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An intriguing mayor possibility, Maud Daudon

Maud Daudon. Credit: Seattle Chamber

It’s a measure of Mayor Mike McGinn’s endangered political prospects that the 2013 mayoral race in Seattle is already pretty much under way. There are big names hinting at their interest: former King County Executive Ron Sims, State Sen. Ed Murray. And a leading contender is already clearly in the race, City Councilmember Tim Burgess.

Here’s a new name who admits she is “thinking about it, though still in the listening mode.” Maud Daudon is the “candidate” in question.

Daudon is hardly a household name, though she is well known in influential business and political circles. She was the chief financial officer at the Port of Seattle, where she got to know Port Commissioner Paul Schell. When Schell became mayor in 1997, Daudon became his deputy mayor, concentrating on administration and public safety issues. After Schell lost his reelection bid in 2001, Daudon has worked at Seattle-Northwest Securities Corporation, where she is now CEO, an employee-owned investment bank focused on public finance for schools and other entities. She just stepped down after a year as board chair of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband Marc are big players in the local environmental movement.

Her friends and admirers are pushing her to think seriously about running. Daudon says she only spends a few hours a month in exploring the idea, though neither is she rebuffing it. Some are pushing a Daudon candidacy because of their desire to have a woman mayor, or at least a serious woman candidate for mayor. This is a perennial theme, though the strongest possible candidates — Martha Choe, now at the Gates Foundation, Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, Virginia Anderson, former head of Seattle Center, former City Librarian Deborah Jacobs — never accede. Polls indicate a strong desire for a woman mayor, at least in general. (Jan Drago did poorly in the 2007 race.) Others think Daudon’s broad-coalition politics would be just what the doctor ordered for Seattle’s ailing politics.

She sees the city as bursting “with untapped potential, full of talented people who could do amazing things if you focus their energies.” She has a theme for modern Seattle, one she has pushed effectively in her year as head of the Chamber: “sustainable prosperity.” That refers in part to green tech as a great global opportunity for the region, as well as to ways of heading the parade to a post-carbon economy. What holds us back, she says, is the high degree of division in local politics, with Mayor McGinn as a principle practitioner of the politics of division.

At one level, you might think Daudon, 55, has too many albatrosses around her neck. The Schell administration, still in reputational eclipse. Being an investment banker, and of a firm that put together the controversial financing plan for the Monorail. Head of the Chamber. An unknown. (I recently gave a talk to the Plymouth Church forum, a well-informed civic group, and asked the audience of 100 how many had ever heard of Daudon. Two hands went up.)

At another level, however, the voters are hungry for a fresh face, and one who clearly understands business and regional economics. Burgess’s drawback will be that he is a city councilmember, and they only rarely ascend to the mayor’s office. Sims has his own mixed record at the county to defend (particularly his lavish spending on labor unions). Murray would have an unpopular legislature to live down. Daudon, if she does get fire in the belly for the job (not there yet), could seem to be the new force, reflecting Seattle’s old vision and new mission.

She also has an interesting life story, nicely blending public service and private sector expertise. She grew up outside Chicago and went to the counter-cultural, progressive Hampshire College in Massachusetts. An early job as a city planner in Corvallis convinced her that she had to understand business, so off she went to Yale’s graduate School of Management.

Daudon had become smitten by the Northwest while interning with Paul Schell’s development company and doing a college paper on Aspen’s abortive effort to build a huge resort in the Methow. (The Daudons have a second home in the Methow.) So when she went to work for the public finance shop at Lehman Brothers, she wangled an assignment to the Seattle office. That led to being director of finance at the Port, where she would regularly serve as the foil to Commissioner Schell’s visionary schemes, applying the hard numbers to his steady stream of schemes. Her husband, Marc Daudon, is a highly respected consultant to international environmental groups and principal of Cascadia Consulting Group. The couple have huge credibility in green circles.

As Schell’s deputy mayor, Daudon partook of that administration’s desire to do bold things, to shake things up — and also of its political naivete. As best I can reconstruct the story of the WTO riots, Schell’s Waterloo, Daudon was too trusting of local green and labor leaders who assured her that they (not the cynical agitators like Ralph Nader) had the demonstrators under control when they clearly didn’t. That is not to say that the experience did not mature Daudon, though it did seem to drive her out of public life for some years.

Those who know Daudon well often say that she would be to the left of Tim Burgess, who cuts a conservative image despite all his recent positioning leftward, and maybe even to the left of the elusive McGinn. (Not to the left of Sims, since few local politicians are.) Could be — though this aspect seems well camouflaged by her power suits as she moves smoothly through business circles. Probably Daudon would try to be an honest broker between the business community, intent on stopping the flight of jobs from the Seattle core, and the younger, greener, impatiently progressive newcomers in Seattle (the voters McGinn tapped but may be losing because of his ineffectiveness). No easy task.

Daudon thinks  highly of Burgess, and even more highly of King County Executive Dow Constantine, who might be mayor some day. And of course she works closely with such political leaders in her civic jobs. I’d be surprised, therefore, if she ended up jeopardizing Burgess’s chances by running against him and splitting the moderate, business-friendly vote. I’d also be surprised if she gave up her interesting, well-paid work for the cruel trench warfare of being mayor. I suspect if a powerful campaigner such as Ron Sims gets in the race, she would figure her odds were too long. Likely, she’ll take too long in deciding whether to get in, and then it will be too late.

If Seattle and this region still had a functioning civic and business community, as it once did, there would be more pressure on such a potential candidate, and others, pledging early support and brainpower. Other regions (Austin, Denver, Philadelphia) are starting to far outpace Seattle in political leadership and strategic positioning. These are rising or rebounding cities, while Seattle is a complacent region that seems able to breed Microsofts and Amazons regardless of governmental blundering. In the end, it won’t be so much that Daudon decides whether to run or not personally as whether the civic urgency of the moment compels her to do it. Want to place a bet?




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