Candidate for Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan is no stranger to the Washington political scene. A former U.S. attorney and daughter of a prominent lobbyist and former state senator, Durkan has had her hands in many pies over the past several decades.
She has spearheaded criminal justice reform, was the first openly gay person to hold a leadership position at the Department of Justice, and has been endorsed by political heavyweights like former Attorney General Eric Holder.
However, Durkan’s tenure at the DOJ was not unmarked by controversy, and her association with disgraced politicians like former Mayor Ed Murray, who resigned in September following several allegations of child molestation, have darkened her campaign trail.
Nonetheless, Durkan continues to dominate in pre-election polls; a September 28 poll from the Washington State Wire gave her a whopping 25-point lead over her opponent, Cary Moon.
Here’s what you need to know about Jenny Durkan:
1. Durkan was the first openly gay U.S. Attorney, appointed to the position by Barack Obama
“In 2009, I became the first openly gay U.S. Attorney in our country’s history. That only took 211 years. In fact, I was told I was the first openly gay person ever appointed by a President to a leadership role at the Department of Justice,” Durkan wrote on Medium earlier this year.
Durkan served as the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington from 2009 until 2014, when she announced she was stepping down with three years left in her term. “[I]t seemed like this was a good time for me, for my family and for the office to take on a different challenge,” she said at the time.
While on the campaign trail, Durkan has often pointed to her accomplishments during her tenure with the Department of Justice as reasons why she would make a good mayor.
As U.S. attorney, Durkan helped investigate the Seattle Police Department for racial bias and excessive use of force, which led to a 2012 consent decree with the federal government under which reforms are carefully implemented and monitored. She also established a civil rights unit in the U.S. Attorney’s office and helped bring a federal drug court geared toward the rehabilitation of low-level offenders to Washington.
However, her critics also have plenty of ammunition against her from her DOJ days—the federal government raided several state-approved medical marijuana facilities on her watch, and she declined to prosecute anyone at Washington Mutual after the bank failed, and its fraudulent and predatory lending were exposed.
Durkan was also strongly criticized for her handling of a 2012 incident in which masked activists vandalized a federal courthouse. The FBI subsequently raided the homes of known anti-government activists in Portland, Oregon, in search of the vandals, detaining three of them for up to five months at SeaTac Federal Detention Center—largely in solitary confinement.
The Seattle Human Rights Commission wrote to Durkan in 2013 to plead for their release, saying the confinement violated international law and constituted torture under U.N. law:
While even the critics of solitary confinement recognize that its use may be justified in an exceptional case where a strict monitoring protocol is followed, that is not the case here. There is no evidence that Katherine Olejnik, Matthew Duran, and Maddy Pfeiffer are the “worst of the worst”. It is Kafkaesque to suggest that keeping them in an environment known to cause serious and lasting psychological harm is for their own protection. There is simply no credible reason for their continued detention in solitary confinement.
According to Seattle Weekly, Durkan has largely avoided addressing the incident while on the campaign trail and has ignored requests for comment. She did discuss the vandalism at a candidate forum, however, saying, “What we saw in the May Day riots was that a person smashed the courthouse doors and threw in a lit flare while people were working there. It’s a federal crime and we investigated it … I would never would use the authority of our office to go after protesters.”
A spokesperson for her campaign has alleged that federal Judge Richard Jones was responsible for the incarceration, not Durkan.
2. She was endorsed by former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who resigned two months later amid allegations of sexual misconduct
In June, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray endorsed Durkan’s candidacy after announcing that he would no longer seek re-election.
“I’ve known Jenny for almost three decades,” said Murray. “She has the experience, the temperament, the political skills, and she also has strong relationships regionally and nationally, to move this city forward during uncertain times.”
Murray ended his campaign for a second term after a civil lawsuit was filed against him alleging that he sexually abused a young man in the 1980s. Murray’s camp vehemently denied the allegations, saying that it was “not a coincidence that this shakedown effort comes within weeks of the campaign filing deadline.” They mayor ultimately resigned in September after his cousin alleged that he had been molested by Murray at age 13, when the two were sharing a bedroom at a family home in New York.
Rumors of sexual misconduct have dogged Murray since the 1980s, when two men, Jeff Simpson and Lloyd Anderson, accused the politician of molesting them while living at a center for troubled youth in Portland. Murray would have been in his 20s at the time.
“The two older accusations were promoted by extreme right-wing anti-gay activists in the midst of the marriage equality campaign, and were thoroughly investigated and dismissed by both law enforcement authorities and the media,” said a spokesman for the former mayor.
Durkan called for the Murray’s resignation about an hour before he announced that he was stepping down, but came under fire from her opponent for her belated condemnation of the mayor.
“I came out early asking him to step down. She has only done so today, and I think when the pressure got too high,” Moon told reporters at a press conference following Murray’s resignation. “I think she could have stood up for victims and survivors much earlier than she did.”
