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Who is Peter Steinbrueck and why should he be mayor?

Child activist, outsider architect and now the man who finally wants to be mayor: Forgotten tales and revealing moments in the offbeat career of a uniquely Seattle politician.
Peter Steinbrueck announcing his candidacy at - where else? - the Market.

Peter Steinbrueck announcing his candidacy at - where else? - the Market. Dan Lamont

Meet the vote getter: Yusuf Cabdi with Steinbrueck at the Wednesday announcement.

Meet the vote getter: Yusuf Cabdi with Steinbrueck at the Wednesday announcement. Dan Lamont

Peter Steinbrueck campaigning to save the Market in 1999....

Peter Steinbrueck campaigning to save the Market in 1999....

... and in 1969.

... and in 1969. Courtesy Peter Steinbrueck

If Peter Steinbrueck wins next November, he’ll be the first native-born Seattleite elected mayor in more than 50 years. That says something about this footloose, magnetic, end-of-the-rainbow town, where young people who don’t go to Portland to retire come to make it. But it also says something about Steinbrueck and his political niche as the familiar but perennially fresh-faced kid from down the block.

We habitually use “roots” to describe a person’s connections with his or her community, especially with someone like Steinbrueck whose ties are lifelong. But those connections are more like neurons — multi-directional and intertwined, giving as well as taking, receiving signals and sending them, and, together with thousands of others, making the body politic move.

Steinbrueck’s connections are many and deep. In a youngish city built by self-inventors, a place that preaches the gospel of fresh starts, Steinbrueck is the closest thing we have to an heir to a political dynasty. (Crosscut contributor Jordan Royer, a past city council candidate and future — who knows? — is the next closest. But though his father was a popular three-term mayor who — hard to imagine these days — left on his own rather than losing a primary, “Royer” is not a name to conjure with like “Steinbrueck.”)

In true Seattle frontier fashion, however, the Steinbrueck legacy is populism, iconoclasm and dissident defiance. His father, the artist, architect and UW professor Victor Steinbrueck, was a gadfly who became a civic savior and sage in battles to save the Pike Place Market and, less successfully, other public spaces and urban heirlooms. While still in grade school, Peter became the little drummer boy of the Save the Market campaign. He recalls watching his father paint the first “Friends of the Market” sign on the Arcade floor when was six or seven, and running the Friends' daystall, selling buttons and collecting petition signatures, when he was 13.

That’s one familiar snapshot from Steinbrueck’s unconventional career. Here are a few others that are less familiar but likewise telling:

1985-86: The Seattle School Board votes to demolish and replace Franklin High, the stately neoclassical hill-topper that’s Seattle’s second-oldest high school and Southeast Seattle’s premier landmark. Community outcry and expert criticism eventually force the district to review its questionable cost estimates and discover, lo and behold, that it can renovate the 74-year-old icon for less than it would spend to build new.

At the public hearing, a parade of local architectural eminences — Fred Bassetti, Paul Thiry — urge reusing the old building. But it’s a slight 28-year-old in a bomber jacket — as ever, looking younger than his years — who draws murmurs from the crowd: “Isn’t that Victor Steinbrueck’s kid?” Allied Arts president Margaret Pageler has recruited Peter Steinbrueck to the cause; though he attended elite Lakeside himself, his parents both went to Franklin, and his attachment is sentimental as well as aesthetic and philosophical. He speaks movingly about the school's heritage, and it seems a family heritage has also re-emerged.

1989: A previously silent circle of investors called the Urban Group makes a shocking announcement: They bought the Pike Place Market a decade earlier, and now they want to run it like a business and make the money they're due. That’s half-true: While no one paid attention, the Market’s public development authority effected a paper sale that it believed would transfer only tax credits to the private investors. But changes in the tax code have eliminated those credits, so now the new “owners” come calling for their money.

City and PDA officials and other sectors of the contentious Market community wail, roar, duck their heads and point fingers at each other. Steinbrueck is president of the PPM Historical Commission; his father nominated him to the panel in 1983. He quits it and organizes the opposition to the takeover, under a banner recalling his father’s efforts 20 years earlier: the Citizens Alliance to Keep the Pike Place Market Public. Steinbrueck enlists local attorneys and the Seattle City Attorney’s Office as legal guns; they win an initial court round, and the Urban Group falls back and regroups.


