After serving her Tacoma community as mayor for the past eight years, Marilyn Strickland is now in the last few days of office and keeping busy too. On the day Tacoma Weekly caught up with her this week, she was juggling a slew of phone calls and such concerning the Amtrak derailment on Dec. 18. And earlier this month, there she was at the head of the table for the first meeting of stakeholders invested in creating a subarea plan for the Tacoma Tideflats, bringing together the Tacoma City Council, Port Commission, Pierce County Council and Puyallup Tribe of Indians to help instill mutual trust and respect among the players as the subarea planning process begins – easier said than done, but Strickland is not one to leave a job half-finished.
This is pretty much indicative of Strickland’s years in office. She seemed to be everywhere at once, always out and about and visibly enjoying being among the people she represented.
Were it not for term limits, Strickland said she would have run for a third term as mayor.
“I have mixed feelings about term limits. I wish (Tacoma mayors) could serve three terms instead of two,” she said, which would offer more time for mayors to establish continuity, see projects through and remain on boards and committees for a longer period of time before having to give up their seat to someone brand new.
Victoria Woodards’ win to succeed Strickland was significant, though, and Strickland is well aware of its importance in the grand scheme of things. Not only was Woodards’ victory at the polls a win for Tacoma but also a win for Washington, as she is among 38 female mayors elected across the state in 2017, where once there were just 11 female mayors. Woodards’, and Strickland’s, strengths lie in their African-American ancestry as well, as both continue our nation’s legacy of politically active and outspoken black women in America. A prime example of this was Roy Moore’s stunning defeat in Alabama, being credited to African-American women getting out to vote. Strickland herself is the second African-American, first Asian-American (her mother is Korean) and second woman elected to Tacoma’s highest office. She takes a lot of pride in this, just as Woodards does in carrying this history forward.
“It shows how we are the most loyal voters of the Democratic base,” Strickland said of black women’s votes. “Our voice is important and does matter, and we can change the outcome of elections.”
She said that more women stepping up to run for office is a very good sign where the future of our country is concerned, as in the past the biggest barrier was getting women to run at all.
As for her own future away from the mayor’s office, Strickland said she has no specific plans quite yet but that she will be staying in the Puget Sound region. “I tell folks that it’s important to keep an open mind. What’s exciting for me is that when you have the opportunity to serve as mayor, you gain knowledge in many areas you never imagined. I’m going to take my time and land where I can do the most good.”
Reflecting on her years in office, Strickland said she feels that she accomplished some great things despite starting her run as mayor during the Great Recession, having to install a new city manager and reducing city hall staff by 200 people because of budget troubles caused by the downturn. One of the more important ways in which she made an impact was in education, something very near and dear to her. She looked back on when she first took office and USA Today published an unflattering story calling Tacoma schools “dropout factories.” Back then our city’s graduation rate stood at just 55 percent compared to 86 percent today, which exceeds the state average.
“One of the things I focused on when I first ran for mayor was education, and we have done a phenomenal job coming together as an entire city and forming those strong partnerships to have a big impact on our graduation rates,” she said. “It was a coming together of everyone in our community. We have a great summer jobs program, we pass school bonds and levies, we have strong support from our local businesses – and amazing, steady, strong leadership from our Tacoma Public Schools Board.”
Other projects that Strickland is proud to have championed over her years of mayoral service include hosting China’s President Xi Jinping for his first ever visit to Tacoma in 2015, Tacoma voters passing a major street repair measure in 2015 after 40 years of suffering with damaged roadways, the city’s community gardens initiative that has helped established dozens of community gardens in our region, and establishing the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights in 2015.
That Tacoma is doing better financially these days is another of Strickland’s proud moments to have been a part of making happen. “We are now on more solid financial footing and able to restore public safety services from the cuts we had to make during the recession,” she said. “And our decision to invest $30 million in infrastructure helped spur the development of Point Ruston.”
Looking forward to issues in Tacoma that she will keep an eye on, Strickland named housing affordability, getting family-wage jobs to Tacoma and continuing to address the needs of the city’s homeless population – all of which she said are interconnected.
As Strickland sees it, homelessness is a symptom indicative of other problems rather than being a single issue. Inadequate mental health funding, joblessness or low-paying jobs that don’t support families, people having disabilities and not enough resources to afford housing, and permanent, supportive housing are among the causes as to why people end up living on the streets.
It does her heart good to turn the reins over to Woodards, for whom Strickland holds much respect. She said that Woodards is keenly aware of needs in Tacoma, and she has all confidence that Woodards will prove to be a noteworthy leader for the city.
“Tacoma will be in good hands with Victoria. She has an agenda that will move this city forward,” Strickland said, noting that while she herself had just two years of City Council experience before becoming mayor in 2010, Woodards has eight years of council experience under her belt. “She understands the system and has already built those important relationships. She will start right out of the gate in a strong position.”