By Matt Nagle
[This week the Tacoma Weekly sat down with candidate Victoria Woodards to talk about her goals and ideas in her race for Tacoma mayor. Next week we interview her challenger Jim Merritt.]
When Victoria Woodards was just 3 years old, her mom and dad moved the family to Tacoma and Woodards has been here ever since. Her parents having met and married in England where her mom lived, her dad was in the Air Force and the couple came to Tacoma when Woodards’ father was stationed at Ft. Lewis. After graduating from Lincoln High School, Woodards followed in her dad’s footsteps and decided to serve her country by joining the U.S. Army, also stationed at Ft. Lewis.
In addition to being a U.S. Army veteran, Woodards has 30 years of public, private and non-profit sector experience. Some of her prouder achievements include her stint as chair of the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs, trustee for the Washington State History Museum, co-chair of the Tacoma Civil Rights Project, senior fellow in the American Leadership Forum and producer of the region’s largest celebration of diversity, Ethnic Fest.
Woodards has been a member of Allen AME Church for almost 40 years. As a youth, she was active as a member of the youth choir, usher board and the Young Peoples Department (YPD). She has served in many positions within the church, including the Ellen Kellum Missionary Society, YPD director and as a choir director for both the youth and women’s choir. Today she lives in Tacoma’s South End with her dog Genesis.
“My whole career of service started when I came onboard the Urban League in 1993,” she said, as assistant to founding Urban League President Thomas Dixon. “I watched and lived every day what it was to be of service for this community.”
While working for Dixon, Woodards received a job offer from then-Pierce County Councilmember Harold Moss to work for the Council.
“Harold offered me the job in September but I didn’t accept it until the beginning of November,” Woodards said. “He gave me plenty of time to make a decision because I loved the work I did at the Urban League and even though he promised to double my salary, it was still a hard decision for me.”
It was while working for Moss on the Pierce County Council that she discovered her desire to serve in elected office. In May 2004, she was appointed to the Board of Park Commissioners and subsequently elected in November 2005. She served as president of the Metro Parks Board until 2009, when she was elected to the Tacoma City Council.
“I chose the Parks Board because it’s really about the quality of life for people and I think that’s what makes a city so vibrant – its quality of life,” she said. “One of my proudest moments with the Parks Board was when we opened the STAR Center. That was my baby that I went around the state and federally to lobby for.”
While on Tacoma City Council she served in several capacities, including chair of the Tacoma-Pierce County Board of Health, Community Vitality and Safety Committee and the Gang Reduction Task Force. She was also on the boards of the Foundation for Tacoma Students (Graduate Tacoma), the Crystal Judson Family Justice Center, and she championed the creation of the city’s Office for Equity and Human Rights. Outside of the Council during this time she took the reins as president and CEO of the Tacoma Urban League in 2011, and helped stabilized the organization and triple its budget. She became deputy mayor in 2014 and in December 2016 she announced that she would vacate her City Council seat to run for mayor. Currently, Woodards is director of community development for the Tacoma Rainiers.
“I didn’t wake up one day and say I’m going to do what it takes to be mayor,” she said. “People kept asking me when I was going to run for mayor because they really wanted me to serve in that capacity, so if that’s what people want then that’s what I’m going to do.”
One of Woodards’ top concerns is the quality of life in Tacoma – preserving what makes the City of Destiny so special and taking steps to fix what’s broken. Bringing family wage jobs to the city is paramount, she said.
“We have to have more family wage jobs in town. We have got to provide opportunities for people to make good money and support themselves and their families. Now is the time for leadership to step up and make those things happen,” she said, and this includes working people who are under-employed. “They aren’t afraid to work hard but they can’t make enough money to support themselves.”
Woodards said that taking care of Tacoma businesses is key, as she has heard directly from business owners that Tacoma is either the easiest place for them to do business or it’s the hardest place. “You get one extreme or another,” as she put it. “When people say it’s the hardest place to do business, we need to get specific on what that is and how we fix it. We should be in constant communication so that if one thing goes wrong we can fix it so that it doesn’t go wrong for everyone else. We’ve got to have good relationships with our businesses and that’s the job of the mayor.”
Successful businesses lead to the family wage jobs Tacoma needs, according to Woodards. “We’ve got to make sure that we’re taking care of our businesses because when we talk about family wage jobs, they’re happening because businesses are doing well. We have to make sure we’re creating a climate where businesses can do well and if they’re not, we need to figure out exactly why that is.”
Circling back to the quality of life in Tacoma, Woodards said this is why businesses would locate here – because the quality of life for their employees is good here. “Let’s be honest about this. Businesses do not relocate to a city just because you can give them great parking or a tax break or because of the building they can move into. That’s part of it but a small part of it. They move because there’s great quality of life for their employees, there’s an employee base and they feel like they are going to be treated fairly. If they can’t attract and maintain a work force, it doesn’t matter what city they’re in. We’ve got to continue working on those things for our city and be more business friendly.”
Noting that small businesses form the backbone of Tacoma, Woodards said that as mayor she’s interested in putting together a business advisory council made up of all levels of businesses in the city. “I’m not saying that we don’t need a Frank Russell and a DaVita because we absolutely do. But I also think that we need to be able to withstand the fact that sometimes businesses are going to leave Tacoma. Businesses leave Seattle every single day and it’s not a front page story. But every time somebody leaves Tacoma, it’s like the sky is falling and the city is going to crumble.”
