When I walked into Victoria Woodards’ office on her 61st day on the job, she looked up sheepishly from her sandwich. She asked if I minded if she finished her lunch. I said no, and as she thanked me, she checked her phone, the back of which read in gold letters, “Glitter is my favorite color.” Woodards didn’t seem to have lost her spunk since being elected. In fact, the formality of the job seemed, at times, to rub her the wrong way. She said she still prefers being called Victoria, but no one does it anymore, not even her mother. Once you’re mayor, it seems, you cease to be much else.
Woodards still seems focused on the issues that dominated her campaign: affordable housing, a reduction in homelessness, and public safety. Despite the fact that police and fire take up 60% of the city’s budget, Woodards wants to increase the police force and focus on community policing. She also worked to streamline the process of finishing the Point Ruston development, by helping broker a deal with the city of Ruston that ensured the city of Tacoma would handle Point Ruston’s permits.
She maintains that LNG is a “transitional fuel” and offers conditional support of the facility planned for the Port. LNG is still a thorny issue for the mayor, especially as the Puyallup tribe continues to fight the facility, and the Puget Sound Clean Air agency compiles a Supplemental Environmental Impact report to assess the pollution such a large project could cause. Since the city of Tacoma does a biennial budget, this year the city will set the budget for 2018 and 2019, another major concern for Woodards.
I went to the downtown municipal building to meet with the Mayor and discuss her work since her campaign. While she maintained the casual atmosphere that dominated her offices in Hilltop, it was clear Woodards has been almost unimaginably busy. New mayors spend a lot of time building relationships and the last few months have been a whirlwind of hand shaking. She is also working on learning the ropes of the mayoral office. “Now instead of sitting in meetings and listening to that one thing that resonates with what I am working on, I have to listen for the overall purview of the city. Even though I was an at-large city council member, there were still issues that I worked on. As mayor, you have to pay attention to everything,” she explained.
While Woodards has been working in city politics a long time, these days she has more name recognition. “The number of people that want to talk to me about an issue is completely different, times a hundred almost,” she explained. The day she met with me, Woodards started the morning at McCarver Elementary reading to schoolchildren, then had a conference call as part of her new role as Vice Chair of the Youth Education and Families council of the National League of Cities. She went on to a meeting about Pacific Plaza, and from there to a meeting about Tacoma’s Chinese sister city, Fuzhou. Then she chatted about all of that with me.
The National League of Cities role allows Woodards to learn from other mayors around the nation, some of whom with more experience than she, while sharing her own knowledge. At a mayoral conference last month, she was already on a panel, which she sees as Strickland’s doing. “Marilyn Strickland put Tacoma on the national map, so people expect to hear from Tacoma and see Tacoma.” In the spirit of continuing the city’s growth, Woodards has put together a business advisory council and plans to hire a specialist in job creation and an economic development director.
Of course, being on the national map is part of why Tacoma is struggling; with rent prices skyrocketing, Woodards must find housing solutions, fast. The city has hired a homelessness consultant and put together an affordable housing task force. She also hopes to add a senior housing advocate to the team.
Woodards also wants to hold a gun surrender day considering the ongoing problem of gun violence. Woodards was on the Gang Violence Reduction Taskforce, so working on that issue isn’t new for her.
One of the most eye-opening parts for the job for Woodards has been serving as a role model for children, especially young African American girls. After a young black girl recently said to Woodards, “You’re the mayor! I can be the mayor too,” Woodards was reminded that Tacoma’s children are watching her—more reason to work as hard as she can. “People are depending on me to do a good job, because those little girls deserve the very best opportunity,” she said.
Photos by Sierra Hartman
Portrait by Trevor Hemenway courtesy of victoriawoodards.com