Dear Mayor (whoever you are):

Without taking a position on the mayor's race, a leading Seattle neighborhood activist offers some advice for the winner. For starters, fire the bodyguard and get out there among the people.
Crosscut archive image.
Without taking a position on the mayor's race, a leading Seattle neighborhood activist offers some advice for the winner. For starters, fire the bodyguard and get out there among the people.

I don'ꀙt know who our next mayor will be. In a sense I don'ꀙt care as much who it is as I care about how he will do the job. The campaigns of neither candidate do much to inspire my confidence. While, like most people, I have opinions on current city issues, the candidate I want elected should be less about issues and more about tending to the business of running the city. I'ꀙd like that to be with fairness and efficiency. But even more important to me is that the new mayor might share at least some of the same values as I do. So what might they be?

I value my family, my home as a sanctuary, my security, and my privacy. I find it important to have my city protect open space, trees, and some views of our natural beauty. I value a neighborhood where I can feel secure and find a sense of belonging by knowing the people who live there. I chose to live and invest in Seattle and a neighborhood for what it is, not what an ideological theorist or mayor, intent on social engineering my lifestyle, would have it become.

I believe there are limits to everything on the planet, including growth. If the livability of our city is to be retained then we must not grow larger or faster than our infrastructure or geography can support just so a mayor can brag at national conferences.

Since I believe growth requires infrastructure, that means we need to be able to afford what we choose to do. If the cost of infrastructure for infinite growth leads to a bankrupt or unaffordable city, maybe we should rethink our methodology.

I'ꀙd like my mayor to administer a city that lives within its means just as citizens must. Doesn't it make sense to say that if a citizen can'ꀙt demand more pay so they can buy a new car, the city should not raise taxes to hire an extra 1,000 city employees?

I admit to being old-fashioned about this, but my values say our first priority should be to manage well what we have before investing in something new. That means maintenance. If the homeowner must save money to keep the roof repaired before taking a luxury vacation then so must the city get to taking care of the nearly $1 billion in deferred maintenance before cosmetic improvements or dream projects.

While ribbon cutting appears to be part of a mayor's job, I'ꀙd rather the mayor spend a lot more time out of the office and making sure the business of the city is getting done. The number of city employees and their pay has increased out of proportion to the population of the city. Our City Charter gives the mayor the responsibility of departmental accountability, and from every measure I see the current mayor has spent more time courting growth than making sure his appointed department heads got the work of the city done. Why not do what most employers do: base pay on performance?

I'ꀙd like a mayor who doesn'ꀙt think he is better than we are. He and other city administrators are the employees of the people. I really believe in the words that are part of the prologue to the state public disclosure law: "The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created."

I'ꀙd like my mayor to allow city administrators to work directly with City Council members without his permission. Mutual cooperation and respect solves far more problems. And while we'ꀙre talking about respect, I'ꀙd like my mayor to be respectful of our neighboring cities and not have the attitude that Seattle is the center of the universe, or of all the jobs that drive the economy.

I would want a mayor who cares as much for the folks who live in Lake City or South Park as he does for those who represent businesses, developers or organizations. It angers me when I hear a council member or city employee ask first 'ꀜwhat organization are you with'ꀝ before they ask your name.

The mayor I'ꀙd like would have the personal integrity to pay as much attention to the individual or unorganized constituents as he does to an organization with paid lobbyists and agendas. No club or group or organization should make the rules and dictate what Seattle can or should be. Hopefully we can elect a mayor who can tell the difference.

There are times when I'ꀙm not sure the mayor, or other ranking city officials, know as much about the city as they think. I'ꀙd like my mayor to learn about the city he intends to administer. I'ꀙd start by having the mayor send his personal bodyguard, an armed Seattle police officer, back on patrol and attend all functions by himself. If the mayor feels insecure in various areas of the city then he would better understand how the public feels.

I'ꀙd require he go by bus to all the city'ꀙs neighborhood business districts with no aide to whisper in his ear what he should already know. I'ꀙd send him out to walk both sides of the street meeting shopkeepers and asking how the city could help them be more successful. I'ꀙd like him to learn how much B&O tax they pay and how much head tax they pay. I'ꀙd like the mayor to pretend to open a neighborhood cafe by applying for all the business licenses necessary. I'ꀙd like my mayor to know the cumulative tax receipts from an entire business district and how many people the area employs. I'ꀙd wager he'ꀙd be surprised.

And while the mayor visits the city'ꀙs neighborhoods I hope the residents point out to him how each is very different from the others. Each with different people, character, history, and needs, and I would hope he learns that one-size-fits-all policies don't work everywhere.

I'ꀙd like the mayor each day to call random people who work for the various city departments and ask for simple information, and tabulate how many 'ꀜI'ꀙm not at my desk or not in the office'ꀝ responses he receives.

I'ꀙd like the mayor to visit a pothole being filled and ask why it takes seven city workers to do the job, or 11 to decide how to pave a street corner. It would be fun to have the mayor don a disguise and apply for a permit to add a room to his house.

If bikes are part of our environmental sustainability the mayor needs to commute by bike. If our mayor hasn'ꀙt visited our new skateparks, he should. He needs to understand the language used there and become current on the price of various drugs. I'ꀙd like my mayor to spend time in the public library, the downtown parks and the various service centers for the homeless. And while we are asking, he needs to borrow a tent and spend a night in a tent city and get better acquainted with those who have lost a place to live partly due to Seattle'ꀙs policies.

I don'ꀙt really know who will become mayor or whether he will be humble enough to really learn about the city he hopes to administer, but I can hope, can'ꀙt I?


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors