A candidate who would be the city’s first Native mayor, Chief Seattle Club executive director Colleen Echohawk is joining the race to head Seattle City Hall.
UPDATE 11:48 AM: This report has been updated throughout with information from CHS’s Monday morning interview with Echohawk.
The advocate for affordability and for the city’s unsheltered populations made her announcement on her 2021 bid for the mayor’s office Monday saying she would put forward a platform focused on “solutions which co-create equitable development and rapid rehousing with community members” and policies “which share the prosperity of the city more equitably, particularly with people of color.”
“I can see the good in this city,” Echohawk told CHS Monday.
She is also responding to calls to defund the Seattle Police Department with a proposal to create a new Public Safety Department, “with community-based mental health workers and neighborhood liaisons.”
“I’m running for Mayor of Seattle because I love this city, and we have a once-in-a-generation chance to rethink how it works, and who it works for,” Echohawk said in the announcement. “Our common purpose may be frayed but it isn’t broken, and if we take a people-first approach to renewal then we can become as transformative as our communities demand us to be. We can become a city where essential workers can afford to live. But to do that, we have to acknowledge that the path we’re on isn’t working. The people of our city demand more from City Hall.”
Echohawk said Monday in an interview with CHS that her ideas and initiatives including the Public Safety Department proposal will start with collaboration and consensus between the mayor’s office, the city council, and communities. And she said any formation of the new department would come in collaboration with SPD.
“We have to understand a responsibility to our community,” Echohawk said. “There are things that are part of the Seattle Police Department right now that I think our officers would agree they shouldn’t have to deal with.”
Mayor Jenny Durkan’s announcement that she will not seek reelection after finishing her single term this year has thrown the 2021 race wide open.
Last week, CHS spoke with Capitol Hill architect and urbanist Andrew Grant Houston about the first-time candidate’s plans to be part of the race to the summer primaries and on to the November General Election. SEED Seattle’s interim director Lance Randall also announced his candidacy last year. William Kopatich, described as a “Top Salesman at Carter Subaru” in his Linkedin profile, has also filed to enter the race. More candidates are coming but announcements — including a possible second run from activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver — could stretch out until the filing deadline in May.
The 2021 campaign will also be the first time the city’s Democracy Voucher program — hoped to empower a greater diversity of candidates to keep up in expensive campaigns — will be extended to include the city council races and the run for the mayor’s office. Echohawk’s campaign is planning to participate in the program.
Echohawk said Monday she understands concerns about multiple strong progressive candidates splitting the city’s allegiances and paving the way for another moderate victory like Durkan’s win in 2017. She said her place in her Native community and her connections to communities across the city will help her bring together the support she needs.
“One thing that I have a proven record again is being that bridge builder,” Echohawk said.
The 44-year-old North Seattle resident is an enrolled member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation and a member of the Upper Athabascan people of Mentasta Lake. Her work with the Chief Seattle Club has put her on the frontlines of Seattle’s efforts to develop affordable housing and address its ongoing homelessness crisis.
Monday, Echohawk said support here in District 3 from outgoing school board director Zachary DeWolf, another Native leader in the city, has also boosted her early campaign efforts.
Echohawk has also been an advocate for women’s rights including kicking off the 2019 Women’s March in Cal Anderson Park and has played a major role in the city’s policing decisions. In 2017, CHS reported Echohawk was part of a four-person search committee to find replacement candidates for outgoing SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
Monday, CHS asked Echohawk about the decision to hire Chief Carmen Best and the SPD veteran’s decision to step down this summer in the wake of CHOP.
Citing the confidentiality agreement from her role on the search committee, Echohawk declined to comment on Best’s tenure only to say she was sad to see how her time as chief ended.
“I love Carmen Best,” Echohawk said “I look forward to hearing more from her.”
The ongoing protests Best left behind and Seattle’s challenges in balancing the police response to property damage against free speech and advocacy for civil rights will be a major question for Echohawk and each of Seattle’s mayoral candidates.
Without question, Echohawk says she would have been part of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests if it wasn’t for her worries about COVID-19 and her work with the city’s vulnerable unsheltered populations. But she also thinks that people in the city — especially in the city’s densest neighborhoods — need clean and open parks, she said, calling the situation a “moral crisis.”
