For a guy who spent many years at the heart of Seattle politics — among the most liberal in the country — Tim Ceis has somewhat surprising advice for budget-strapped government leaders:
Do what voters keep saying they want. Make across-the-board budget cuts. Be decisive. Quit asking taxpayers for more. "Live within the means you have. Let's see if that works."
"We've always run to the rescue," the former deputy mayor said, referring to political leaders' responses to various measures cutting taxes or spending. "That was a mistake." If voters see the impacts of cuts, they may come back and say they want better services, he said.
Ceis, who lost his deputy mayor's job last fall when voters fired Mayor Greg Nickels in the primary, visited Crosscut this week for an open-ended conversation with writers and editors. He said voters are mad and worried.
"Nickels was the point of the spear on this voter anger," he says. "Watch this election. I think it's going to be an indication that the mood has changed."
This was Ceis' first interview since leaving City Hall at the end of last year, and he said he was surprised to realize how stressed he'd been once he decompressed. The guy who was nicknamed "The Shark" because of his hardball tactics spoke in a relaxed but direct style, discussing his new consulting practice, current mayoral politics, the city's highly emotional police-shooting case, the McGinn-MOHAI flap, past snowplow regrets, and future political possibilities. And even that shark thing.
Here are some highlights:
He generally gave favorable marks to Gov. Chris Gregoire, County Executive Dow Constantine and even Mayor Mike McGinn, who ousted Nickels. Pros: across-board cuts by the state and county, and union cost-of-living adjustments at the county and city.
The police shooting of John T. Williams
Ceis doesn't believe the Aug. 30 shooting revealed any systemic problems in the Seattle Police Department, though he acknowledged questions about why Officer Ian Birk wasn't trained to use a taser and didn't employ other non-lethal tactics before killing the Native American woodcarver.
"It's tough for a chief to come right out and say, 'We were wrong.' Because he's got to wait for the investigative process," Ceis said. "He does have to address his officers' use of lethal force. People are asking … are the police too quick to use lethal force right now?"
But Ceis empathized with officers, in the wake of a rash of cop killings last year: "The police officers in this city and in this state are on edge. They've been targeted. If somebody pulls a weapon on them, they're not going to be as questioning of their own instincts."
McGinn and MOHAI
The recent flap between McGinn and the Museum of History & Industry has raised more questions about whether newly elected leaders are bound to follow deals cut by their predecessors. McGinn, boldy, has thrown wrenches into several deals he inherited, including the downtown tunnel planned to replace the viaduct; the design of a new Highway 520 bridge; and now the financing of MOHAI's move to South Lake Union.
Ceis acknowledged that the Nickels administration undid some "handshake" deals early on, including one that would have put a Highway 519 off-ramp between Seattle's baseball and football stadiums.
But, he said, MOHAI had a written agreement with Nickels' staff that provided $7 million in city money to move from the University District to South Lake Union — plus any money the museum could get from the state because the state needed its land for 520 bridge construction.
"If you had a formal agreement that was memorialized in some way, then you're bound to keep that," Ceis said. "That was a memorialized agreement." The museum negotiated an extra-good deal with the state, and despite McGinn's pushing "they shouldn't be penalized for that."
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