The mayor announced this week he’ll not run for re-election, amid allegations of sexual abuse decades ago. This comes at a critical time in the city’s history, but it’s clear there are key qualities the new mayor must have.
Seattle is in the midst of being rebuilt. Residents are feeling the stress of construction, displacement and soaring inequality, and now, when we need focused attention to guide rampant growth, the political landscape is changing too.
In half a year those of us who live in Seattle are going to pick a new mayor. A couple of months ago, I’d have bet the new mayor would have been the same as the old mayor, but unexpected circumstances intervened.
That happens often enough that at least the possibility of a surprise shouldn’t be surprising. Last fall, I thought I had a pretty good idea who was going to be elected president.
So now I’m trying to think about what I want in a mayor, what that mayor is going to have to deal with, and remembering past mayors.
Our current mayor, Ed Murray, had an agenda and isn’t shy about exercising leadership. If the election were decided on his job performance, he’d have another term, but Tuesday he announced he won’t run again because of allegations about his behavior many years before he became mayor. It’s a sad mess, whatever the truth is.
Mayor Murray quits race
- Seattle Mayor Ed Murray won't seek second term: 'It tears me to pieces to step away'
- Here's what we need in a new Seattle mayor when Ed Murray leaves | Jerry Large
- The silence on Mayor Murray sent a loud message | Danny Westneat
- Opinion: A new mayor will be a chance for a fresh start for Seattle | Brier Dudley
- Murray drops out of mayoral race
- 5 things you now need to know about Seattle’s mayoral race
- The rise and fall of Murray’s political career
- Lawsuit alleges Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused troubled teen in 1980s
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Murray made the right choice by dropping out of the race. Now residents have to figure out who we want to follow him as mayor. We won’t all have the same answer to that question, of course, but whoever it is should have a few essential abilities.
The mayor needs to be someone who can connect with a broad spectrum of people and get them to talk with each other when that is necessary to solve a problem or avoid one.
Getting the $15 minimum wage adopted required that kind of ability.
The mayor should be someone who can work with the county and with state officials, and who understands how those governments work.
The mayor should have demonstrated leadership ability and vision, because doing the job well means not just fixing what’s broken but moving the city forward.
The mayor ought to have some ideas about how to improve education, how to deal with Seattle’s housing-affordability problem and how best to approach public safety.
None of those is simple or easy to manage.
The mayor doesn’t control the school system, but an effective leader can express the city’s goals and sometime help educators achieve those goals.
Seattle, if it continues to get richer, is going to see housing get more expensive. No mayor is going to stop that, but there should be a reasonable plan for dealing with the displacement of poor, and even middle-class people, and the proliferation of homeless people.
One of the most important decisions a mayor anywhere makes is the selection of a police chief. Seattle already has a good one, so a new mayor should be committed to helping to press the case for continuing to improve the way Seattle is policed.
And the next mayor needs to have a plan for infrastructure expansion and maintenance at a time when the federal government can’t be depended on as a partner to cities.
My idea of what a Seattle mayor should be was shaped by the first two people who held the job after I came here. When I moved to Seattle in 1981, Charlie Royer was mayor. Royer served three terms, from 1978 to 1990, and earned a lot of praise for his governance. He even became a national guru of sorts on the matter of running cities.
He was followed by Norm Rice, a council member, who had spent years building relationships with various parts of the community and was able to use those connections to revitalize downtown and push for improvements in education.
Rice and Royer both had critics, and we are still facing some of the issues they and the four mayors who followed them worked to fix.
There are going to be a lot of choices this time around, but not much margin for error.