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City of Seattle losing several women in key leadership roles

At least three women have left or announced their upcoming departure of key positions of power in Seattle.

Seattle likes to hold itself up as an agent for change and progress. Civic leaders often discuss it as a badge of honor, compared to other regions around the country.

Yet for some reason, in the past several weeks, a strange thing has happened: Seattle is pushing those change agents out the door.

Just two years ago, the Emerald City was shining with new ideals. Five diverse women, who broke norms regarding race, gender, and sexual orientation, held key positions for what was believed to be the first time. It's tough to find another big city that could boast the mayor, police chief, county sheriff, schools superintendent and university president were all women.

But in the past week, both Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle Schools Superintendent Denise Juneau both announced they will not seek another term. That followed the resignation of Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best this summer. King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht's future is unknown after voters approved a measure to change the position to an appointed, rather than elected office.

Durkan acknowledged that every woman faced different circumstances that led to the upheaval, but some things haven't changed.  

"I do think that, you know, women still are treated very differently. Both when they run for offices, and when they hold offices. The coverage is different," Durkan told KING 5. "You know, when I was running for office in the state, people comment on what you're wearing. You can have disagreements with other people, but instead of being called disagreements, you "clash" with people or "fight" with people. I think there should be a different level of scrutiny on ourselves, on what we do and how we treat and cover women officials, because I think there still is a market difference between how women leaders are covered, and how male leaders are."

Retired SPD Chief Best, who is now a KING 5 law enforcement analyst, said, "Well, clearly, it's a challenging time. And the city really has not, you know, been able to really keep the women leadership there, and that's really unfortunate, because we need to have women leaders, need to have strong leadership. I really feel like, in many ways, it's sad to see it this way... We still have some growing to do."

Best addressed her surprise departure this summer, "I certainly made no secret on my way out that I felt very disrespected, you know, by certain members of city council. I don't hide that... it's just the truth. I'm still not really clear about the reasons why, but certainly, you know, there does seem to be a bit of a pattern here."

Durkan said she understands why there were disagreements. She also said she's received positive letters from little girls about her handling of multiple crises. But Durkan believes the tenor of the conversation needs to change in Seattle.

"It's the expectations and the coverage," Durkan said. "If you look at the inbox that I had, during the height of criticism, you know, the thousands and thousands of very vitriolic emails, many of them are purely misogynistic. I walk out of my house after people had been here and spray painted misogynistic and homophobic slurs. I don't think that happens to men. I think they're criticized for different things, but they're not called the B word, the C word, etc. It devolves very rapidly, and women are treated differently in that way." 

Durkan will serve her term through 2021 and plans to share advice with anyone who may seek her position or another high-ranking role. 

WATCH: Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on COVID-19 vaccine, payroll tax lawsuit

"I would say whatever people do, do what you love and do what makes a positive difference," Durkan said. "If you're one of the people that believe that running for office is how you can make that positive difference, you should do it. If it's good for our city, our state our country. But at the same time, you should go in eyes wide open, because you will be subjected to different kinds of criticism and critiques that others won't. I think that's going to change over time, because you're seeing now more and more women joining every kind of workforce, not enough, but more. So the expectations and how women work in a workplace can be different than how men approach it. And I think that, as a society, we were far behind a lot of other countries in terms of having women in important roles." 

Outgoing Seattle Schools Superintendent Juneau is declining interviews at this point, but was recruited to the district after a distinguished career in Montana. 

Ana Mari Cauce is UW's first permanent female president, and has helped students weather the 2020 storm with remote learning.

Tacoma, Bellevue and Everett all have female mayors and former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland was just elected to Congress in the 10th district.

PREVIOUS: How women in power are shaping King County's future

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