Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan

The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Yesterday, the mayor issued an economic forecast for Seattle with two economic scenarios, one for rapid recovery and another for slow recovery. Both scenarios highlight significant job loss and high unemployment.

Some excerpts from the interview are below:

Clemons: What are the big factors in whether you've got a fast return or a slow return?

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Durkan: So it's a couple things, but one thing I think your viewers want to know — for even a fast return imagines we're going to be in this for a year or two. On a slower return is a longer horizon, So we're going to face a challenge that the city government has never faced in the history of Seattle, at least in many generations. It dwarfs what happened in 2008. We are at least probably 20 percent of our general fund budget will be missing because we don't have the business taxes, the sales taxes, the things that usually props up local governments.

Clemons: Seattle was one of the key beachheads of the COVID-19 virus attack in the United States. Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBarr asked prosecutors to explore charging Seattle mayor over protest zone: report Bottom line Oregon senator says Trump's blame on 'forest management' for wildfires is 'just a big and devastating lie' MORE and you were constantly on TV, constantly talking about what was going on and what you needed. ... How do you look at the federal government? What did it did or didn't do?

Durkan: So, I think there's going to be a lot of time to do a backward glance. But some of it we have to do now because we have to have learned the lessons of how we got here as we reopen our economies and our society and our communities — as we come back together. Because if we don't learn those lessons, we will be right back in the same place in a very short period of time. In fact, it will be a worse place because we're starting at a higher level of known infections. So, for example, everyone says the key to opening the economy is to have adequate testing and contact tracing. And what Americans need to know is — I don't believe there's any city or any state in America that is ready to do that. We certainly aren't here in the Northwest. We have had a continual struggle to get adequate testing just up for diagnostics. So, if we really want to not make the mistake, if we don't want to miss the growth of the virus as we open up the community, we need more testing. And we have to have the federal government in charge because no city or state can take control of the production needed for America to be strong.

Clemons: I know that there's a debate emerging that whether through your cellphones or others, you're going be able to have a digital map, if you will, of where people have been. ... Do you worry about privacy and impacts on digital freedom?

Durkan: I think that there's some real legitimate concerns about the digital freedom. What information do you collect? How do you keep it? Who keeps it? What do they use it for? I also think that I just have a significant concern that we won't be able to get that up and running because of those concerns in time
that we need it. So my guess is, we end up with a hybrid system, one that relies heavily on technology but also requires humans to do the ordinary gumshoe work you need to do with contact tracing.

Clemons: You and I talked about where was the 50-plus community and how they were being engaged —and also about the large homeless community. How are these two communities figuring into your COVID-19 realities now?

Durkan: At the very beginning of this, we knew where we are going to have to focus our resources are on both those most vulnerable health-wise and those most vulnerable economically. And looking at our aging population, and our homeless population, we very concertedly worked with local county officials to make sure we could stand up a range of new shelter space so that people in existing shelters could have more distance between them, as recommended by our health officials. We also worked with the county and stood up a number of quarantine and isolation facilities. So people who may not be able to recuperate at home because they had no home would have somewhere to go to. And right now, I think we're seeing across America that ground zero for the ongoing fight against this virus is in our senior population. Seattle in Washington State, like everywhere else, is seeing significant virus spread in our senior centers. It is one of the greatest challenges.

Clemons: What more do you need to make that work better than it is?

Durkan: Again, it goes back to two things. One is adequate testing capabilities. We still don't have it. We started a program last week to try to get in strike teams to our senior centers. And the test kits were recalled because some of them were contaminated. They were kits that one of our medical centers had obtained overseas. And it just goes to show you ... it's like a scavenger hunt. You have cities and states and medical facilities literally hunting the world for basic supplies like testing swabs and masks for our health workers. We can't have that and win this fight. If we don't have a sustained ability to have a supply of the basic things we need to fight this virus, we won't be successful. And so we need to quit pitting city against city, state against state and have a cohesive plan for America.