Woodards said she believes that Tacoma is perfectly set to be an incubator city that has the infrastructure that helps businesses grow and get to that next level. Right now the city has a grant to work with women and minority owned businesses to help them figure out how to develop a business plan and how to actually build a business, and the Readiness Acceleration and Innovation Network (RAIN) is standing tall as Tacoma’s new biotech incubator that’s going to help with small start-ups. “At one point Weyerhaeuser was just a really good idea and so was Frank Russell. Someone sat down and figured out how to make it work and it just took off. I think we have those great minds right here in this city and we can do those very same things.”
ON PUBLIC SAFETY
Woodards said that one of the accomplishments that she’s most proud of was working with City Council and the Tacoma Police Department to establish Project PEACE (Partnering for Equity and Community Engagement) in 2015 to continue building the relationship between the police department and community members by proactively identifying and addressing public safety issues and concerns. Through community conversations, Project PEACE helped police and residents alike learn a lot from each other’s point of view, and the Tacoma Police Department has continued this initiative by expanding and adding formal structure to many programs that the department had historically embedded in its Community Oriented Policing to help create safer neighborhoods and foster a higher level of community engagement.
“That’s what those kinds of dialogs do for our community. You start to see each other as human,” Woodards said. “You look at people differently. Let’s be realistic here. Unconscious bias is real. You form how you think and feel about people based on your experiences either by what you do or what you see, and television does not always paint the most beautiful line about people of color. So in order to change those unconscious biases, you’ve got to have conscious experiences that change how you feel about people so that the next time you pull someone over or the next time you show up at somebody’s house and there’s a mother and child and they’re both people of color, you think differently and you understand their perspective differently. Conversations like that and building relationships like that in our community to me are the most important thing we can do.”
She pointed to Tacoma’s march in response to the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. as an example of police and citizens working together rather than clashing with one another.
“When we talk about Tacoma, when people across the country were marching and the police stood in front of them, when we had a march in Tacoma and marched up to Shiloh Baptist Church to have a conversation, our police chief and our mayor were leading that march. Our police officers were not stopping us from getting to the church; they were making sure we got there safely. That’s the kind of city Tacoma is.”
With public safety making up 60 percent of the city’s budget, it has at times been a challenge for the city to juggle funding for this and the remaining 40 percent of budgetary necessities. Now the city continues to restore recession-era cuts as the economy continues to improve following the Great Recession of the early 2010s.
“We made some difficult decisions about public safety but when public safety makes up over 60 percent of your budget, some of those difficult decisions are going to affect that 60 percent because you can’t just take it out of the 40 percent, which is everything else the city does,” Woodards said. “We made some tough decisions and they had to be made at the time. Now that we’re bouncing back a little bit, we have to reinvest in our public safety.”
Among public safety concerns is Tacoma’s homelessness problem that seems to be getting worse faster than it’s getting better. “We have got to take care of the people in our community who need it most,” according to Woodards, adding that housing affordability comes into play in this multi-faceted issue. “That’s getting to a crisis level in our community as well.”
One solution that Woodards has in mind is to do her part in bringing living wage jobs to Tacoma, especially in light of big employers like Frank Russell and Davita having left the city.
“The job of the mayor is to be the best salesperson that Tacoma has. I don’t think there’s a better person to tell Tacoma’s story than someone who has lived it,” she said. “I’m running because I love Tacoma. I can get to tears about how great this city is because I am emotionally and personally invested in this place. It’s the mayor’s job to sell the city, but you’ve got to have a product worth selling and believe that product is worth investing in, Tacoma is absolutely that.”
ON THE ENVIRONMENT
With quality of life for the people of Tacoma also including the quality of the air and water around us, developments at the Port of Tacoma come into play. It was public outcry that stopped the methanol plant from being built on the Tideflats and now attention has turned to the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant being built. It’s no secret that many Tacomans want the city to move away from fossil fuels and toward a more green way of life and way of doing business, something that Woodards said she supports as a goal to reach.
“I do not want our port to become the fossil fuel capital of the world. As a matter of fact, we can stop where we are,” she said of the LNG plant. “We don’t need to take on any new industry as it relates to fossil fuels.”
Where LNG is concerned, however, Woodards spoke of the living wage jobs Tacoma needs. “The port is an industrial port. It’s where a lot of the family wage jobs are. When we talk about LNG, people say it’s only going to provide 12-18 jobs at the plant, but the plant is only one piece of it. It’s the hundreds of jobs we’re saving at TOTE because they were under federal mandate to get a cleaner burning fuel. It [LNG] is a transitional fuel. It’s not built to be an export fuel. It’s what we have right now. It’s the greatest technology we have to address the need right now. As things get greener and greener and technology moves forward, I trust that we’ll always continue to move in the way of new technology to make the port even greener.”
She said the city’s move to adopt a subarea planning process for the Port and Tideflats is the best way to establish a shared, long-term vision and a more coordinated approach to development, environmental review and strategic capital investments for the area.
“When we talk about the relationships between the port commissioners, the community, the city and the Puyallup Tribe, I truly believe that the subarea plan is an opportunity for this entire community to set some parameters and dream about what we want our port to be.
“When we talk about what we want at the Port, if we ask small businesses that are building at the port, if we talk to port commissioners, if we involve our tribal partners, if we involve the people who live in this city, we can come up with the best ideas and the best answers for the port. Does that mean everyone gets what they want? Absolutely not. But it means we come up with something together and we have some norms in how we operate together. I don’t have all the answers, but what I do have is the drive and the passion to get the answers and those answers lie best in this community. I believe that the citizens of Tacoma deserve to have all of their questions answered and it shouldn’t just be ‘too bad.’ That is not the answer. And citizens have to be open to get the answers.”
Learn more about Victoria Woodards and her campaign at www.VictoriaWoodards.com.