A guide to the City Hall transition

A longtime Seattle political consultant offers Mayor-elect McGinn his "13 Golden Rules for a Smooth Transition."
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Mayor-elect Mike McGinn on Election Night

A longtime Seattle political consultant offers Mayor-elect McGinn his "13 Golden Rules for a Smooth Transition."

Editor's note: Now that Mike McGinn has emerged as winner of the Seattle mayor's race, veteran political consultant Blair Butterworth has some advice for this delicate period between the election and the swearing-in. Butterworth was involved in Gary Locke's transitions as King County executive and as governor, and also in Paul Schell's transition as mayor.

Here are "Blair's 13 Golden Rules":

1. You'ꀙre not mayor until you'ꀙre mayor. Take a page from Barack Obama when he said we can only have one president at a time. The minute it was clear that you won the election, the press and the insiders totally began ignoring Greg Nickels (they already may have been doing that) and now expect you to be the instant mayor. Don'ꀙt bite.

2. Lower expectations on the timing of decisions and the scope of what can be accomplished. Speak positively about establishing a thorough and inclusive process and not being rushed into decisions. Some may want to paint that as an indication you don'ꀙt know what to do. You need to counter by framing the transition as a sound management-based process. (If there is one thing Seattleites will understand it is a thorough process!)

3. But don't settle. Just because you lower expectations, that doesn'ꀙt mean you must lower your sights. Just don'ꀙt talk about it. You can be planning a 100-day offensive, and probably should be. But keep it to your inner circle.

4. Remember who's in charge. The press and insiders will want to know who your "Tim Ceis" and other key staff will be. Obviously this is a reflection of their concern about your newness to city politics and management. Don'ꀙt bite until you are ready.

5. Keep the campaign alive for the duration of the transition. There are many reasons for this.

First, you need to shut it down in an orderly way, making sure all the financial stuff is in order, the thank-yous done, etc.

Second, the transition is publicly funded, so political activity needs to be done elsewhere.

Third, in the immediate days after the results are clear, you will be swamped with congratulatory calls, emails, and letters from every corner: the president of the United States to 36th Legislative District Democratic precinct committee officers. In addition you are going to have to reach out and not only return calls but also initiate calls to national, regional, state, county, city, and private leaders whom you want to start courting. The campaign is a functioning entity with phones and computers and people loyal to you.

Fourth, you need a place for the campaign workers to hang out and get a paycheck, feel good about the campaign and even do some work without putting them on the transition payroll. The campaign becomes a safe house of sorts for campaign workers who may want a job in the city, but for whom you don'ꀙt have sufficient funds to put on the transition payroll (or don'ꀙt want to).

Fifth, you may have debt to retire and money to raise.

6. Get out of town. Set up the transition quickly, then take a vacation. You will need to be around for three or four days to return calls, thank people and do some press. Use that time to hire your transition director and agree with that person on the basic structure, goals, and outcomes of this period. Then get the hell out of town to an "unknown location" and try to rest, think, and reconnect with your family. In the next six weeks you will be making decisions that for better or worse will define your first year or so in office. You need a clear head and you need to disconnect from the campaign and those who supported you the most, because some of the hiring and policy decision you will be making will not include them or their views.

7. Establish a post-office box and website for all resumes. You need to give people a chance to apply for jobs, but these should not go to the campaign. Put the PO box on your new transition website and send out an email. Assign one person to open each application and send a note thanking and assuring them you have their resume.

8. Don'ꀙt be afraid to say no to campaign workers and supporters. Many of the skills required in a campaign are not the same as those required in managing a city.

9. That said, never forget that the mayor is a political creature and you will always need a political operation and a political action capacity.

10. Don'ꀙt be afraid to say yes to those who supported other candidates. There is a lot of talent out there. Your job is to surround yourself with the best people you can get.

11. Treat the current mayor and his staff with respect. They can help a lot to make your transition successful. Unless proven otherwise, assume they are all professionals who love the city and that they want to be known as having been helpful to you and those who come in with you.

12. Reach out to the City Council. Because of your inexperience they will want to play a larger role. Whether than works out or not, keep them close.

13. Establish the transition as a three-headed creature. One is your small core group that will help you make the final decisions. These are your most trusted advisors, and many will probably end up on the city payroll in one capacity or another.

The second tier is a large, inclusive and diverse transition advisory committee, which will help you identify people, feed you ideas, assess where things are, help establish priorities, and alert you to hot issues that you must deal with relatively soon in your administration. They also play the important role of selling you to their various communities and constituencies. It is probably best to subdivide the large committee of stakeholders and citizens into a few subcommittees such as Public Safety (police, fire, emergency services), Budget and Finance, Neighborhoods and Housing, Parks and the Environment, City Utilities, Transportation and Infrastructure.

The third is a talent-search operation that reviews the resumes, does reference checks, starts searches, and otherwise heads up the hiring effort. This needs to be headed by a tight-lipped professional you trust and who knows city personnel rules. Among other things, this person needs to know a diverse workforce doesn'ꀙt just happen. You need to work for it!

That's all there is to it. Now get to work, and good luck. It will be time to begin running for reelection before you know it.


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