Seattle makes history: First Hispanic council member takes oath

SEATTLE -- Seattle made history Tuesday by swearing in the first Hispanic member of the City Council.  Lorena Gonzalez, an attorney and civil right activist, was elected earlier this month with nearly 80% of the vote.

“I’m very grateful that I am in a position to be breaking that glass ceiling,” Gonzalez said during an interview before the historic event.

Seattle has been at the forefront of electing minorities to the City Council, including Asians, blacks, women, gays and lesbians.  But not until Tuesday did it see its first member of Latino descent.

“Anytime you are a first, it is a gratifying moment,” said Gonzalez.  “But it also comes with a great amount of responsibility, a great amount of responsibility to recognize that you are the first and that you can never be the last.”

Gonzalez’s rise is impressive, given her humble roots as the child of migrant farm workers in central Washington, where poverty was high, teen pregnancy was high, and the chance of success was low.

“To go from that kid from the lower Yakima Valley who’s living in those statistics to now being the first, first Hispanic to be elected to Seattle City Council is a humbling moment."

For 10 years Gonzalez was a civil rights attorney.  One of her cases involved a man who was stomped and kicked by Seattle Police. She successfully won a $150,000 settlement.

“I will be the only person sitting on Seattle City Council that has ever actually sued the Police Department,” said Gonzalez.

She has pledged to continue to push for reforms at SPD to root out excessive force, a mandate of the U.S. Department of Justice. “We still have members of our community who feel like SPD has missed the mark, and perception, as we all know, is reality,” she said.

Another high priority for Gonzalez will be tackling the city’s housing affordability crisis.  It’s time, she argues, to seriously look at rent control.

“Rental market regulation,” Gonzalez said, “just like regulation in any other market, is something that the city needs to be able to do to make sure that families have a place in our city."

Gonzalez expects that her background will inform all of her work.

“I have a real life experience with a lot of the issues that poor folks in our city and under-represented communities in our city are facing today.”