“That’s wrong. I previously called on the mayor to do what was in the best interest of the city, and to reflect deeply on that,” Durkan responded. “Today it was clear that he could not continue to serve as mayor and that it was in the best interests of the city that he resign. I called on him to resign, and I think that his decision to do so was the right decision.”
“I didn’t come to this with Ed Murray’s donor list and Ed Murray’s political machine. I didn’t come with a background in community support, but I’m working so hard to build that right now,” she later said in a debate for Rainier Valley Radio in Columbia City.
3. From a prominent Washington family, Durkan is worth about $5.75 million
Durkan is the daughter of Martin Durkan, a Democrat who served in the Washington State Senate for 16 years and made two failed bids for the governorship. After his career in the state legislature, Martin became one of the state’s most prominent lobbyists, with clients ranging from garbage haulers and optometrists, to cigarette makers and horse racing outfits.
“I don’t know why Martin Durkan makes people jump so high, I don’t know if he knows where every skeleton is down here, but I suspect he does,” a legislative aide said to The Seattle Times in 1981.
Jenny Durkan is one of eight children, and several of her siblings have also entered the political realm. Her sister, Kathleen, formerly worked as a foreign correspondent for NBC News; Martin Jr. is also lobbyist in Olympia; Matt is a grant writer for LGBTQ issues; and Tim was a special assistant to former Seattle Mayor Greg Nichols.
“I grew up in a big, Irish Catholic family. Eight kids. It was loud. Lots of laughter, some arguing and a fair bit of fighting for what’s yours. When I graduated from law school my mother said, “Finally, someone is going to pay you to argue.” I guess I’ve always had a bit of a fighting spirit,” Durkan wrote in a Medium article earlier this year.
The family is wealthy and well connected in Washington—Durkan and her partner, Dana Garvey, purchased a $4 million house in 2015, which they promptly tore down to construct a new 5,000 square-foot, five-bathroom home valued at $7.5 million. On her financial disclosure forms, Durkan reported her net worth at $5.75 million (excluding the house). Garvey, a small business owner, is also wealthy in her own right; she bought a home on Whidbey Island in the early 2000s for about $3.4 million.
Durkan has contributed very little to her own campaign despite her wealth, and has criticized opponent Cary Moon for using her own money to run for election.
“We are both very wealthy women, Cary Moon and I,” she said during the Rainier Valley Radio debate (Moon is an urban designer). “The one thing I haven’t done with wealth is fund my own campaign … I’ve put $400 in. She’s put hundreds of thousands of dollars in,” Durkan claimed. Moon has contributed a total of about $141,000 to her campaign.
4. If elected, she might have to recuse herself from decisions that could affect the financial interests of her siblings
Many of the Durkan children are equally as successful as their mayoral candidate sibling, but it is Jenny’s sister, Ryan, whose work has caused many to speculate that a conflict of interest might arise for Durkan if she is elected.
Ryan is a prominent land-use attorney at the law firm of Hillis Clark Martin & Peterson’s, and has in the past represented mega clients like Amazon, the University of Washington, the Washington State Convention Center, and Pacific Place—all of whom regularly do business with City Council.
Though Seattle’s vague ethics code does not specifically name siblings as a potential source for conflicts of interest, Executive Director of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Wayne Barnett told Seattle Weekly that Durkan would be required to recuse herself from “any matter that her siblings have a financial interest in. … Anything where [Durkan’s] siblings make money or lose money.”
Ryan Durkan declined to answer the paper’s query as to whether she was currently representing any of her former clients, but did respond by refuting Barnett’s interpretation of the ethics code.
“One of my law partners served on the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission and has considered these issues for our firm. We have a different understanding than some of what is expressed here. We intend to request a meeting with Mr. Barnett to make sure our understanding is correct. Suffice it to say, we will proceed in an ethical fashion,” Ryan replied.
Durkan has stated that she intends to comply with all applicable ethics regulations. “Jenny is committed to operating City Hall with the highest ethical standards. She had an opportunity to talk to the ethics commission and will continue to consult with them if any issues arise,” said a spokesperson for her campaign.
5. Durkan & Partner Dana Garvey have been together for over two decades and have two children
Durkan has kept her private life somewhat out of the public eye, shielding her home address from voters due to safety concerns earlier this year.
She and her partner, Dana Garvey, have been together for at least two decades—a 1997 article in The Seattle Times describes the couple arriving at a family birthday party with their 1-week-old son, Colman.
Though the two aren’t married, Garvey is listed as “Dana Garvey Durkan” on the deed of a property the couple sold for $1.1 million in 2009, suggesting that she may have legally changed her name.
Information about Garvey’s professional career is not easy to come by—her Linkedin profile has been deleted—but credit records reveal that she incorporated a company called IconAlytics in 2015. She had previously founded a telecommunications project management firm in the early 1990s with the help of Durkan.
The couple have two sons together.
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