Her solutions, she says, will put dignity first.
“We can move forward,” Echohawk said. “What people are crying out for is dignity.”
“You have dignity,” she said. “We’re going to treat you with respect.”
Echohawk’s full announcement is below.
Colleen Echohawk announces her campaign for Mayor of Seattle today, running on a people-first platform to achieve an equitable renewal from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m running for Mayor of Seattle because I love this city, and we have a once-in-a-generation chance to rethink how it works, and who it works for,” says Echohawk on her decision to run. “Our common purpose may be frayed but it isn’t broken, and if we take a people-first approach to renewal then we can become as transformative as our communities demand us to be. We can become a city where essential workers can afford to live. But to do that, we have to acknowledge that the path we’re on isn’t working. The people of our city demand more from City Hall.”
Echohawk is committed to solutions which co-create equitable development and rapid rehousing with community members, and which share the prosperity of the city more equitably, particularly with people of color. Central to her people-first platform is an investment in community-based organizations and businesses. “Many of the most promising solutions to displacement and economic injustice are already taking place within Seattle neighborhoods, Echohawk said. “These community-assets deserve support from City Hall, not an obstruction to progress. One example is in our city procurement practices: Seattle has $1.11 Billion right now in current capital projects, but those contracts and profit aren’t going to people of color led businesses.”
Echohawk will also address policing, and proposes the establishment of a Public Safety Department, with community-based mental health workers and neighborhood liaisons. “We need people to help us care for our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness, and folks that have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19,” Echohawk said. “Those jobs should be filled by people from the neighborhoods they’re serving.”
“Colleen has vision, leadership experience, and an inherent ability to build successful coalitions powered by love and tradition,” said Zachary DeWolf (Chippewa Cree), Seattle School Board Director. “I’ve worked alongside her as she has championed change in housing, homelessness, racial justice, a sustainable environment, just policing, and a more livable city for Seattle’s families and neighbors. Restoring Indigenous leadership to our region is a fitting antidote to 2020 — she is the perfect candidate for this moment.”
Over the past two decades, Echohawk has served the most marginalized living in the Greater Seattle community. As the head of Chief Seattle Club, a non-profit dedicated to the rapid re-housing of urban Natives, Colleen has successfully fought to create nearly $100 million in new affordable housing in Seattle, growing their budget from $450,000 to $11 million. Under Colleen’s leadership, Chief Seattle Club has received recognition from the Puget Sound Sage Visionary for Justice Award (2019), Seattle Community Law Center’s Equity Award (2018), the Neighborhood Builder Award (2017), and Municipal League of King County’s Organization of the Year (2016).
“Colleen Echohawk will be a Mayor who positively transforms Seattle,” says Sally Bagshaw, Former City of Seattle Councilmember. “She combines her deep love for people with her executive expertise. She is gifted in bringing the best out in people. I have seen her in action: she is passionate about service to this city and encourages those who have been left out while listening to those who have been all-in. She is a respected leader who will help us solve critical issues including homelessness while rebuilding safe and healthy neighborhoods. She will align broad interests to recreate our post-COVID-19 economy while creating new sustainable jobs. Colleen has the vision to reimagine the city we want: a city that is inclusive, vibrant, and respectful of all.”
Echohawk has been recognized by numerous organizations, including the 21 Leaders to watch in 2021 by Seattle Magazine, the King County Martin Luther King Jr. Medal of Distinguished Service (2020), Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine (November 2019), one of Seattle Met Magazine’s 50 most influential women (2018), the Adeline Garcia Community Service Award (2018), Antioch University’s Public Service Award (2018), and Crosscut Media’s Courage Award for Public Service (2016).
Echohawk is an enrolled member of the Kithehaki Band of the Pawnee Nation and a member of the Upper Athabascan people of Mentasta Lake. Colleen and her family have been proud to call Seattle home for over two decades. In her spare time, she loves to read, sing karaoke, take her dog Rizzo for a walk, listen to National Public Radio, and cook delicious food for her friends and family.
You can learn more at echohawkforseattle.com.