Outgoing Mayor Mike McGinn’s way to be gracious to Mayor-elect Ed Murray was to say that his successor would enjoy holding the post, because there was “no better job in the world.” Not so fast. More likely, the new mayor is going to be swarmed by chickens coming home to roost after four years of drift.
Many serious and deferred problems await Mayor Murray. So he is wise to be deploying real professionals, former city councilwoman Martha Choe and former city budget director Dwight Dively, as co-chairs of his transition committee. Murray’s first round of decisions on retaining and dismissing top department heads also showed a sensible restraint in not fighting on too many fronts at once.
Those personnel decisions show that Murray will be focusing on areas of his strength: transportation and dealing with Olympia. He played those cards by saying, first, that he wanted a new head of the Seattle Department of Transportation, where a more balanced and strategic approach to cars/transit/bikes/greenways/potholes is needed. And out went the lobbying office which, as Murray must know, has long been a clumsy presence amid all those Seattle-scoffers in Olympia. Other emphases: housing and human services.
Good start. He’ll need it, considering the mess at City Hall — some of it McGinn’s faults of omission and commission — that Murray must face. Below is my list of challenges for the new mayor. It’s no time for thanksgiving!
1. Central Waterfront Park
This massive project has limped along in the past four years while McGinn has scorned it as too expensive and too downtown-focused. The hugely ambitious undertaking faces three serious problems. The city has not made a good case that it can create, design and defend public spaces, so passing levies will be difficult. Down near the ferry terminal too many traffic lanes are accumulating (for ferry queuing, transit, freight, cars, bikes), compromising the open space. And the project has way too many cooks in its kitchen, badly needing a strong leader at city hall.
2. Economic jitters
Boeing is departing, either quickly or by drip-drip-drip, casting a large economic cloud over the region. Microsoft is in a dangerous and delayed transition. The Port of Seattle faces a crisis over container shipping, freight mobility, closer coordination with Tacoma and West Coast and Gulf Coast competition and finding a new CEO. The region’s big tech-driver, the University of Washington, is struggling to find a new model of financial sustainability, lest it be forced to retreat from excellence.
3. Talent exodus at City Hall
Many, like Dively, left during the McGinn years. The mayor’s office was stocked with campaign idealists and many departments failed to interest McGinn very much. Further, the wave of boomer/Kennedy idealists who entered public service in the 1960s and 70s is now about to enter retirement.
4. Stalemate at Seattle Public Schools
The school board is likely to remain fairly dysfunctional for Murray’s whole term, split between three disheartened “reformers” on the one side and the backlash faction of four members representing union concerns over testing issues and parents who want more direct control. This irresolution is a formula for weak leadership by the superintendent and small appetite for structural changes. The stopgap will be to push for free (to the needy) universal pre-school for 4-year-olds, but I wonder how popular that will be when the tax bill is presented.
This is the biggie. While pressure for modernization from the Department of Justice and Murray’s chance to name a new chief will help, it is important to remember that police reform (both better treatment of minorities and the mentally ill and more effective crime-stopping) has eluded Seattle mayors for 40 years. The Police Guild is too strong and the assistant chiefs have been there too long and feud too much to make real solutions likely.
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