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Comments:

Posted Thu, Dec 20, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

I read this and at the end thought it was a good biography but wondered OK so why should he be mayor?

leitmotif

Posted Thu, Dec 20, 5:13 p.m. Inappropriate

2007: Steinbrueck decided not run again, but major issues continued to occupy the city council. Of particular note was a proposal from the mayor to reduce the amount of commercial and retail development that could occur in the city's remaining major industrial areas, Sodo and Interbay/BINMIC. He successfully worked with a broad labor, maritime industry, and neighborhood coalition to prevent weakening of the mayor's proposal to restrict commercial and retail development in the "I" zones. (Weakening and delaying efforts were lead by councilman Conlin). The proposal passed December 17, 2007 by a vote of 6-3.

Steinbrueck is the most effective advocate for more democratic governance in Seattle running for mayor.

louploup

Posted Thu, Dec 20, 7:21 p.m. Inappropriate

I once wrote Peter an email criticizing the design of Steinbrueck Park. I say it's terrible, like many Seattle parks, parklets and plazas. Useless lawn, concrete border random seating facing nowhere, dumb picnic table, ugly overlook of SR99 traffic. I recommended razing most of the lawn, enlarging the plaza space, adding better seating, extending the park south. He wouldn't hear it and was offended by the criticism, deserved or not. When a constructive complaint is offered, be defensive, a typical Seattler attitude. Hey, your bore tunnel is going to kill people! "Oh, like whatever, man," I'll bet would be his reply.

Wells

Posted Thu, Dec 20, 10:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Although he is a man of great ability and some vision, I can't get past the fact that in 2000 he was an enthusiastic supporter of Ralph Nader for President...I consider that a serious lapse in judgement.

TaylorB1

Posted Sat, Dec 22, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

In the early 90's I could claim to be in Steinbrueck's league, though certainly not at his particular level. Steinbrueck marks not just a change from the Seattle tradition of limousine liberals, but also of a generation. Unfortunately, much of those he might have worked with, including myself, have been largely eliminated from the game the impacts of which are yet to be seen.

As a 1996 supporter of Nader it is very clear to me that the Democratic party has as much to learn as does the Republican party, from such folks as Nader.

Posted Sat, Dec 22, 8:43 p.m. Inappropriate

2011 - Lobbysit fighting the fight he was paid to fight.

Want to know what he is for or against, check his bank account.

SLU high rises are bad says the lobbyist from the SLU high rise.

He should run for Port Commissioner, he's already pocketed $40,000 in public money via the Port.

Mr Baker

Posted Tue, Dec 25, 9:13 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Tooley, I have no idea what you were trying to say, other than that the Dems should learn from Nader, which is pretty silly.

sarah90

Posted Thu, Dec 27, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Steinbrueck has no conception that there just might be limits to growth. He consistently voted for what most contributes to rapid population growth, and he might argue about how and where development projects occur but the more the merrier. He sees nothing but "progress" in density and congestion, whether on freeways or in shopping centers. What he spends little time noting is endemic pollution and resource and ecological diminishment. He might give lip service to them but never cause and effect analysis.

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 4:46 p.m. Inappropriate

This comment is an endorsement of Peter Steinbrueck as mayor. (It was not solicited or paid for, in any way). Peter Steinbrueck has had a long and varied career in Seattle, a city that he knows extremely well. He rarely waffles concerning the positions he has taken, no matter how unpopular. He understands Seattle's past and present very well, a huge asset to a city mayor. His knowledge of Seattle city politics and urban issues, (including urban design and sustainability), make him eminently qualified. The list of achievements/ battles, as shown in this Crosscut article, as well as the decade on the City Council, where he often took difficult stands, only reinforce this. Best of luck to him

Kamille

Posted Mon, Jan 28, 4:50 p.m. Inappropriate

As for Steinbrueck Park, although it is named after his father, at this point, Peter Steinbrueck does not personally have that much say over either the design or any possible redesign of the Park.

Kamille

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