New era opens for representation in local government

KING COUNTY, Wash. — 2022 is bringing a new era of representation in local government, with people of color ascending to many top roles.

From Seattle City Hall to the Port of Seattle, political leaders are bringing new experiences to the job.

“It’s momentous, it’s a lot to take in,” said Toshiko Hasegawa, a new commissioner at the Port of Seattle.

Hasegawa is a fourth-generation Japanese American from Beacon Hill, one of the few neighborhoods her great grandparents could buy property in because of redlining.

It’s a place where inequities are still very real.

“I live on the flight path on Beacon Hill, and my daughter looks up at them with eyes wide (with) wonder, and I know that if she lives her entire life on Beacon Hill, she will live an average of seven years shorter than a child who spends their whole life on Mercer Island,” Hasegawa said.

Hasegawa leads the state’s commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, and in November, voters elected her to the port commission.

This month, she took office along with another newly elected commissioner, Hamdi Mohamed, an economic advocate who served as King County policy adviser before she was recently named Seattle’s Director of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs.

“I often say I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams,” Mohamed said at her first port commission meeting.

She will now oversee the same airport where her mother worked.

“I came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, and one of my first ports of entry was at Sea-Tac Airport. Against all odds, my family survived and then they thrived here,” Mohamed said.

The election of Mohamed and Hasegawa means that, for the first time, people of color make up the majority on the port commission.

Across town, there’s another first, at Seattle City Hall.

That’s where Debora Juarez now serves as city council president after her colleagues elected her unanimously.

“I’m trying not to be emotional, but I want the public to know I’m really touched by all of your words,” Juarez said in brief remarks after being chosen to lead the council.

An enrolled citizen of the Blackfeet Nation, Juarez already made history as the first Native American to serve on the council.

She’s now the council’s first Indigenous president.

Upstairs, on the top floor of City Hall, Seattle has a new mayor, Bruce Harrell.

Harrell is the son of a Black father and Japanese mother.

Voters elected the former city council president as mayor in November.

“They should be proud that they have elevated a person like myself, a person of color, and are in turn supporting three deputy mayors,” Harrell told KIRO 7.

Harrell’s three deputy mayors are all women of color.

They are former Snohomish County Executive Director Kendee Yamaguchi; Tiffany Washington, who also served Mayor Jenny Durkan; and Harrell’s niece, Monisha Harrell, board chair at Equal Rights Washington.

Harrell also appointed transportation leader Adiam Emery as the City’s Chief Equity Officer, and Jennifer Samuels as Chief of Staff.

“Your Seattle executive team is the most diverse in our city’s history, with unique lived and professional experience,” Harrell said in his inauguration speech.

The moment marked another milestone for representation in Seattle’s places of power.