Some people still lament the fact that Seattle isn't run out of the Rainier Club any more, or 7 am breakfast meetings of business leaders at The Olympic Hotel.
The old Olympic breakfasts, which drove the Seattle world's fair from impossibility to international hit, were so effective that one of the men who hatched the idea, local power lawyer Harold Shefelman, sought to continue them after the fair as the means of running Seattle Center. Once the city had an effective back-channel for making things happen, why let the end of the fair shut it down?
Some Seattle city council members, notably David Levine, balked at the idea. Why, he asked, couldn't the city's business be done during normal office hours? That way, er, the public could be included. The early breakfast idea won the day (the vote was 6 to 4 and a preferred spot was the Washington Athletic Club). Normal procedures and office hours are famously non-productive in Seattle. It's one reason referendums and initiatives wind up on the ballot, and it's also why doing things in the back room still has appeal. "I remember when Seattle was run out of the Rainier Club," a club member told me a few years ago. "It was a better city then!"
Seattle might be unruly, but it is not ungoverned. We eschew politics consistently. Look at the last mayoral election: Greg Nickels, a professional politician, was defeated because people got tired of his experience and Chicago boss-ness, and we wound up having to pick between two guys (Mike McGinn and Joe Mallawhatever) who had no experience between them. We seem to hate political celebrity, but we love process, which tends to produce murky, slow-moving, incremental results. We tend to punish the outspoken, like McGinn, and tire of "idea men," like Paul Schell, and think better of a leader who keeps his mouth shut or who doesn't go off script.
Mouthy pols are often rewarded in other cities where politics is a spectator sport (Boston, Chicago, New York, San Francisco). Here we tend to reward those who walk in quiet lockstep, even if it's toward a cliff. Seattle's current city council gets points for maturity, but none for being in the least bit entertaining, Tim Burgess' rapping aside.
Former Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis, however, is an interesting figure, and I find him much more sympathetic out of government than in. He is now a paid political consultant, and it's clear that his skills as a negotiator are valued. He's working on behalf of the downtown tunnel, advising Microsoft on Eastside transportation, and he's one of two key Democrats hashing out statewide redistricting. He's worked for the state, county, and city as top aide for a governor, a county exec, and a mayor.
He hates his old nickname, "The Shark," and seems anything but in person. He's smart, funny, and frank in a way too few are in politics. He comes off as a practical, blue-collar kind of Democrat, not caught up in bike lanes and plastic-bag wars but more focused on the meatier aspects of policy, like moving people and goods around. He seems much more of the Scoop and Maggie school: a believer in government, labor, and big companies. He's made impatient by precious nonsense.
I can see why politicians hire Ceis to get stuff done. He's not in airy-fairy land. At a recent Crosscut pizza lunch, he was asked if he was going to help create more swing districts as part of his redistricting tasks. Ceis looked stunned. "Why would I do that?" he asked. He clarified that his role was to negotiate for the Democrats, not create some kind of centrist idyll for John Anderson nostalgists. That said, he also allowed that there would likely be a few more swing legislative districts in the end because of population growth in "red" suburban and ex-urban areas, meaning some Democratic legislators in Pugetopolis might see blue districts fade to purple even as some formerly red Eastside districts have turned bluer, thanks in part to the Microsoft worker invasion. Still, Democrats should feel secure knowing that a guy like Ceis is in there bargain with Slade Gorton over the election map. (Slade the Blade meets Tim the Shark in "ultimate fighting.") Too bad Ceis couldn't help with the debt ceiling.
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