Matt Driscoll

Woodards' State of the City address was a love note to Tacoma. Next up: the hard part

Tacoma mayor delivers State of the City address at alma mater

Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodards receives a warm welcome while delivering her first State of the City address Wednesday evening at Lincoln High, her alma mater.
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Tacoma mayor Victoria Woodards receives a warm welcome while delivering her first State of the City address Wednesday evening at Lincoln High, her alma mater.

Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodards marked her 100th day in office with a celebration.

And a speech.

Choosing her alma mater, Lincoln High School, as the backdrop, Woodards delivered her first State of the City address from an auditorium she knows well to a room full of supporters that felt more like family.

Fluctuating between high notes, acknowledged challenges, value statements and what came off like the occasional rose-colored sales pitch, Woodards succeeded in transforming the annual State of the City address into something it hasn’t felt like in the past — an event for all of Tacoma, not just the elite.

It’s an accomplishment worth applauding and one long overdue. At the same time, it also became clear — perhaps around the seventh time someone suggested that Tacoma is “a great place to live, work and play” like it's a real thing people say — that with 100 days under her belt, the heavy lifting remains in front of Woodards.

Still, as one satisfied but exhausted-looking city staffer told me Wednesday night, Woodards is viewed as “the people’s mayor,” and the goal was to deliver a State of the City that fit with the moniker.

On that front, mission accomplished.

It can be convincingly argued that in Woodards — a product of Tacoma Public Schools, a leader who remembers growing up in all corners of the city, an Army veteran and a woman mentored by a generation of black leaders that came before her — Tacoma has never had a mayor that so fully embodies the breadth and hardscrabble resolve of the city she now represents.

All of this was on full display Wednesday night, from the opening beats delivered by the Lincoln High School Drumline to the National Anthem performed by the Grant Elementary Troubadours Choir, from the tribal blessing offered by Puyallup Tribe elder Connie McCloud to the opening invocation delivered by Rev. Anthony Steele from Hilltop’s Allen AME Church.

From there, Woodards’ State of the City mostly stayed light on policy specifics and heavy on loving declarations. The latter occasionally made it all feel more like a hard-sell timeshare presentation and less like an objective evaluation of where things stand.

Perhaps this is forgivable. After all, no one really attends the State of the City to hear the mayor say, “Thanks for coming, and I’m glad you’re sitting down, because things are bleak.”

The challenge of the State of the City is balancing optimism with realism. So Woodards’ focus on the high points was predictable, even if her attempt to put a silver lining on things like State Farm’s imminent departure felt a little strained and overly optimistic.

The speech’s high points, though, didn’t arrive in moments touting the latest Sunset Magazine spread or visit from Danny Glover. They came, organically, when Woodards did one of the things she does best: Display genuine concern for marginalized and forgotten citizens of this city.

“We will always stand up to fear-based policy decisions that rip families apart,” Woodards declared in a pledge to protect our immigrant neighbors from the terrifying directives coming out of Washington D.C., eliciting her most boisterous standing ovation of the evening.

It was good to hear. So, too, were promises to address affordable housing, homelessness and deliberately include Tacoma’s youth in carving a path for the future of a city that’s just as much theirs as it is anyone’s.

All of these were important statements that were necessary to make, to be certain. But the real work comes not from stating the obvious to a crowd that’s eager to eat it up. It arrives from real policies that better protect immigrants in Tacoma, effective game plans to get people off the streets and deliberate decisions that make sure all residents can afford to live, and live safely, in the city Woodards so clearly loves — now, and in the future.

Wrapping up her time on stage, Woodards issued a Kennedy-esque challenge.

“What will you do to make Tacoma successful?” she asked.

It was an appropriate, meaningful note to end on. But at the end of the day, Tacoma will look to its elected leaders — with Woodards at the top of the list — to make sure it happens. There’s no shying away from it.

For that, Tacoma doesn’t need a speech, it needs action.

Closing out the evening, Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Pierson, who served as master of ceremonies, took the opportunity to heap praise on Woodards.

“There’s only one person at this time that can bring people together like our mayor,” Pierson told the crowd.

In the moment, it felt true. And there’s no denying the importance of this skill set.

At the same time, as I think even Woodards would agree, over her next 100 days and her next three-plus years in office, our mayor has her work cut out for her.

Because it’s going to take more than positive affirmations and love notes to the city to face the challenges in front of Tacoma.

Matt Driscoll: 253-597-8657, mdriscoll@thenewstribune.com, @mattsdriscoll

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