With the New Year arriving shortly comes a fresh era for Tacoma, as newly elected Mayor Victoria Woodards takes her place at city hall on Jan. 2, 2018. Having defeated challenger Jim Merritt with 54 percent of the vote to his 45 percent, Woodards won the race comfortably and now she’s looking forward to leading her hometown to new heights of excellence.
First, though, she has to leave her job as director of community development for the Tacoma Rainiers, which she said is bittersweet. “They’re such a great group and a great place to work, and people to work with. It’s a combination of I like my job, I like the people I work with, and I like the place I work at – that’s a home run,” she said with a laugh.
She’s also busy getting oriented to her role as mayor with help from current Mayor Marilyn Strickland, City Manager Elizabeth Pauli, city staff, City Council members and community leaders. “I’m getting ready now so that I can start on day one and move Tacoma forward,” she said in an interview this week, just back in town from her trip to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard for a seminar on transition for newly elected mayors.
Given that Woodards served on Tacoma City Council before running for mayor, she already knows everyone at City Hall and is familiar with the issues on the table, but she said it feels different now that she’s seeing things from a new vantage point.
“A council member is one thing; a mayor is completely another. It’s a different level of conversation that I’m having with people about what it means to be mayor and what their vision is and their hopes for Tacoma,” as she described it. “Being mayor is a different job. I’ve been in Tacoma all my life and even people that I’ve known all my life, now that I’m mayor it feels different to them. I’m incredibly humbled when those moments happen, but to me I’m just that girl from Tacoma who decided she wants to serve her community in a different capacity and be a leader here.”
Tacoma’s choosing Woodards reflects a phenomenon that happened across the country in this election in which women were victorious in races at many levels of government. What’s even more noteworthy is that here in Tacoma, voters chose to elect for mayor two women of color back-to-back: first Marilyn Strickland and now Victoria Woodards, both of whom carry on the legacy of Tacoma’s first African-American Mayor Harold Moss. This is telling, Woodards believes.
“When I talk about how Tacoma is different – not that we’re perfect – but I think we are different. It makes me incredibly proud. It just continues to remind me that we see the value in people and what they bring to the table. We are not always looking at the color of a person’s skin or their sexual orientation or all of those other things that can automatically make us prejudiced against one another. We really look at people for their heart and their skill and that’s what I love about Tacoma.”
She makes it clear, though – with all due respect to Strickland – that she is her own woman bringing her own unique point of view to the mayor’s office.
“I am not Marilyn – we are two different people,” Woodards said. “We’re not even the same women of color. Our fathers are both African-American but her mother is Asian and my mother is from England. She wears glasses and I don’t. She graduated from Mt. Tahoma and I graduated from Lincoln… So there are lots of differences between her and me.”
Still, Woodards said she couldn’t have a better mayoral mentor than Stickland. “I am honored and humbled – it’s what I feel to be able to be the next mayor after Marilyn and be able to build on some of the things she’s done and build on some of the things that I’ve heard from citizens that I want to do.”
CHALLENGES = OPPORTUNITIES
“I don’t like the word ‘challenges.’ I like the word ‘opportunities,’ Woodards said of her outlook on politics, business and life, an attitude she said she brings as mayor. “So much bad stuff happens in the world and if we look at everything from a negative standpoint, you would never get out of bed in the morning. You can’t build while you’re tearing stuff down – you can’t talk about how you want to make Tacoma a great place while talking about all the things that are wrong. Find the good parts and build on that.”
When asked what her top priorities are as mayor, Woodards pledged that her priorities would remain the same as they were on the campaign trail.
“I’m going to hold myself accountable to the things I told citizens I was going to do,” she said.
First up is to attract family-wage jobs to Tacoma. “We need to figure out how to get more businesses to locate here that pay good money so that the people who live here can support themselves and their families and not work two or three jobs everyday to just make ends meet,” she said.
Woodards has already begun the initial steps to form a business advisory council comprised of owners of businesses big and small. “I want the make-up to really reflect all the different types of businesses we have here – a good cross section of people who can talk to me about business issues in Tacoma,” she said. “I said the whole time I was running that I don’t have all the answers. But what’s so great about Tacoma is that we have 210,000 people who live here and even more who invest here. If you ask them, they’ll tell you. Tacoma can be greater than it is now if we ask people how we can make it better.”
Public safety is another of Woodards’ priorities. “I want to look at how we re-invest in public safety; how we can get more police on the streets to respond to calls that come in,” she said. And part of public safety includes helping the homeless to have food and shelter and access to mental health services for those who need it.
“I want to put an end to homelessness. I know that’s one of those ‘big, hairy audacious goals’ and I know we’ve got the shelter but we’ve got a much bigger issues than that. Combining how we address homelessness with (housing) affordability is a way to get at some of that. I do not want people in Tacoma to get priced out and end up living out in Pierce County. I want to make sure people can actually live in this city.”
Like her plans for a business advisory council, she has thoughts of putting together a similar council to address affordability in Tacoma.
“I’m going to be the mayor who puts people together to talk about issues and take into account everybody’s opinion and thoughts. Some of the best ideas are going to come from the people who work in the front every day.”
The integrity of Tacoma’s natural environment is also important to Woodards. She immediately put to rest any rumors that her campaign was funded by companies like U.S. Oil. “I took no money from U.S. Oil,” she said point-blank, nor from the GEO Group, which operates the Northwest Detention Center, as some rumors have reported.
Woodards made it clear that the people of Tacoma must have more say in what new industries should be installed at the Port of Tacoma. She supports the proposed sub-area plan at the port to map out how the land will be used in the future, and also supports interim regulations to be put in place until the sub-area plan is completed.
“For me, it’s a way for us to put pen to paper and have a big community conversation about what we want our port to be. In the subarea plan can be things that, once we decide on a certain industry or direction we want to go in, make it easier for businesses to locate at the port. It gives us an opportunity to stop talking about what we don’t want and start talking about what we do want.”
She wants alternative solutions to fossil fuels that create jobs, and said that she would be in favor of working with the state to implement environmental taxes on carbon-producing businesses that would be used as restoration funds in the event of an oil spill or other such accident at the port. “I support the interim regulations about no more new fossil fuels (at the port). I do not want Tacoma to become a dumping ground. I’m good with what we’ve got. We need to look at other things to go in there. I am willing to find solutions that address our problems and make Tacoma a better place. One of the things I’m committed to is making sure we abide by every regulation so that our citizens are safe and that we have a plan should something happen. My number one job is to make sure our citizens are safe.”
Above all, Woodards vows to be a mayor for all of Tacoma’s citizens, something that was reinforced in her while she was campaigning. “The best thing for me to do was to go out and talk to voters about why I was running – to remind myself about what the most important thing was about the campaign and it was the people who live in Tacoma.
“I am very much looking forward to being Tacoma’s mayor. Everyone in Tacoma, whether you voted for me or not, I’m going to be your mayor that serves everyone and makes Tacoma live out its creed to be the city of destiny. I am extremely grateful that citizens thought enough of me and my leadership abilities to be the next mayor.”