Last Tuesday night, glass ceilings broke throughout the nation for women, people of color, and LGBTQ political candidates as a wave of new political leaders were voted into office. Seattle was no exception. Teresa Mosqueda, the Latinx political director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, will become the newest addition to Seattle’s City Council after handily defeating her opponent Jon Grant, who conceded on Thursday.
With the election of Mosqueda, voters ensured that a council that temporarily had six female members will retain that composition, for at least the next two years. Joining the six female councilmembers in City Hall will be Jenny Durkan, Seattle’s first woman mayor in nearly a century. A new female sheriff is also in town, following Mitzi Johanknecht’s defeat of incumbent John Urquhart for the title of King County Sheriff.
“I’m so excited that our corner of the country is replicating what I think is happening across the country right now,” Mosqueda said. “We have record numbers of women and people of color who ran for office for the first time ever and won, and I’m one of those.”
She may be one of many new faces in governance across the nation, but Mosqueda is the only new face on the Council, since this year’s other council race was won by incumbent M. Lorena González. As such, the Council stands to change some based on her particular interests. So, how does Mosqueda plan to shift the conversation?
In a phone call with Seattle Weekly a few hours after Grant’s concession, the newly elected councilmember laid out a plan for her term, which involves creating policies aimed at assisting and protecting low-income people, immigrants, and women.
Mosqueda will take her seat in just a few weeks, owing to the fact that she will be replacing former Councilmember Tim Burgess, who was elevated to interim mayor after Ed Murray’s resignation amid sexual abuse allegations earlier this fall.
Out of the gate, Mosqueda plans on prioritizing affordable housing, equal pay for women, and affordable child care. She’d like to alleviate the housing crisis by building affordable housing on publicly-owned land.
But she says that what she’s most passionate about is using her lived experience as a woman of color with knowledge of public health policy to ensure that low-income residents have access to health care and better living standards.
“I know we can roll out some policies that will have real and immediate impacts on working families, especially women in the work force,” she said. “We make up half of the population, and we have more women who are breadwinners than ever and we still have policies that represent a Leave it to Beaver era and we need to catch up.”
Mosqueda said she plans on doing so by working with the rest of the Council to create and pass paid family leave legislation, and ensuring that the Office of Labor Standards is well resourced to defend people of color, women, and LGBTQ people in the workplace, especially since these populations are more likely to experience wage theft and retaliation, Mosqueda added. Additionally, Mosqueda said she would like to relieve small business owners of any pressure to let law enforcement into the back of restaurants or buildings and that she would seek ways to make sure that all immigrants have a “know your rights” card in their back pockets.
Mosqueda’s emphasis on workers’ rights makes sense, given her background. A lobbyist for the Washington State Labor Council who campaigned to raise the minimum wage, she had earned the backing of most of the local labor unions, from iron workers to firefighters.
Her work as a labor lobbyist helped her gain union followers, but also drew criticism from Grant, a Democratic Socialist, who accused her of being an insider without a connection to the community. For his part, Grant promised to continue to put pressure on city leaders.
“To all of our supporters who worked so hard on this campaign, know that elections are only one tool to create change,” Grant said in his concession statement. “The movement may not have made it inside City Hall, but we have many other tools to advance this campaign’s agenda through direct action, ballot initiatives, and community organizing. As a movement we will be watching our new City Council closely.”
Mosqueda argues that her devotion to uplifting marginalized communities has informed her policy work and brought meaningful change to working people’s lives. She maintains that her support of workers spans beyond their pay and ensuring that they’re safe from ICE, and said she also wants to stamp out work culture that condones sexual harassment.
“We’ve got to change the culture and ensure that no one thinks that they’re going to keep their job if they perpetuate predatory behavior—whether it’s assault, harassment, or intimidation,” Mosqueda said.
As the #MeToo movement changes the conversation around sexual assault, Mosqueda argues that city policies need to demonstrate that intimidation and predation will not be accepted in the workplace. In response to a recent report in The Stranger that female workers at Seattle City Light are alleging wide-spread harassment, she said that she plans to propose policies that go “beyond education, beyond retraining, beyond systems of reporting, and actually create a system and a culture where we will not tolerate harassment or intimidation.”
Mosqueda is also focused on public healthcare policies that creates a safety net for marginalized communities at a time when the future of healthcare is uncertain. Mosqueda would like to roll out a regional healthcare plan modeled after one in San Francisco that uses a network of local healthcare providers to offer care to low-income residents without access to Medicaid or Medicare. She also supports the establishment of safe drug sites throughout the city, stating that “even if they [drug users] never get clean and sober, we’ve still saved lives and that’s a public health harm reduction approach that we must embrace.” Yet she is open to holding conversations with concerned communities members to address any questions that they might have about the sites.
“This is a really exciting time to be in Seattle. We have a super majority of women, increased numbers of representatives coming from communities of color,” Mosqueda said. “I’m excited to work with the entire city to unite our movements and to unite our rather progressive values and when we do so we can take on these challenging topics and create greater shared prosperity and ensure that more folks can afford to stay and live in this city and that we see our community’s health improve so that we’re thriving, not just surviving.”