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Jenifer Chao Confirmed as Director of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods

Jenifer and her Mom

Community members and City family climbed the stairs at City Hall to witness a vote on the confirmation of Jenifer Chao as the Director of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods (DON). They filed into Seattle City Council chambers for the Dec. 8 meeting of the Neighborhoods, Education, Civil Rights & Culture Committee.

“This is your village,” said Allyn Ruth, a 49-year City employee and current DON staff member who came by on her day off to give public comment. See below for more public comments and photos.

Group shot of Jenifer Chao surrounded by community members, staff, and family inside City Hall.
Jenifer’s “village”

“Jenifer possesses superhuman qualities … She presents her authentic self every time. And she has enormous capacity for empathy. She sees people where they are, and she seeks to understand their stories so that she can understand their context and then help them see their potential through. These are gifts that not everybody possesses, and you possess them in abundance. The action the Council will take today to confirm Jenifer Chao will secure these superhuman efforts for the people of the City of Seattle … As director of the Department of Neighborhoods, I know that you will do everything you can to support the people of this city and I’m so proud to know you.”

Kathleen Barry Johnson, Executive Director of Historic South Downtown

“Jenifer helped the team to engage in the community around cannabis equity, specifically the lack of business ownership for Black community members who were over-incarcerated during the war on drugs. Some of that work is now in the City’s RSJI Ordinance … After the murder of George Floyd, Jenifer stepped up as a leader to support Black people experiencing trauma and used her voice to unite us to understand anti-Blackness and internalized racial oppression … It’s my honor today to know that Department of Neighborhoods will have a leader that will lead with compassion through difficult transitions.”

Mary Mitchell, Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services
Jenifer and staff members from her old team at Seattle Finance and Administrative Services
Former co-workers from the Consumer Protection Division at Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services

“In four separate meetings this year with completely unrelated organizations, when asked Who’s the best person to work with in the City, Who can get things done, Who does our community trust? It’s always Jenifer Chao. She’s a credit to her department as well as her family. As an active member of the Chinatown-International District and community organizer, I wholeheartedly support Jenifer Chao’s appointment.”

Amy Chen Lozano, Community Organizer

“For too long, we have had a revolving door of City leaders who have little knowledge or connection to our community. In Jenifer, we have a leader with an established and proven record of authentic community engagement, someone with lived experience and strong ties to the neighborhood … We ask that you continue to confirm leaders who reflect the identity, values, and history of the community, leaders who embrace authentic community collaborations, leaders like Jenifer Chao.”

Tam Dinh, Board President of Friends of Little Saigon
Jenifer poses with a small group of people from the AAPI Caucus
Some members of the City’s Asian American and Pacific Islander for Racial Justice Caucus

“Among the projects we’ve been involved with, the Department of Neighborhoods has had a striking sense of leadership that’s grounded not just in the City’s interests, but really in the community’s interests whenever those things may be … dissonant.”

Matt Echohawk-Hayashi, Headwater People

“Jenifer has a keen understanding of the important role that community engagement plays in supporting the City’s efforts to achieve our racial equity goals. I see her at community events all over the city and the county, and I understand her deep commitment to ensuring that our neighbors have an understanding of the role of local government and to finding ways for them to be a part of our processes.”

Tammy Morales, Seattle City Council Member
Deputy Mayor Greg Wong stands with Director Jenifer Chao in Seattle City Council chambers.
Deputy Mayor Greg Wong and Director Jenifer Chao

“It is my great pleasure to introduce Mayor Harrell’s nominee for the director of our Department of Neighborhoods, Jenifer Chao. Whether it’s bringing people together to solicit ideas, diversifying access to P-Patch gardens, preserving our neighborhood historic districts, or opening opportunity through the Neighborhood Matching Fund, the Mayor is proud to nominate this more than capable leader to champion these programs and more.

“Mayor Harrell selected Director Chao after a competitive process, and he was particularly impressed with her diversity of experience in supporting community. She’s a former small business owner, has experience in the nonprofit sector, and has long worked in the public sector for the people of Seattle. It’s fitting that our Department of Neighborhoods nominee supported people at the Seattle Neighborhood House, helping them achieve long-term education and employment goals.

“As a long-time public servant, she’s worked in our Office for Civil Rights, on our Department of Neighborhoods Outreach and Engagement team, and as Deputy Director of Strategy and Administration in our Finance and Administrative Services department. Building and supporting community has always been a vital and integral component of who Jenifer is. She works tirelessly to uplift the voices of our residents, particularly diverse communities who have been historically marginalized.

“As a former, short, interim Director of Department of Neighborhoods myself, as most folks know, I like to think I have a little insight into what it takes to be successful. As you heard in the public testimony today, there is widespread support for Jenifer. She has been our interim at Department of Neighborhoods only since March; so, nine months. And she’s already gone out to 65 different community gatherings throughout all of Seattle, from the north end to the south end. She goes to community, she listens to community, she believes in community. And that is the most valuable component that we look for in the Mayor’s Office for our Department of Neighborhoods director. And she’s done this all of her life, as demonstrated by the public comment. It is a unique and special trait. I’m confident that she will strengthen the City’s relationship with community members and help us drive toward Mayor Harrell’s vision of an equitable, supportive, and inclusive Seattle.”

Greg Wong, Deputy Mayor

On Dec. 12, 2023, the Seattle City Council voted eight in favor, none opposed, to confirm Jenifer Chao’s appointment as the Director of the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. She was sworn in on Dec. 14, 2023.