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Paul Schell's Seattle legacy

Guest Opinion: The former mayor's civic activism left behind a richer city than the one he inherited.
Paul Schell, as mayor in 1999

Paul Schell, as mayor in 1999 Seattle Municipal Archives/Wikipedia

I wasn’t lucky enough to be born in Seattle, but, like former Mayor Paul Schell, when I did make it here as an adult, I never wanted to leave.

While I became a journalist covering my adopted city, Schell, long before his eventful term in the mayor’s office, became a true city builder.

As a reporter and columnist for our local newspapers, I covered his career. Too often cities brush visionaries aside as unrealistic. In Seattle, Schell found not only a pulpit from which to participate, but the ability to shape our city’s visions so that they moved from far-off dreams to achievable goals.

From the moment he arrived in Seattle to work for the law firm Perkins Coie, Schell was a citizen activist. And his arrival was a double gain: His bride, Pamela Schell, was equally as visionary in the arts world as he was in civic affairs.

Paul first ran for mayor in the 70s, losing to Charles Royer, who, at the time, was a household name, a popular TV commentator. But the two opponents, vying for the 1977 election, grew to admire one another. And, after Royer won the election, he succeeded in persuading Paul to join his administration. During those years, Paul would help empower neighborhoods, drawing up plans and crafting people-oriented solutions.

Later, Paul would be elected a commissioner of the Port of Seattle and, along the way, he would head up Cornerstone Columbia, a development firm. He would develop properties along the waterfront and work with neighborhoods to ensure that citizen voices were being heard in city planning.

It was inevitable that Seattleites would want Paul to run again for Seattle mayor and, in the 1997 election, he did. From 1998 through 2002, an apt millennial selection, he served as mayor of Seattle.

There were times that Paul’s belief in his citizenry worked against him.

The World Trade Organization riots and their aftermath had their origins in Mayor Schell’s conviction that citizens ought to be unfettered, free to express dissent. Unfortunately, he had not anticipated the risks of giving free reign to anarchists.

And, while Seattle was still recovering from the WTO riots, the city’s 2001 Mardi Gras celebration erupted into violence, helped along by a too permissive attitude. In the resulting chaos, Seattle police were unable to stop the beating death of a local man.

Despite those two high-profile disasters, the mayor accomplished an immense amount during his four short years in office; accomplishments that still guide and shape our city’s development. 

Mayor Schell led the city’s efforts to pass the “Libraries for All” levy, the largest bond issue in city history. Ten years later, we are reaping the rewards: a world-famed Central Library building and 26 new or refurbished branches.

He also gave us the first Parks Levy, a push to upgrade our parks system and community centers. Finally, he championed the effort to renovate the Seattle Center Opera House and create the Seattle Art Museum’s Sculpture Park. He oversaw plans to create a Seattle municipal campus with a new City Hall and Justice Center.

Today, we work in the house that Paul built.

It’s fitting then that City Hall Plaza shows off a generous gift from Mayor Schell, the handsome Japanese Maple that he impulsively bought and, when refused city money, insisted on himself donating to the city.  

That maple serves as a reminder that the former mayor’s grandiose ideas many times worked out for the city’s great benefit. Mayor Schell’s many visionary plans are now being realized. His dreams have become our dreams. He has left us an unbelievably rich legacy.

Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers. She has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray for mayor. You can follow her on Twitter: @jean_godden.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

This is one of the best succinct statements I have ever seen, 'The World Trade Organization riots and their aftermath had their origins in Mayor Schell’s conviction that citizens ought to be unfettered, free to express dissent. Unfortunately, he had not anticipated the risks of giving free reign to anarchists.'

I'd suggest that the police department was equally unprepared, whether naively or intentionally, I do not know. But, I do know that police were informed in detail multiple times of the plans of the violent protestors. Shame that, Paul Schell, of old Seattle attitudes, had to bear the punishment.

Good old Gil was a disaster, and his selection likely reflected a lack of sophistication on the part of the Mayor. Mardi Gras was broadcast in living color on NWCN, while the police stood down. Gil was basically 'saved' by the distraction of Nisqually Quake, while Paul got another nail in the coffin of his public service.

Hopefully, Seattle has grown up a bit since then, without losing the quality of community exemplified by leaders like Paul Schell.

Posted Tue, Jul 29, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

It's a bit sickening to see these hagiographies of Schell. I know Brewster was his friend, but the man has blood on his hands. He badly bungled the WTO protests, even going so far as to cynically offer a free place to stay for Zerzan's anarchist wrecking crew. Perhaps he thought that would be a good way to discredit legitimate concerns about globalization. Whatever the case, it was deceptive, and those of us who participated in legitimate protest bore the brunt of the beatings and gassing while Zerzan's crew ran amok unmolested.

Then, in an inexcusable dereliction of duty, he ordered Seattle Police to stand down as a race riot took place during the 2001 Mardi Gras debacle. A young man named Kris Kime lost his life while trying to protect a young woman from a violent assault -- under the passive eyes of the SPD. That was Paul Schell's choice. I don't condone lawlessness, but given the fact that Kris Kime was beaten to death with blunt objects due to Schell's negligence, there's a certain poetic justice in Omari Tahir-Garret's attack on Schell with a megaphone. There was a strong sense that Paul Schell deserved it.

Enough of the defense of Paul Schell. The man used brutality while in office to make Seattle into the globalist, anti-family playground for greed that it is today. Maybe the beneficiaries of this, like Godden and Brewster, love him all the more for that, but for those of us who hoped for a city in which the humbler sorts of folks could raise families, he was a disaster.

I'll give Paul Schell the respect he's due as a human being, but who could say he did the same for Kris Kime? Who could say he did so for working families?

As a mayor, he was a bad man. He hurt innocent people. This is part of his legacy, and it should remembered along with all his real-estate and corporate boosterism.

wfprice

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 8:17 a.m. Inappropriate

Jean may well have captured the essence of Paul. Merci beaucoup, Madame...

giorgio

Posted Wed, Jul 30, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Minor point:
Paul Schell was hired to direct the City's Community Development by Wes Uhlman, then mayor.
Wes should not be forgotten as a significant figure.
I'd forgotten but per Wikipedia "Uhlman proclaimed Seattle's first Gay Pride Week and in 1978 he opposed repeal of the city's civil rights protections for gays and lesbians."

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