City Council candidate Lorena González on leadership: ‘Sometimes I have to temper my righteousness with the realities of government’

The people running for office this November have lots of policy ideas for Seattle. But how would they actually learn and lead? Nine Evergrey readers sat down with them to find out in a project we’re calling The Evergrey Leadership Lab.

Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González was first elected to her citywide seat in 2015. Before joining the council, Lorena worked as an attorney and civil rights leader and served as president of OneAmerica and a senior advisor and legal counsel to former Seattle mayor Ed Murray. Lorena is running for reelection against community activist Pat Murakami.

We asked each candidate, “What are you still learning about being a leader?”

 

Our takeaways from talking with Lorena:

1. She sometimes struggles with the line between politician and activist. 

“This isn’t a legislative issue, but it is an issue that was important to me that I think became very prominent in the city dialogue and those are the issues around the former mayor Ed Murray. My gut initially was to speak out against, certainly his characterization of the accusers against him, and my gut instinct was to also really put out a very firm statement early on to say that that wasn’t right. And I didn’t do it. That’s something I still struggle with, even today, is not feeling that I could just follow my gut in that situation because I didn’t have the data. As that whole incident began to evolve, I realized how important it was to root myself back into the work I used to do as a trial lawyer, which was representing and advocating for survivors of sexual assaults and abuse, including foster kids and the elderly, and really re-centering myself from a moral perspective and not from a policy or politics perspective, to really wrestle with where I wanted to be on that particular position… The other thing that I’d say I’m always trying to continue to want to develop and work on is my ability to be able to connect my political and my moral values with evidence-based approaches that I know will produce outcomes. There’s plenty of times when I’m like, ‘I’m just mad and that’s what I want to do because it’s the right thing to do.’ So sometimes I have to temper my righteousness with the realities of government. I was an advocate activist lawyer before I came to city hall, so it’s having to realize that you can’t just throw a policy out there because we have this thing called the Seattle process. That’s something I have to continually remind myself that process is important.”

2. She sometimes feels like a political outsider—but not for the reason you may expect.

“This might seem a little odd, and that’s fine, but English is still really hard for me! I constantly say things backwards or mispronounce things because Spanish was my first language… These cultural references that occur within political groups or groups that I’m hanging out with, sometimes, they just don’t mean anything to me because I don’t have those cultural references because I grew up in a very strong, Mexican-cultured household… It seems like a small thing, but in terms of who I am personally and what role I have, it’s something that I always have to continue to work on.”

3. She’s still learning to navigate spaces where she isn’t comfortable.

“I now have more privileges than I had growing up, but it’s still, I still move within more rooms that I am not familiar with and that I don’t necessarily feel are my rooms… I’m not accustomed to hanging out with CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and clearly there are issues I don’t agree with them on, largely around labor standards and treatment of workers. So I don’t shy away from going into those rooms and I do my best to acknowledge that I was invited and have a place at the table, that I need to push down all my -isms to be there to do my job, which is to be a councilmember and listen and also share information about where we might be…  So just because I feel uncomfortable in those rooms doesn’t mean they don’t have my phone number and can’t call me. If they ask for a conversation, I will agree to have that conversation with them and that doesn’t mean that I’m going to agree with them at the end of the day, but I think that process of having open dialogue and listening is an important thing for me to model because that’s something I hope they will do with me when I have an issue I care about or hope to have their support on or understand why they disagree with me on my position. In this day and age with our temperature around politics, listening is a bit of a commodity these days. I challenge myself every day to do better on that aspect. I’m not always great at it and we always have things to learn about ourselves, especially when you feel super passionate about something. Those are all learning opportunities for us.”

Here’s what The Evergrey Leadership Lab interviewers thought of the conversation:

Eric Svaren:

Lorena González was handily the most open and transparent candidate we interviewed, perhaps the most transparent candidate I’ve ever spoken with. Like Teresa Mosqueda, she has a great deal of experience in negotiating complex deals with multiple interest groups, such as the deal on secure scheduling of work shifts. These are skills we need elected officials to have. She easily talked about compromises she’s made as well as unintended consequences she’s seen. Lorena seemed pragmatic and self-aware. As the only incumbent we interviewed, she knew the most about what the job is and had some hard won lessons to relate (e.g., Pronto, accusations against Ed Murray). She was open about her shortcomings and how she is working to deal with them.

Elliott Bronstein:

Lorena Gonzalez spoke with unusual and refreshing candor for someone who practices politics for a living. Great to hear someone unafraid to look behind the curtain on the realities of being a Seattle city councilmember.

Austin Valeske:

 

Curious how the rest of the conversation went? Check out our whole interview with Lorena here:

 

Thanks to Councilmember Lorena González and her staff for making the time to chat with us, and to Evergrey Leadership Lab interviewers Elliott Bronstein, Eric Svaren, and Austin Valeske.