Even in his mid-50s, Peter Steinbrueck looks too young and too diminutive to be mayoral material, especially in this venue on a recent Friday evening. To be seen and heard, the candidate is standing on a chair in The Highliner pub at Fisherman's Terminal. There are some grizzled faces in an otherwise mixed crowd of 100 or more. There are a few notables in attendance: fisherman/activist Pete Knutson, "Kindergarten" author Robert Fulghum, Port Commissioner Tom Albro, the only one wearing a suit and tie.
Introducing himself, Steinbrueck lets the people know he's a man of many parts, a guy who's studied urban planning at Harvard, but whose carpentry hobby makes him familiar with the weight of a tool belt around his non-middle-aged waist.
Candidate Steinbrueck is indeed a man of contrasts. He's relatively young with a ton of experience (10 years on the City Council). He's future-focused but sometimes painted as a "nostalgia" candidate who fights for historic preservation. He's an outsider green activist and architect who became an insider; since leaving elective office he’s been consulting for the Port of Seattle and Washington Department of Transportation.
But the one thing everyone sees in Steinbrueck is passion. Agree or disagree with him, there's no denying that he loves Seattle. He has dedicated much of his more than half century on earth to the city and its possibilities.
He came by his passion honestly. His father, Victor Steinbrueck, is the University of Washington architecture professor who designed the Space Needle and led the original fight to save the Pike Place Market in the late 1960s and early '70s. Peter followed in his father’s footsteps by "saving" the Market again, this time from the clutches of a New York investment group in the late 1980s.
The Pike Place connection is embedded in Peter's campaign imagery, which features the famous Market clock as a backdrop. Peter has navigated the civic waters differently from his famous father, however. Where Victor was the perpetual activist, Peter has sought to bring his vision into the mainstream of city business. Where his father made indelible sketches of the city in books like “Seattle Cityscape” and “Market Sketchbook,” Peter has drawn real legislation. Where Victor made enemies, Peter has been, though sometimes prickly, more politic.
When the younger Steinbrueck left the City Council in 2007, it was on an upbeat note. He points out that in three citywide campaigns, he increased his share of the vote each time, winding up with 83 percent in his final run. He made it clear then that he wasn't retiring. "I do not plan to 'retire' in any way from civic life (ever!)," he said. He likened his decade on the council to the whitewater of Wild Waves. Now, after a break, a divorce and the Harvard fellowship, he's ready to run the political rapids.
The waters weren't too harrowing at Fisherman's Terminal, in part because they are so familiar. The marina was itself embroiled in the kind of conflict that seems like the centerpiece of Steinbrueck's current campaign: the fight for "working" Seattle.
The city is growing, Steinbrueck told the crowd. Expect another 100,000 people in the next 15 years or so. Growth "has to be accommodated, but in an intentional way, not an ad hoc way."
The maritime industry is often overlooked, but it's been a huge source of job growth for the region, even during the Great Recession (3% per year in hard times). And it creates family-wage jobs. Steinbrueck claims support from the Longshore, Warehouse and Sailors unions, and a personal connection to the industry: His brother David is a Bristol Bay fisherman.
Fisherman's Terminal is an example of the eternal tug-of-war between new versus old, in this case fish guts versus gentrification. Nearly a decade ago, there was a struggle to preserve the Terminal as a working homeport for the fishing fleet instead of turning it into an agglomeration of condos and luxury yachts, a development plan pushed by the Port. The people who work here know that what they do is both valuable and lucrative, and that it is part of the city's very foundation. In the 1860s, Washington fishermen lobbied the Lincoln administration to open Russian (now Alaskan) waters to area fishermen. The sawmills and coal mines are mostly gone, but not all the healthy runs of fish.
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