Big City Mayors Leaving Office After COVID, Mass Protests Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan speaks at a press conference at Seattle City Hall on Aug. 11, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
By David Volz | Wednesday, 16 June 2021 10:39 AM
The unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, major financial problems, race reckoning, and the movement to defund the police have caused a growing number of big city mayors look for new careers. They are citing burnout and a feeling of being blamed for problems far beyond their control, according to Politico.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan will not seek a second term even though she has many years of experience in politics having served as a federal prosecutor. Washington state was hit hard and early by COVID and Durkan was unprepared for the tremendous challenges of running a city during a pandemic. She was faced with pandemic surges and demonstrations over police brutality. For her, it was like running an Ironman at a sprint pace.
"When you're in the cauldron, making those tough decisions, it becomes much more clear. I could either do the job they elected me to do or run to keep the job. But I couldn't do both," Durkan, a Democrat and daughter of Martin Durkan, a state legislator and power broker in Washington state, told Politico.
Durkan had proposed cutting the Seattle police budget by $20 million or about five percent and she wanted more police reforms in response to George Floyd's death. Protestors and even some city councilors who supported the Defund the Police movement wanted a 50% cut.
A large group of demonstrators including a city councilor marched in her neighborhood last summer after they determined her address which had been hidden. Durkan and her family had been receiving death threats. She received messages like "Guillotine Jenny" that were written on her street. "You can come to my house 100 times and that's not going to stop me from doing what I think is right. But it did make things inordinately more difficult because I was worried not just about my own personal security but the security of my family," said Durkan.
The lockdowns caused by COVID led to a huge economic downturn that damaged city budgets. Eventually federal aid helped alleviate some of the problems but not before many people lost their jobs and businesses. The killing of George Floyd led to big protests in many U.S. cities and then there were problems created by the most contentious presidential election in recent times. Some cities were literally burning because of these controversies.
Many city leaders want out some for personal reasons or because they are termed-out but others want out because they believe it is not worth the stress or that another person might be more suited for the job.
"It is time to pass the baton," said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms as she announced she would not seek a second term. Bottoms does not know what her next move will be.
The demonstrations following Floyd's death were a major factor in her decision to leave. "It was exhaustion, it was sadness, it was fatigue. I mean there's so many words that I could use, none of them probably strong enough to really capture the last 18 months. But it was, I can say personally, it felt like a very low point," said Bottoms.
The harsh demands of running Topeka, Kansas finally got to Michelle De La Isla, the Democrat mayor of the city. She will not seek a second term. "It was ugly. It was very ugly," she said. De La Isla was Topeka's first Latina and single mother mayor.
"COVID had a big impact in my decision to not run for mayor again," De La Isla said. "You really cannot wholeheartedly focus on recovery while you're running for office. You have to be fully present and make sure your head is in the game."
"When you look at the general population and the numbers of people that say they're looking to leave their jobs, we've never seen statistics so high on kind of the movement within the workforce. Certainly with mayors, being in one of the most high profile and stressful jobs you can imagine during a crisis that this has just amplified," said Brooks Rainwater, senior executive director of the National League of Cities' Center for City Solutions.