Clemons: You share this sort of this law of the jungle out there right now. Maryland's Gov. Larry Hogan recently acquired 500,000 test kits from South Korea and the president wasn't thrilled about that. We've been reading stories today and yesterday over federal seizures of equipment that have been going to hospitals and cities and places around the country that have been seized without transparency as to where they're going. How bad is that scene?

Durkan: It's terrible. I mean, I think that, you know, when you have literally cities trying to find source stuff in China and Korea and Italy — I can recall one event where we had masks come into a port in California that the state thought they were going to be able to get, and then they ended up in a bidding war with others. It goes back to everyone staying at home right now that has watched any amount of TV. How many pharmaceutical ads do you see? They're on all the time. Those companies have some of the most innovative manufacturing capability in the world. It has to be turned to developing first the diagnostic testing capability. Second testing for antibodies and then third long-term — that if we can get a vaccine that we can do it at a very significant level. And every American has a right to that. And that won't happen if we just let market forces do it. We have to be able to make sure that happens so that we can successfully get out of this and reopen the most innovative economy there is.

Clemons: How do you go about reopening the economy? We see in Georgia right now different signals between the governor who wants to reopen and the mayor of Atlanta is telling her people to follow the science and not to open. How do we manage this?

Durkan: First, I think that Mayor [Keisha Lance] Bottoms, like Mayor [Stephen] Benjamin in South Carolina, are really doing a public service by raising the right questions. And this all works better if officials work together to find a path forward. I can't say enough about Gov. Inslee and the leadership he's given in Washington state, but we've had mayors and county executives throughout the state of different parties working things out and figuring out a path forward. Number one is you can't make this a political issue. It is a public health issue, and the virus is going to produce and replicate and transmit according to the laws of science. And you have to start with that as your premise. And second, we know people are weary of being inside. We also know this has had devastating impacts on so many Americans. So many people in Seattle — workers, small businesses — and we need to be able to reopen our society to bring people back together and our economy. But if we don't do it in a smart and measured way and see what is happening as we do it, we literally will not only be back where we were in February, we'll be in a worse place. I liken this to everyone's been in a shopping mall where you can take the elevator up to the top floor, and then you have to take the escalator down and you have to usually circulate halfway through the floor. Well, we shut this economy down by taking the elevator up, even though we did it gradually, in a dial. Now we're going to have to take the escalator down, level by level and see how do we bring people together?

Clemons: You've been a leader for the LGBTQ community but in the spirit of Miami Mayor Francis X. Suarez donating blood plasma, gay men have been told they can't donate their plasma. And I just want to ask your thoughts on that on then expound on what else can everyone do out to play a constructive role in this crisis?

Durkan: Well, Steve, I think it's ironic about the blood donations. We're seeing such an intersection and replay in many ways of the AIDS crisis of the late 80s and early 90s. We had a virus that was spreading. No one knew the cause. There was no vaccination for it, and no cure for it. And Dr. [Anthony] Fauci was leading the charge to find one. And here we are decades later in a very similar battle. And so I think what we should have learned before that I hope we learn now is we really have to, A, base it on science, and B, we cannot vilify anyone or do what was done early on in this to try to label this, for example, a Chinese virus. We saw a lot of acts of discrimination and harassment in our community against the Chinese American community. You know this, we're all in this together, and every community everywhere is going to have to dig deep. And I will tell you, I have been so inspired by the way that Seattle has responded to this. Just this week, I had a conference call with some of the owners of small businesses in Seattle, most of them from communities of color whose businesses had to close down because of our orders. But they found a way to keep their kitchens open to feed their community. And those are the kinds of inspirational acts of selflessness and courage that we're seeing day after day. And I really want to highlight those people — from our front-line health care workers and first responders, to the people who are feeding their communities, finding creative ways to check on people, make masks. I've seen much more of that than I've seen of the negative. And that's what gives me hope and inspiration.