance abuse crises. And she argued that most of the incoming councilmembers don’t fall cleanly along a “progressive” or “centrist” binary."Unfortunately, I think the way some of those common ground ideas have been politicized in this last election, meant that there were fault lines where you're either on one side or the other," she said.Mosqueda also pointed to her own recent electoral victories as a sign Seattleites aren't moving away from progressive ideas or progressive politicians."In 2021, when people thought that there was an anti-incumbent message sent, I not only won my reelection, but I won it with the highest percentage of anybody on the ballot citywide that year," she said. "Last year in the campaign for King County Council, I also won with a 10-point spread."After her Soundside interview, Mosqueda sent KUOW an email with even more thoughts on her recipe for electoral victory and the meaning of Seattle’s November election:I would add that deep engagement with organized labor — taking the lead from workers affected by gaps and injustices and working with labor partners to craft policies to right those wrongs — is what leads to unanimous support from the labor community in my campaigns for office. Many others come into office and act swiftly and move large policy as well, but the power of the united labor movement supporting my races is something I am very proud of. Lastly, the fact that 75% of the incumbent city councilmembers won their elections in-part challenges the narrative that ‘voters just want change.’ I would say voters do want change in the big systemic crises facing our region – such as lack of affordable housing, growing homelessness, behavioral health and public safety challenges. These are issues that have been evolving for decades and are not solved overnight, yet the voters chose us because they continue believe in our commitment to addressing these issues and making our city and county healthier and more equitable. Those are the common ground issues we all seek to change.
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