Kate Joncas headed the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA) for 20 years. Now she’s taking on a leadership role in city government.
Her appointment to the role of deputy mayor reflects Seattle’s growing partnership between downtown businesses, residents and human services.
“Kate has a visionary view on how to achieve a healthy city,” said Lisa Daugaard, deputy director of the Public Defender Association and supervisor of the Racial Disparity Project who has worked with Joncas on the Community Police Commission. “She has strong relationships in sectors that don’t normally collaborate.”
Others see Joncas’ appointment as a sure sign that Mayor Ed Murray is more interested in appeasing downtown business owners than supporting low-income, working-class and homeless people, particularly following the DSA’s support of an effort to criminalize aggressive panhandling in 2010.
“It’s disappointing to be sure,” John Fox, a neighborhood advocate and coordinator of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, said of Murray’s decision to appoint Joncas.
He’s worried Joncas will be overly concerned with areas of the city occupied by moneyed interests.
“The question to ask is to what degree does it signal more of the same over-attention to downtown and South Lake Union?”
Joncas’ first day on the new job is June 30 and her annual salary is $170,000. She replaces Andrea Riniker, an interim deputy director.
Joncas will serve as deputy mayor of operations, which involves communicating with and coordinating city departments and setting performance outcomes. She will be a lead in Murray’s economic development strategy.
Joncas declined to be intereviewed for this story.
She is one of two deputy mayors. Hyeok Kim, former executive director of International District nonprofit InterIm Community Development Association, is deputy mayor of external affairs. Murray said that Kim is a liaison to the city’s diverse communities, neighborhoods and regional leaders.
Under Joncas, the DSA grew from 350 members and a staff of eight to more than 1,000 members and a staff of 120 people. The DSA currently has 550 business members and 800 residential members.
Joncas has been a member of numerous city and county task forces and blue-ribbon panels, including the Committee to End Homelessness’ Interagency Council, the Seattle Community Police Commission and, most recently, a panel overseeing King County Metro’s low-income fare.
At times, however, her participation in these groups has been limited. Bill Kirlin-Hackett, executive director of the Interfaith Taskforce on Homelessness, said Joncas was absent from most meetings for the Committee to End Homelessness’ Interagency Council, one of three governance structures overseeing the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness.
Meanwhile, Joncas helped create a program that put more eyes on the street. In her role at DSA, she oversaw the creation, in 1999, of the Metropolitan Improvement District (MID), a property tax-funded organization that hires people to work in Seattle’s downtown streets doing public safety patrols and cleaning the area.
Some MID Ambassadors clean up garbage, remove graffiti and maintain potted plants around downtown, Pioneer Square and Belltown. Others patrol on bicycles. Equipped with two-way radios, they offer tourists directions and information. They also rouse sleeping homeless people from sidewalks and report suspicious activity to the Seattle Police Department.
A few are trained as outreach workers for homeless people in a partnership with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission.
Homeless people interviewed recently in Occidental Park spoke favorably of MID Ambassadors.
“Once I took a sleeping pill and it was too strong,” said Brian Long, 43. “They’re the ones that woke me up and called detox.”
Many highlight the MID program as proof that Joncas has compassion for homeless people.
“She’s not just a pawn of the business interests downtown,” said Rick Reynolds, executive director of Operation Nightwatch, a homeless service provider. “That’s shown especially in the downtown ambassadors program.”
But the MID program straddles a gray area between public service and lobbying. The MID is funded by property taxes paid by area businesses. Through the MID Ambassadors, the DSA tracks downtown activity. For example, Ambassadors report how frequently they wake up homeless people and clean up pet or human excrement.
A spokesperson for the DSA said information collected by MID Ambassadors isn’t used to lobby city officials.
But KL Shannon, an organizer on police accountability with the Seattle King County NAACP said the DSA represents business interests and lobbies city officials on behalf of them.
“It’s about making sure that the business community is protected,” she said.
In selecting a deputy mayor, Murray could’ve done better, Shannon said.
“We’re watching, but we’re not impressed.”